7 Min Read
Apr 12 2022
There is a real momentum behind women’s football in England and beyond and it was the growth of the game which attracted Brighton & Hove Albion General Manager and Association of Sporting Directors member Polly Bancroft back to the UK following an almost five-year stint with UEFA.
Now 18-months into her role at Brighton, Bancroft reflected on her return to the Women’s Super League (WSL).
‘I was interested in the club game in England particularly because of the speed of the growth in the WSL and I suppose I wanted a piece of that pie. Looking around at opportunities at a few clubs, Brighton really stood out for their vision. They want to be a top four WSL club and I was attracted by that. The atmosphere and desire to want to fully integrate the women’s programme within the Club was a huge drawing point as well.’
Brighton and Hove Albion took steps towards that integration with the opening of a new facility for women’s and girls in 2021.
Photo credit: Paul Hazelwood, Brighton Hove Albion FC here.
‘We are really fortunate to have a dedicated facility for women’s and girl’s programme. The club opened a building that cost £8.5 million so a huge investment in the infrastructure for the female side of the game. It opened for the women’s first team in September 2021 and since then through the COVID-19 protocols, we have been integrating some of the other women’s and girls’ teams into the building.
‘It is total game changer. I have worked in women’s football for 15 years and to be in a building that is dedicated to the women and girls’ game for the first time, is just unbelievable.
‘Clearly it is proving a big selling point for perspective players and staff as well. The environment it creates and the professionalism, the vision, the foresight, the ambition for the Club to invest so heavily in a building that sits fully alongside the men’s and boys’ is just brilliant from a day to day working and a performance perspective.’ Bancroft added.
Bancroft is currently General Manager at the club and has been busy with the day-to-day operations and recently wrote a new strategic plan for the club.
‘I split my week between the Amex, which is meeting with the likes of the commercial, marketing, communications, legal, finance – so all the off-field business supports. Then I spend the majority of my time at the training ground with the technical and operational staff that work in the women’s department. My office is next door to Hope Powell’s and we are talking all the time – in person, on text, on emails. We are in constant communication to ensure her players and staff have got everything they need to perform to the best of their ability on a matchday and fully prepared throughout the week too.
‘I have just finished writing the clubs first ever women’s football strategy which will launch on the 21st of April. I think that gives a bit of structure to the club’s vision to be a top four club. The strategy helps provide the detail as to how we are going to get closer to achieving that vision. This has been the real focus over the past six-months or so.’
The Women’s Department at Brighton has 27 staff but there is a high degree of integration with Bancroft’s counterpart David Weir on the men’s side of the club.
‘The club is fully integrated and the Acting Technical Director David Weir [and fellow Association of Sporting Directors member] has slotted into that mindset. There really is so much information and knowledge shared across the club. That includes our player development centres which are going from being boys only to mixed. Our scouting networks are also changing from being boys only to mixed. That all sits under a technical umbrella that David overseas. There is so much desire from the men’s and boy’s pathway to open the doors and integrate which stems from Dan Ashworth and now David’s leadership.’
Although there are shared learnings and insights, Bancroft is not taking a copy and paste approach to the development of the women’s operations.
‘One thing we are really mindful of is not to just copy and paste the men’s game. It is about having a look at what the men are doing but also understanding the unique environment of elite female footballers. Our provisions for them need to be bespoke to their needs as they are different.
‘Even in the academy there is day release on the boy’s side but on the girl’s side there is not. We really need to try and make sure that girls are focusing on their education and dual careers as much as the football because there are less opportunities for females to be professional players. They need to be mindful of secondary careers alongside their football. We certainly have a look at the men’s side, we learn and we apply what is suitable.’ Bancroft added.
Albion in the Community appointed Bancroft as a Trustee in June 2021 which is another role she is embracing. Being at the heartbeat of women and girls’ development at the club, Bancroft can add this focus to the community work.
‘We meet every month and I bring a women and girls focus to help ensure the benefits of the charity are used across the board. Since I joined as a Trustee, we have added a female ambassador to the Club who’s been engaging with charity beneficiaries, we’ve also done boot donations from both the men’s and women’s teams.
‘The board conducted a skills matrix to see what each trustee can bring to the table and my women’s focus and strategic experience are the two I predominantly contribute.’
Reflecting on 18-months at Brighton, there has been no shortage of highlights for Bancroft.
‘Certainly opening the new building is up there. Then the first team finishing sixth last term which was their highest ever position and we are looking to consolidate a top half finish again this year. Then developing a strategy is another key highlight too. There has been an awful lot to be proud of and a bright future to come.’
Bancroft has used her Association of Sporting Directors membership for both the knowledge sharing and networking with like minded professionals.
‘I am a fairly recent member to ASD and I was probably a little bit nervous joining, being one of a few females but I was made to feel so welcome by so many of the members. While some of the topics can be quite male-centric it gives a good insight into where the women’s game could be heading.
‘Both in terms of the topics and the content it has been extremely helpful and more so the network and membership has been really comforting. To be able to share things with like minded people in different clubs. I have had quite a few people reach out to me too regarding their women’s programmes. I was on the phone with a Scottish club this week for instance which is positive to share and help each other.’
The Association of Sporting Directors encourages members from the women’s game globally to join our growing collective of football leaders. We are currently organising an event for football leaders in the women’s game at the Google offices in September 2022.
Article wrote by Colm Hand, student on the Football Industries MBA at the University of Liverpool
Feature image photo credit: Paul Hazlewood, Brighton Hove Albion FC here