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7th July 2017 21:35

Carolyn Radford: 'There are other male-dominated industries, but none like football - you have to be thick-skinned'

Speaking to The Independent, the 35-year-old CEO of Mansfield Town opens up on football's prejudices against women and the difficulties she faces in her day-to-day life
Daniel Storey, The Independent, 3 July 2017

”There are so many times when I’ve realised that people are thinking that I can’t do this job,” Carolyn Radford says. “That’s firstly because I’m a woman, also because I’m relatively young at 35 and also because I guess I like to dress smart and like fashion. Usually your typical executive in football is a middle-aged-and-above bloke.”

Radford has always had to work hard to convince those inside and outside Mansfield Town that she is worthy of her job. Appointed at the age of 29 in 2011, not only is she the youngest Chief Executive Officer in the Football League but also one of only two women in her role. Katrien Meire is hardly popular at Charlton Athletic, and Karren Brady is the only other high-profile, high-level female decision maker in English club football.

A report from Women in Sport in March 2017 revealed that the Football Association risked losing public funding because they do not employ enough women in senior roles. One of the Football League’s ten board members is female, former professional tennis player and Director of Sport for LOCOG Debbie Jevans.

If this all sounds grossly imbalanced, the figures are hardly surprising. If football’s dressing rooms are charged with testosterone and littered with chauvinism, typical boardrooms are hardly a vast improvement. In a meeting room at the One Call Stadium late on a Friday afternoon, Radford nods knowingly in anticipation of the question. After all, it’s the reason I’m there.

”It’s ridiculous, really. I have the qualities. I am a lawyer. I know how to manage contracts. The club has been completely turned around in almost six years. All of those things show that I can run a good ship. But still I am that joke figure who can’t do it. It is very obvious that I am different in football, and it feels like you are out there on your own. All the footballers are male, all the backroom staff are male, everyone is male. It does get lonely at times.”

Read more at: http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/football-league/carolyn-radford-mansfield-town-other-industries-that-are-male-dominated-but-none-like-football-a7819626.html

Radford - then Carolyn Still - was appointed amid accusations of nepotism due to her personal relationship with Mansfield Town chairman John Radford, who took over the club in 2010. The pair married in July 2012 and have three children, including twins born in 2014.

She accepts that not all were in favour of her appointment, and can understand their initial doubts to an extent, but describes claims that she was unfit for the role as entirely unfair. She has a degree in politics from Durham University, is a lawyer and is a director at One Call insurance alongside her role at Mansfield. It’s obvious why she might be treated differently.

“I honestly believe that had I been male then it wouldn’t have been an issue at all,” she explains. “It just made me doubly intent to show people what I can do. I went to one of the best universities in the country, and read politics. I went and did an LPC [Legal Practice Course]. I run contracts every day. I’m a lawyer. I’m a director of an insurance firm. I’m a mum to three lovely kids. I go to the gym every day. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I think I’m a fairly positive role model. But that’s not what fits football.

“I know that there are other industries that are male-dominated, but none like football. I think one of the problems is that football drives such emotion that people hate you. It evokes such strong passion. Being who I am, it makes me a target of that. But if there are some home fans who don’t agree with things, I can’t let it bother me. I need to focus on what I am doing, or I wouldn't be productive.”

And to those who argue that she ‘doesn’t know the game’, as if she is playing up front rather than fronting the club’s commercial activities? “My job here isn’t to pick the team. I’m focused on football as a business. I don’t need to know the offside rule and I don’t have to choose the players. I negotiate with players, agents and companies and I get the best deals I can for Mansfield Town. I haven’t had to change in that regard from the first day I came in. This is what I’m good at.”

For any fans - of Mansfield Town or football in general - who were suspicious of Radford’s involvement, the proof of the pudding has been in the eating. Taking up her position in September 2011 at the start of the club’s fourth consecutive season in non-league football, Mansfield lost their National League play-off semi-final in 2011/12 but were promoted as champions the following season. They have finished in the top half of League Two in three of the last four seasons, and missed out on the play-offs last season by just four points. After making 13 new signings this summer, Mansfield are the favourites for the League Two title.

More impressive still are the developments away from the pitch. Before the Radford takeover there was no established training centre (one is now being built), and no youth team setup. An academy has now been established in partnership with a local college, with five-year plan put in place for Mansfield Town to achieve EPPP academy three status. This is a club finally looking to the future.

It is no exaggeration to say that the club was on its knees before John Radford. “There were very few systems in place,” Carolyn says. “Financially it was really struggling and I don’t think it could have picked up without John. But it also needed some careful thought processes.”

One of the points which Radford is at pains to make is that this is not just a period of rapid investment, but a question of sustainability. There is ambition within the club, but the expectation is also that Mansfield Town can turn a profit this season. At League Two level, that requires difficult financial management.

“It has been a huge effort to get here. We’ve gone back and changed everything, from turnstiles and kiosks upwards, upgrading all the facilities. We’re trying to put sustainable features so our work can be continued. If we lay the foundations now this club can almost become self-sufficient, and we have a brilliant team and structure working below us.

“We did really well last year and broke even, which is very difficult in League Two, and hope to make profit this year. It’s fine if you’re in the Premier League, but here it is hard. We don't want to splash the cash but be unable to maintain it, but we do want to get into the Championship and see what happens. I think the Championship would be a great level for Mansfield.”

Yet it’s impossible not to think outside of Mansfield Town and League Two, and view Radford in a wider context. While football does a far better job at attracting women into playing and coaching than even a decade ago, Radford believes that on the commercial side pathways are sadly lacking. One of her first actions was to begin the reformation of Mansfield Town Ladies, disbanded under the previous owner and officially unveiled in August 2013. It now runs ten teams.

“What I’d like to do is encourage more females into this side of football,” she says. “It can be a great industry, and there is absolutely no reason why women can’t do it. Yes it can be vicious, and you do have to have staying power and a thick skin. But I want a time where I don’t walk into a boardroom and there is a double take.

Radford talks about the possibility of setting up a mentoring scheme for young women, adding “There’s a lot of intelligent young girls who could contribute” to the business side of the sport, but is slightly reticent when questioned whether she is a role model for others.

“Role model is a hard tag, but of course I’d like to inspire young women into this side of football. I don’t know how to make that happen other than to say that we can do great things. I’ve got twins who are two and a three-year-old, and I just work hard every single day by getting up and and doing whatever I do to the best of ability. The problem is that you have to work doubly hard than a man and every mistake is because you’re a woman.”

The immediate accusation when Radford took over six years ago was that her appointment lay somewhere between nepotism and a publicity stunt, the direct beneficiary of such a move being Radford’s partner. Yet her record at Mansfield Town speaks emphatically for itself. With every progression, the doubters are quietened.

“Oh gosh. If this was a publicity stunt, how would we still be on the incline?” Radford asks. “We would have dropped off the edge of the footballing earth by now. So it’s so obviously not that, that’s silly. Hopefully, we are going to have a behind-the-scenes documentary for next season. Maybe that would help to shut a few people up.

“It’s not easy to be successful in life, you have to go out there and earn things,” Radford says. “Things don’t just happen. Companies aren’t just successful. People put time and effort in. I am proud of what I’ve achieved here, but at the same time I don’t think I’m different to others. Everyone just wants to do what they can. But doing it free from prejudice would be nice.”



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