The English Football Association's chair, Debbie Hewitt, and director of women's football, Baroness Sue Campbell, reflect on a Women's EURO to remember and discuss the tournament's legacy.
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As the curtain falls on UEFA Women's EURO 2022, the European football community can reflect on a huge success. That is true nowhere more so than in host nation England, which not only lifted the trophy but alongside UEFA delivered a record-breaking tournament that saw huge crowds, giant TV viewership and more online engagement than ever before.
The task now is turning this achievement into a long-lasting legacy, capitalising on the summer's excitement and maintaining the momentum that has been mounting in recent months.
The Football Association's (FA) first-ever female chair, Debbie Hewitt, and director of women's football, Baroness Sue Campbell, sat down with UEFA.com to look back on the past month and consider the challenges that lie ahead.
A summer to celebrate
Firstly, how do you look back on the tournament?
Debbie Hewitt (DH): Oh, my goodness! With great joy, real pride, and a sense of history having been made. It has surpassed our expectations by some considerable way. It’s been fantastic.
Sue Campbell (SC): I think it’s exceeded everyone’s expectations. We set some ambitious targets for fans, and obviously for our team, and really, it’s exceeded everything we hoped for. Most importantly, it’s been a phenomenal showcase for the women’s game. We have new eyes on the game and people talking about the game in a very different way. We’ve been working very hard, we’ve had strategies and plans, but nothing could move the game on like this has. So, for us now, it’s about capitalising on this incredible moment and momentum.
Are there any comments from supporters or stakeholders that stand out?
DH: What’s interesting is not only the sheer volume but the diversity of people who have reached out. People who have never been particularly interested in football, or people who are absolutely football mad but never watch women’s football. And people, of course, who are absolutely stalwart England Lionesses’ fans.
It has brought us closer together with our international colleagues too, certainly across the other football associations; I got to know them a lot better as we have spent time together here – at and around the games. We’ve been in contact throughout the tournament.
SC: The thing that has been wonderful to listen to and to watch people talk about is how much fun it is to go to a women’s game. We filled the stadiums, they’ve been safe, they’ve been fun, and it was just joyful. I think we wanted to project that this is a great game to play but it’s actually a great game to watch – the speed of it, and the safety of it in terms of coming along and having fun with your family.
Sue, what impact has the England team itself had on the country?
SC: They’ve been immense on and off the field. I think their interviews have been outstanding, their humility has come through; they have quiet confidence, they don’t have overt bragging. They’re an incredible team. These women are absolutely dedicated to helping to grow the game. They’re still very much in touch with their grassroots. We had a training session at [national training centre] St. George’s Park, and we invited the club that each player had started at as a little girl to bring a group of girls. And just watching that interaction between the players and those little groups; signing things, taking pictures, doing selfies. These aren’t players you’ve got to force to get engaged in legacy. They want to be a legacy in their own right.
Tournament legacy and the future of women's football
Debbie, is there something that other national associations can learn from your experiences this summer?
DH: Most importantly it’s the legacy piece. We will really know that this tournament has been successful when in five years’ time, the targets that we have set ourselves are being achieved. I think the biggest lesson that we’ve learned is to start that legacy work well ahead of the event. That’s the tip.
In five years’ time I think you should come back and interview me, to make sure that legacy really has embedded itself into the culture of our football – that any girl or woman who wants to play, coach or referee football has easy access to it. And, I would say equal access to what young boys and men have. Also, that more people come to watch women’s football. That, in a snapshot, will mean that this has been the most successful tournament for women’s football ever. That’s what I would love to see.
Sue, can you tell us more about the legacy plan?
SC: Legacy starts way before the event. If you wait to do legacy afterwards, it’s probably too late, because big events inspire people to want to have a go – young people, older people, might want to get into volunteering, might want to start coaching, might want to play. And if you haven’t got those opportunities available, then they’re frustrated and that [desire] disappears again.
