In our seventh of our UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 special we sit down with Leigh Gell, the Manchester FA’s Women’s Recreational Football Officer and Vice Chair of the FA National Youth Council!
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
My name is Leigh Gell and I am currently the Women’s Recreational Football Officer at Manchester FA and also Vice Chair of the FA National Youth Council. I play football for Bury AFC Women as well as referee women’s football across the North West.
What do you do in your current role?
I support the delivery of the Legacy Projects across Manchester and Trafford as host cities for the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 as well as lead on the development of recreational football for women. My role enables me to grow football participation and provide meaningful opportunities for women to develop across the game. Since being in post, we have seen a significant rise in female participation across Greater Manchester in all areas of the game; increasing confidence in women and unlocking their full potential is a dream job for me and I love what I do.
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you?
When you love what you do it’s impossible to stop so my week definitely doesn’t look like the average 9-5 but I wouldn’t change it for the world! I really do live and breathe football and I should probably find an additional hobby but how can you when football is the best sport in the world. My working week consists of administrative duties, reaching out to new communities to create more recreational opportunities and working with my colleagues on how we can diversify and increase representation of women across football in Greater Manchester. My evenings are spent visiting our clubs, groups and of course training for my own team. Most weekends are spent refereeing on a Saturday and playing on a Sunday with added festivals and tournaments for our recreational community. Of course at the moment I have the luxury of supporting our Lionesses and watching some brilliant football at Old Trafford, City Football Academy and Leigh Sports Village! On top of that you can find us in the Manchester fan zone in Piccadilly Gardens until the end of the month to find out more about grassroots football, for me it’s really important to be on the grass with the women my work influences!
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
The FA and BUCS Women’s Leadership Programme is what led me to a career in football. I studied Law at University and was convinced I needed what was considered an academic career but it was during the Leadership Programme that I got an insight into just how many roles there are in football and how many brilliant professionals there are working in the industry. Before this, I did not realise I could combine my passion and my studies to work in an industry that I love. I wanted to build my expertise so chose to study Sport Business and Leadership at Loughborough as a masters and as I finished that, the recreational officer roles across the host cities began recruiting.
If I had to create a job description for myself at this stage in my life it would have contained the majority that was written in the Manchester FA recruitment pack so it felt the perfect role for me. The area of the game I’ve always been interested in, is Women & Girls’ so there was not a chance I was going to miss out on the opportunity to work solely on that area of the game as well as lead within a major tournament like the Euro’s.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
My biggest focus is showing historically underrepresented communities that there is a place for them in the beautiful game and just how football can be adapted to appeal to everyone. I place a huge amount of importance on consultation and I would not have had as much success without speaking to the women I’ll be impacting before making decisions that affect them.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
There has definitely been projects that haven’t gone the way I intended but it’s how you react from them that is important. I set up a Women’s walking football league earlier this year as after running festivals it seemed that was what people wanted and I thought it was important to have a regular more competitive opportunity. When uptake was slow I became a little disheartened that I had failed. After speaking to people around me I went back to the festivals and realised the women liked the festivals as they were less commitment and more casual, I had to change my mindset and realise it wasn’t a failure because the league hadn’t taken off but it was just what the women wanted. I am hoping to set up a local advisory group to find out what weekends work for the majority and tailor the opportunity for the participants. I had wrongly assumed that because our Women’s Flexi-League had been so successful that the walking football participants would also want a league. I have now learnt that even when something fails it doesn’t mean it will never work but now just isn’t the right time so we will continue with our festivals until the women ask for something different.
What excites you most about UEFA Women’s EURO 2022?
On the pitch it is the chance to win a major tournament, with the strength we have in the squad I believe it is a major possibility and the Lionesses have already put on some exciting displays. Off the pitch, I am so excited to see the impact of the Legacy Programme continue and welcome more and more women & girls to the game.
If you could change one thing about your Industry, what would you change?
It would have to be the historic perceptions of women in football and sport for that matter. It has improved greatly but there is still work to do and I am so proud to be growing the game amongst some amazing people in football in the hope that one day we will have complete equality.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
This is definitely something I am trying to learn and I’m keen to learn an additional sport, I’ve tried golf but I’m not very good at it! I love visiting new places whether that is a City weekend away or a beach holiday. I also enjoy going for a walk with my girlfriend after a day of work to switch off and then sit down to dinner together, even with our hectic lifestyles we make sure we find time for this regularly.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Volunteering has so many transferable skills and benefits, that is definitely what I would recommend! Without the experience I had from being a Youth Leader within the FA National Youth Council, coaching and refereeing I know I would not have been successful in obtaining the job I have now. Volunteering is so rewarding and you do not realise the positive impact you are having on those around you so even if it isn’t to enter the sports industry I would definitely recommend gifting some of your time to a local club or organisation.
How to follow Leigh Gell…
Thanks for reading our chat with Leigh Gell! If you want to read more from our Industry Insider series, you can do so by clicking here.