In the eleventh of our UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 series with Women in Football we sit down with Justine Thomson, Women’s Recreational Football Officer for Brighton & Hove!
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
My name is Justine Thomson but most will know me as ‘JT’ – I am the Women’s Recreational Football Officer for the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 host city legacy project in Brighton & Hove. In addition to this, the women’s marketing team at Brighton & Hove Albion FC have taken me under their wing in a WSL community engagement role. My bread and butter has been 12 years in the music and events industry, doing voluntary work in grassroots women’s football since 2016 in my spare time. I am also the founder of Brighton Seagals FC, a grassroots club run for and by women and non-binary people. We currently have 70 members across our league squad and recreational football programme.
What do you do in your current role?
My role is to create more opportunities for women and non-binary people aged 16+ to get involved in football. My colleague Sara created the perfect tagline to sum the job up as “putting football where women are.” Sport England provided £1m of funding to build a legacy in the tournament host cities. My job is to make sure the funding and support gets into the right hands so that people have more opportunities to play, coach, referee, and volunteer – particularly those from historically under-represented groups who have struggled to access football in the past.
With my WSL community engagement hat on, I help the club connect with our local community so we can build awareness of our women’s fixtures and, in turn, increase attendances. This could be anything from arranging player appearances at grassroots clubs through to working with a local LGBTQ+ charity to support our annual Rainbow Laces fixture.
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you?
Every week is entirely different! I usually check in with the wonderful volunteers and coaches out delivering sessions, plan upcoming events and identify clubs/volunteers who we may want to engage with. I also try to find creative ways to give my sessions or events an edge – a guest appearance or a social opportunity usually helps to create lasting memories. Rachel Pavlou at the FA hosts a weekly call with all the host city recreational officers. From time to time we meet stakeholders on the call, but our usual agenda is sharing updates and ideas and talking about any barriers we are facing. This has been a complete game changer for me as an industry newbie and has helped me build strong relationships with my host city counterparts. My day-to-day is quite a male dominated environment, so having eight trailblazing women on a call every week is refreshing and empowering.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
I think my route has been far from traditional. I have been an international tour/production manager in the music and events industry for over a decade, and the pandemic took all my work away overnight which was tough. I love football and during lockdown I was setting up my own grassroots club and got myself into a routine of doing a 5km walk and listening to an episode of the ‘Game Changers’ podcast every day. Having listened to some incredible women sharing their stories, I realized that I have transferrable skills that could be useful in sport. With the excitement of the EUROs building and the women’s game growing rapidly, I decided to broaden my horizons and explore job opportunities in sport in the hope I may be able to float across two industries in the future. When a job role came up focusing on women’s recreational football – an area I had volunteered in for years – I jumped at the chance to get my foot in the door and set out to make the best powerpoint possible for my interview presentation… and here I am!
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
Doing things well and breaking down barriers. I’m very much a believer that if you can’t deliver a programme to a good standard, it’s worth getting back to the drawing board. The experience of the participants and coaches is key to them coming back every week and staying rooted in the community. Breaking down the barriers many women have experienced in the past to accessing football plays a natural part in that.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
I worked with a refugee group to create a programme to get parents active through football. We lined up a fantastic coach, facility, free match day experience and activity provision that was initially well received. Two weeks out from the start date they ceased all contact with us and ultimately, we couldn’t get the project up and running. Although I was initially disappointed, I have learned that no matter how beneficial I may see an offer to be, communities may have priorities elsewhere and respecting this is important.
What excites you most about UEFA Women’s EURO 2022?
I think the big PR push and having every game being aired on BBC is making a huge impact. With the tournament – and the Lionesses – already breaking records, I think this is going to be a turning point for the women’s game as the demand cannot be ignored now. I’m excited that if any woman or girl in Sussex watches the EUROs and wants to get involved in football, there’s a place for them. Aged 5 or 105, there’s opportunities right on their doorstep.
If you could change one thing about your Industry, what would you change?
I’d love to see more women in high-level leadership roles. All those I have come across in the industry so far have openly shared their experiences and insight which is really valuable. This paves the way for more women to follow in their footsteps and not be afraid to ask for advice along the way.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
I set strict boundaries when I’m out of office by switching off my work phone and laptop. I also play and coach football which is great for fitness, mental health and socialising. When I’m having a completely chilled day walking, podcasts and reading are my go-to.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Although it may feel difficult to get your foot in the door, the sports industry likes innovators. If you bring a slightly different approach to a project/role than usual, you’ll get noticed.
How to follow Justine Thomson…
@jstnthmsn – me!
@brightonseagalsfc – my awesome footy club.
@inspiredbyengland2022 – sharing inspiring stories from the legacy
@sody– one of the artists I work with, get her on your 22/23 stadium playlists.
Thanks for reading our chat with Justine Thomson! If you want to read more from our Industry Insider series, you can do so by clicking here.