Our strategy for the women’s game has been in place since 2020, but for the last two years we’ve really honed in on the host cities – taking our national strategy and accelerating it in those host cities so there are more opportunities for girls to play in schools and in clubs, more diversity in our coaches and referees, looking into communities we’ve not been in before, much wider inclusion in terms of groups we’re working with, and we've provided transport where necessary to get new people to come and watch the game.
So, I hope the legacy is that we really will provide equal opportunities for girls in schools and clubs over the next few years to play this game, to be introduced to this game, and that we get a much more diverse community of people, representative of who we are now in this country, playing it, refereeing it and coaching it.
I also hope that the people who’ve loved it and enjoyed it and watched it will go and watch their local club. The Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship clubs play some great football, but we still don’t get a lot of people through the gates, nothing like the number we want to get on a regular basis to create some financial sustainability. So, one of the big jobs for us is translating this huge amount of – well over half a million – people that have been to the games into regular watchers of the games. That’s a big job and we’re still on a journey. I know that people think we’ve taken a leap forward and we have but we’re nowhere near the end of the journey. If we’re in a 400-metre race, I’d say we’ve had a good start and we’ve really done well up the back straight, but we’ve still got the top bend and the finishing straight to do.
Female influence on football
Debbie, how does it feel to be the first female chair of The FA in its long history?
DH: I’m really proud. I didn’t think about it when I was joining the association. I am a woman and I’ve been in business for years – it doesn’t enter my mind in that world that I am a woman – I’m a businessperson doing a job I love, but when I was appointed to the association, the number of people that reached out and said that how inspiring it was that a woman had been given the role was quite incredible. It made me realise just how much of an opportunity and privilege it is to be seen as a role model, changing perceptions about women can do. Many people have referred to me breaking the glass ceiling and I feel I can use that symbol to inspire others to believe anything is possible if you have a dream and have the courage to pursue it and not to let any real or perceived barrier to stand in your way. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be doing a job I love and to have the opportunity to inspire others along the way.
You are not alone in European football, with Lise Klaveness in Norway and Vanda Sigurgeirsdóttir in Iceland…
DH: Once you start to get more than one woman doing a similar role, you can help and support each other as you get up to speed. And what has been super for me is that they are very experienced in football, so that’s really helped to accelerate my learning curve.
I should also say that my male colleagues in football associations have been equally supportive. Most of them have women in their lives who relate to some of the challenges; daughters, nieces, wives, work colleagues and they do understand. Although there was a significant impact when I was appointed and people reached out and said “wow” this is the first for The FA, I’ve never really thought about the fact that I’m a woman in football, I just thought about how lucky I am to be working with some great people in football.
Sue, having worked in sport for so long, how much have you seen change and how crucial is widespread female representation in leadership roles?
SC: It’s massive. When I first went to The FA, I felt a little bit out of place. One, I was slightly older with my grey hair, and I was a woman. I hadn’t come from football and that, in itself, people thought, "What does she know about anything?"
It took a while for people to understand me and begin to think that I maybe had something to offer. I found that quite difficult for quite a long period of time. I had great women working in the organisation who rallied to me really quickly.
Now, the organisation has got a very different feel to it. It’s much more equitable in terms of the number of women working in the game and the number of women at senior level. I think that’s important because, I’m not saying we don’t want men involved in decision-making, we do, absolutely, but it’s that diverse thinking. Women do things, approach things slightly differently. It doesn’t mean it’s better, it just means when you get that diversity of discussion and opinion you get a better outcome. So, men and women in the same groups are working, talking, challenging each other. It’s the healthy way to go forward.
Debbie, you have a lot of experience in business. What can that bring to the football industry?
DH: The fundamentals of a successful business are to have a vision, have a plan, resource it properly, and course correct as you go on the journey. If you haven’t got one of those steps, if there is a step missing, that’s when things go wrong. A vision without a plan is hallucination really; a plan without a vision will never have clear prioriites and will likely drift because it’s impossible to communicate the “why”. But you put the two together, the vision and the plan and you rigorously monitor where you are going, that’s when you are going to increase the chances of success – because the organisation unites behind it and feels progress along the way. That has been the model I relate to, irrespective of which sector I have worked. I think it applies equally to football too.