In the first of our UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 special, we sit down with Polly Bancroft, General Manager for Brighton & Hove Albion Women’s and Girls’ football.
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role?
My name is Polly Bancroft and I’m the General Manager for Women’s and Girls’ football at Brighton and Hove Albion. I’m in charge of the strategic oversight of the six female teams at the club. I make sure that we meet the FA Licence criteria for having a team in the Women’s Super League and a Girls Academy. I link in daily with staff across the business to make sure that their women and girls operations are integrated, so that’s in areas from technical, medical, operations, marketing, and commercial communications.
What roles have you done previously?
I joined Brighton from UEFA, where I was a business development specialist. There I provided business support to the 55 European federations for women’s football, to help them develop strategies for women’s football. We looked at their competitions helping to increase participation, and I also supported two marketing campaigns, ‘Together #WePlayStrong and the Disney Playmakers.
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you?
I work across the club so I spend a lot of time with staff. I have a lot of meetings internally, both with those that I manage in the women’s and girls department, and then more broadly across the club. I also spend a lot of time working with stakeholders. Whether that’s the FA, commercial partners or broadcasters. The women’s first team play their matches at Crawley Town so we work with them as well.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
PE was my preferred subject at school and it was the only one that I really enjoyed doing so I knew I wanted a career in sport. When I was at secondary school, being a PE teacher or a sports scientist seemed to be the only two really visible options. But as I went through college and university, more opportunities became visible as potential careers.
I then learned about opportunities within county FA’s and the FA. At that time, I didn’t even consider that UEFA might be an opportunity for me. The more I’ve worked in the industry, more opportunities have arisen, both within the industry but also in women’s sports as well so I’ve just been really fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
Good question. The successful delivery of our new strategy is my number one focus. The vision of that strategy is to become a top Women’s Super League club and we have a lot of work that we’ve committed to doing within that strategy so the focus is fully fixed on that.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
When I moved from the FA to UEFA, I hadn’t really experienced working with many different cultures before. I think I learned quite quickly that not all cultures work the same. There was a difference in terms of attitudes to time, decision making and hierarchy. I learned quite quickly that the way people work in England isn’t necessarily the same across the continent. That taught me an awful lot working with different cultures.
What excites you most about UEFA Women’s EURO 2022?
The last time England hosted the Euros was in 2005 so I think having a comparison 17 years apart will be really interesting. I’m just really excited to see what that tournament looks like now and to show the growth and development in the women’s game over that period of time.
I’m excited to see full stadia, with packed audiences that are knowledgeable about the game and are really enthused about watching more women’s football after the tournament. We really hope that lots of people come and transition into watching the Women’s Super League, the Women’s Championship, and all levels of women’s football for seasons to come.
If you could change one thing about your Industry, what would you change?
We’ve been really fortunate at Brighton to have a dedicated facility for the women and girls. I think that infrastructure has been a massive, massive benefit. If that was the same across the country at all levels, and improvements made in pitches at grassroots level, all the way up to the standard of stadia that women are playing in, that would be good to see.
There’s been a lot of conversation around some of the stadia that was selected for this summer’s tournament, what are your thoughts?
The City Football Academy was mentioned in the press but our experiences of playing there in the Women’s Super League have been absolutely phenomenal. It’s probably the best in the league. Should there maybe have been more foresight in terms of the demand for tickets? Possibly.
However, you’re also then reinvesting in an infrastructure that does support women’s football. It’s the same with Leigh Sports Village. That is a women’s football stadia so it’s a really tough balance to have when they’re the best in the league. It makes sense to continue investing in women’s stadia. I think having that balance between stadia like Old Trafford, the Amex, Wembley, alongside some of the smaller venues that primarily dedicate their provision to women’s football is a really good thing.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
I spend a lot time with my family and friends, supporting Nottingham Forest helps me switch things up as well. It’s mainly family and running though, those are my two go-to’s.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
I think there are a lot of opportunities now, whether that’s through leadership courses, or seminars or meetings. There’s so much going on across the industry. My advice would be to say yes, to as many things as possible. There may be times where you’re not sure if you’re going to know anyone at certain events, or if you might be the only female, but still go for it. You have nothing to lose. Just say yes, you never know where it might take you.
How to follow Polly Bancroft and Brighton & Hove Albion Women’s team…
Thanks for reading our chat with Polly Bancroft! If you want to read more from our Industry Insider series, you can do so by clicking here. Keep your eyes on our social media pages as we’ll have more in our #GetOnside series coming soon!