THIS week marks my 30th year in football.
I have gone from being the youngest person to hold a managerial position to the longest serving!
Football has changed over the last 30 years and I’m proud to have played a part from the day I set foot on St Andrew’s, the seedy home of Birmingham City, as an inexperienced and fearless young lioness.
David Sullivan bought the club in 1993 and I advocated that a 23-year-old woman with no experience running a Subbuteo game, let alone a struggling football club, should become CEO.
He told me I had to be twice as good as men to be considered half as good.
Luckily I said it’s not difficult.
That was on a Friday and I started work on Monday.
It wasn’t always easy.
At my first press conference I was keen to look 24, dressed in shoulder pads and a smart jacket and seriously presented all the things I wanted to achieve with the club.
When asked by the press, there was only one: “What are your vital signs?”
There are a lot of things I miss about the ’90s, but the blatant everyday sexism isn’t one of them.
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Oh, and in 1993 women were banned from boardrooms. Today we are – mostly – welcome.
Woe to anyone who tried to lock me out as a gatekeeper in Notts County in 1993.
I always say it was the first door I kicked in and I’ve spent the last 30 years trying to keep that door open as much as possible to get more women into football.
Since then, football has come a long way – both on the pitch and elsewhere. I have done my best to become a leader in the Equality and Diversity Campaign.
My first piece of advice came from then Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein.
He told me never to let my heart rule over my head and never to believe the manager when he said ‘just one more player’.
I’m not sure what he would have thought of Barry Fry, who had a revolving door transfer policy with a squad of 50 and averaging three signings a month.
Barry was a character. He once said on live television after a game that Sullivan “didn’t know the difference between a goal line and a clothesline.”
Furious, David went into the dressing room and dragged him out of the shower – only with a small towel to cover his modesty – telling him it was disrespectful.
It wasn’t exactly a highlight. . . but it was unforgettable.
Despite all the gimmicks, we got promoted to the Premier League, turned the stadium into an events venue only, doubled attendance with programs like ‘Kids for a Pound’ and turned a trading profit for the first time in our first year.
Oh, and I also met my husband Paul and we’ve been married for 28 years.
The most important people at the club are the players with the skills to entertain millions.
So I have some fantastic memories from my 16 years there.
Now I’m really excited about the London Stadium.
It’s the best thing that has happened to West Ham since the FA Cup win 43 years ago.
I’ve performed on The Apprentice, had the honor of having lunch with the Queen, received a CBE for services to women in business and entrepreneurship and been appointed to the House of Lords.
But the greatest achievement of my business life so far is to have won – yes, WON – our beautiful home.
For three hectic years, I fought with Spurs to become a long-term tenant of the former Olympic Stadium, overcoming court reviews and making three separate bids before it became our property.
One thing that hasn’t changed in 30 years is that the most important people at the club are the players with the skills to entertain millions.
They are paid tremendously well and I don’t begrudge them a penny.
Funny how times change. I remember having sleepless nights paying George Parris £1,000 a week in Birmingham in 1993.
That’s the thing about football. There is always another opinion.
The queen had one. She told me over lunch that she had given up soccer because the atmosphere wasn’t always welcoming.
Even a great woman can make mistakes. As Bill Shankly said, “Football isn’t a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that!”
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/7543100/karren-brady-queen-west-ham-boardrooms/ I was banned from the boardrooms for being a woman but I had the last laugh and even found out how the Queen sees football