Jessy Parker Humphreys speaks to Jade Ogle, director of women’s football at Coventry United, about investment, the coronavirus pandemic, and being the only woman on the board.
Securing financial support is no mean feat for a women’s football team, particularly during a global pandemic. So it was welcome news when Coventry United announced in December that local company Mirius, who own the cleaning brand Hycolin, had taken a 49 per cent stake in the club.
“Originally Mirius became our shirt sponsor at the start of the season,” said Jade Ogle, director of women’s football at Coventry United, talking to The Offside Rule.
“We got to know the owners there and immediately saw that our morals and synergies were quite parallel.
“It went from there really so now they’ve got a 49 per cent stake and have really got the ball rolling.
“Their support is great because they’re going to have business contacts that would maybe have taken the rest of us a few years to get hold of.”
Coventry United are one of the few teams in the top two divisions of women’s football not to have a partner men’s club in either the Premier League or Championship. That means financially keeping up with those around them in the Women’s Championship is not always easy.
The side are currently in ninth place in a 11-team league, and regularly have to face teams who train full-time.
“When you’re coming up against clubs such as Leicester who are training probably 25 to 30 hours a week on a pitch, it makes a real difference,” said Ogle.
“To go up against teams who are full-time like that – it’s difficult.
“But we know we’ve almost got a mini-league to ourselves to see out the remainder of the season. Your Charltons, your London Bees, your Blackburns, your Crystal Palaces. All those types of teams that are in a similar position to us.”
For Coventry United, the investment will be key to keeping them in the league. Recent recruitment has seen them sign Georgia Stevens, who came to prominence on the BT show Ultimate Goal which looked to showcase undiscovered talent.
Given their position in the table, it is easy to wonder whether it is far-fetched for the club to believe they can compete in a league so stacked with sides supported by top men’s teams.
But Ogle is confident that you do not need to have a ‘big brother’ club in order to play at the top of the women’s game. Coventry United were in fact previously part of Championship side Coventry City.
“I was part of that board team that transitioned from Coventry City to Coventry United and I was the only director that came over,” added Ogle. “Being involved in a big brother club doesn’t necessarily have its positives.
“[We used to] have to go through three different purchase orders to purchase some hurdles!”
“We can make decisions quite quickly, whereas having a big brother club with those processes can hinder everything a bit.”
There are downsides as well though.
“Having a partnership with a big brother club… brings expertise that a club like us might not necessarily have. Like putting a full-time programme together, your facilities,” said Ogle.
“They’re already there for you when you want to come in and you don’t have to think about those things.”
Coventry United have drawn on the resources around them, like reaching out to Leicester City to gather feedback from their transition to a full-time team. Ogle believes that Coventry can talk to the people with the requisite expertise to take them where they need to go.
“I don’t think not having a men’s affiliated team should hinder any club because the main aim for a club in the Women’s Championship or the WSL is to be sustainable off their own back,” said Ogle.
“I think a club like us, Coventry United, without a men’s team, without a big brother club, are managing to do so. I think we should be a flagship club for pushing on with that.”
Being a part-time club has also added to Coventry United’s struggles with COVID-19. The club were affected by an outbreak in September with nine positive cases among the team.
“It really hit us quite hard,” admits Ogle. “We were playing the likes of Crystal Palace on Sunday when we had actually only had one training session with the nine people that had come out positive. And it had hit them quite hard with their breathing, their lack of taste, all that stuff.”
Given the impact the illness had at Coventry United, Ogle takes a dim view of the actions of players who went abroad over Christmas but cautions this is something all clubs are having to learn to live with.
“It’s obviously not an ideal situation for the women’s game,” she said.
“I think it’s up to the FA to sanction what they feel is necessary. And I think the players should come out and apologise if they were part of it.”
“We’re seeing that this new form of coronavirus that is around is more spreadable. There’s just no getting away from this in the next couple of months, potentially years. We just as clubs need to make sure that the players’ safety is at the forefront.”
Ogle’s role as head of women’s football at Coventry United is a sadly rare example of a woman being on the board of a football club.
“I’ve been a director for seven years,” Ogle added. “I am the only female on the board and have been for a number of years.”
“I started from being a marketing and events director to now being a director of football across the women.”
“There should be more women in boardrooms, 100 per cent, and across football really.”
When asked what advice she would give women looking to get into the business side of the game, Ogle encourages women to reach out to their local clubs.
“Trust me, they’ll snap your hand off!”
“Ask the club, then work hard at it. Show that you’re passionate, committed.”
“Ask the question, give your help and develop from there.”
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph