23 September 2021


by Karen Dobres, Lewes FC

Think you don’t have the right background to be on the board of a football club? Think again.

Football is a male bastion – something that became heartachingly clear to me personally soon after I started to volunteer for Lewes FC in July 2017 on the back of EqualityFC, the ground-breaking equal pay and resource initiative.

I volunteered with a specific aim in mind. Having previously disliked football for strong cultural reasons, I wanted other women who ‘didn’t like football’ to come and watch Lewes FC women’s team play. Why?

First, Lewes FC has the only women’s team in the world to be equally resourced with access to the same facilities as the men, and I posited that other women should watch in solidarity with the cause for gender equality.

Second, women – including middle-aged women like me – could stand to absorb excellent role modelling from female footballers. As a woman I’m proud to see them being fast, powerful, assertive and working together in a team in a public space. It’s not the most common experience when you’re a woman.

Once on board, I made it my business to go and tell those people I termed ‘unwelcome women’ (ie. women like me) about Lewes’ history-making equality initiative, and ask them along to Lewes FC women’s matches. Also, I couldn’t see a club which had put its money where its mouth was when it raised the women’s budget to match the men’s, drown in a sea of negative comments from male fans who, unbeknown to them, were also drowning in male ‘football privilege’.

As more ‘football virgin’ fans turned up, so our matchday environment evolved to make them feel more at home at the Dripping Pan, asking them what they wanted, what they’d like to see made available. That led us to Prosecco on tap, vegan pies, non-dairy milk for tea, extra welcoming at the turnstiles, and even women’s football chanting practice before matches for those who found the idea of singing in public for a team way out of their comfort zones!


Quite a journey

Thanks to efforts from many people at the club, attendances at Lewes’ women’s games quadrupled in two seasons. I was elected to the board in 2019, familiar with the game now and able to participate in strategising the vision and direction of the club as a whole. It’s been quite a journey from being a girl at school not allowed to play the game, a teenager disembarking from tube trains because I was scared of football fans, to today where I’m thinking about football constantly and sit on the board of a football club. I’m acutely aware that I’m not a ‘football man’, but I know that I represent something else and that it is valuable.

And that’s where you come in...

The board currently consists of nine volunteer directors plus CEO (six men and four women) and is elected from among our 1,800+ owners. There are currently two members, both women, who were co-opted on to the board for their special powers in football, in matters of gender equality and professional skills. But, as it stands, the board still isn’t diverse enough in many ways.

There are reasons. Football has been reserved for men over the years, with men having an artificially created monopoly over it. Women, alongside other marginalised groups, as borne out by survey after survey, do not have as much free time, or see themselves reflected in boardrooms often enough, to entertain the possibility. And because the ‘wallpaper’ of football is rarely questioned, the situation is self-perpetuating.Portrait photo of Karen Dobres

It’s worth bearing in mind, should you be thinking about coming on to the board, that it will take up a chunk of time. Lewes FC currently behaves like a start-up company – all hands are on deck and it requires a lot of headspace. But what a ride.

We want to drive culture forward, using football as a vehicle for social change, and to change the world by playing the best football we can on the highest achievable stage, creating the biggest platform possible for our equality message. We also aim to become the most widely owned club in the world – starting in the UK.


Direct call

At this moment, the particular skills we need are people who are well-networked and have experience on non-profit/charity fundraising at scale. Are you, or do you know anyone like this who would like to help? Are you a person with life experience that can bring a greater diversity of views? Maybe you’re LGBT+, maybe you’re from a minority ethnic or faith group, maybe you’re a person with a disability? It would be great to hear from you. In fact, if you are a person who would describe yourself as a fan of change, consider joining us.

Different ideas are necessary for innovation, and they are precious. Middle-aged white guys are of course still very welcome, but this is a direct call to people who until now may have felt unwelcome and not football club board material, mindful of the fact that football club boards historically have a certain composition.

It’s not always easy being different in football. But it’s a brilliant feeling to believe that you’re a role model for the next generation and are really being the change you want to see in the world. At Lewes FC we are 100% community-owned, and you’ll need to become an owner to stand for election, write an election address, and then be democratically voted in by owners.

But we are also always on the lookout for people who feel better suited to having a focus on very specific areas and could be co-opted to the board. If you have the passion and skills, Lewes FC is a great place to unleash your power. If I can do it, so can you.

• If you're interested in becoming a director at Lewes FC, the first step is to buy a share; then you would need to write an election address to be seen by the club's owners before a vote at the club's AGM (date tbc, but likely during October, with two weeks' notice given).

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