Here at Back Of The Nest, we are dedicated to providing the best coverage and content In relation to Crystal Palace Women, as we possibly can.
For us, and specifically me, this journey started back in August 2018. As has been well documented in some of my previous BOTN articles, it all began when I made an enquiry regarding sponsoring a player. Since that day, I have been constantly inspired by the fantastic women who have pulled on the red and blue, and become determined to provide them with the recognition that they thoroughly deserve.
Over the last year or so, I have realised that actually, the aim needs to be a little higher than that. It isn't just our Palace team that needs the recognition, but the women's game as a whole. The gulf between this and the men's game, is just ludicrous. This is a topic that requires its own dedicated article, and that will most certainly be coming down the line. However, this article, is aimed a little differently.
As is always the case in football, the players are the stars of the show, and the manager is the Captain who guides the ship. We love to see player interviews, training videos, clips of goals, great tackles, tricks and skill. Growing up, my walls were covered in wrestlers(yes, I am that kind of geek, and it was WCW, not WWF, for those wondering), and Palace players. They are the icons, the heroes, the ones we truly fall in love with, or can't wait to see the back of. Managers can be similar. Through the years, some managers have become superstars themselves, like Brian Clough, Bill Shankly, Sir Alex Ferguson to name but a few. For me, it has always been Steve Coppell. The man commanded such respect, and was so much a part of this club, that even now, his players from back then refer to him as 'the gaffer'. I often find myself doing the same, as he is my standout manager.
With the Women's game, it is no different. Nikita Whinnett was a huge fans favourite, a bond formed before my time, but clearly visible to see. It didn't take me long to form my own favourites. The lead of these was Andria Georgiou, whose dominant midfield displays just grabbed my attention, and made her my top choice for Sponsorship this season. Freya Holdaway's leadership as Captain shone through, and Ashlee Hincks' never say die attitude up front served to also make them favourites of mine. Plus, how can you not admire the passion and heart of manager Dean Davenport, who I also refer to as 'gaffer'(even if he never did complete my special 5BY5BY5 interview)! The thing is, none of this could be possible, without those working their butts off behind the scenes. These matches would not take place, without someone organising them. As Katey Murray's recent article on Stewards reminded us, there are other people working hard to make the match day spectacle possible. In the Women's game, I believe these people are even bigger stars, given that I believe there are less of them, to do more work! I also believe, that unlike with the Men's side, none of us truly understand how the Women's clubs operate, given they have far less exposure, funding and resources.
I wanted to be able to close that gap a little, to give us all, myself included, a bit more of an insight into what goes on behind the scenes, so that we can all learn a better understanding. Up until now, I have been introducing our players via my 5BY5 interviews. This time though, in order to gain our better understanding, I have had the pleasure of interviewing the woman who makes the club tick. I have stepped off the pitch, into the office, to speak with Crystal Palace Women's General Manager, Paula Johnson.
Now, General Manager is very much an American term, and perhaps not one we are accustomed to in football over here. With that in mind, I asked Paula, just what the role of General Manager involves on a day to day basis?
"My days are filled with the general overseeing of the whole club, from organising upcoming match days, player appearances, meeting with sponsors, meetings with CPFC or the FA, financials, right down to ringing the coach company to look for someone’s boot bag – as I have today."
Clearly, the role is one that keeps Paula exceptionally busy, and on top of all that, she has to put up with e-mails and texts from a certain BOTN writer!! My first ever contact with Paula, was on that already mentioned day in August 2018, as she was who I spoke to regarding sponsorship. The first time I met her, was the opening game of 2018, at home to Leicester. Despite being rushed off her feet, she still found time to come and say hello. Just what though, had her so busy? I asked Paula what a normal match day would involve for her?
"I would check emails before I left to go to the ground for any last-minute requests from Journalists or the opposing team. I would aim to arrive at the ground for 12pm and place any branding out that needs to be up, liaise with the security on the day, turnstiles, bar manager and catering, along with the Team Manager for any last-minute changes or problems.
The opposition team normally arrive around an hour and half before the game, at which point, I will liaise the opposition GM and physios.
Team sheets are given to the referees at 1pm and then it’s out for warm-ups.
I will also oversee any mascots, press or media attending and also special visitors on the day, FA delegates or doping control if they should turn up.
All being well after the game, paperwork is dealt with and sent to FA and food and refreshments are served in the bar."
I would imagine, that these tasks are managed by several people, perhaps even a team, in men's clubs, yet Paula does it all on her own, always with a smile on her face. This is how I have come to know Paula to be. Hard working and dedicated, yet finding time for others no matter how busy she is. An example of this, was the opening day of this season, when, despite having so much work to do, she still found time to come and offer my daughter the chance to be a mascot, making her day in the process.
Moving on from match day, there are two other regular elements in the game that we take for granted on the men's side, but, personally, I wanted a better understanding of in the women's game. The first of those, is transfers. We know the basics in men's transfers, in that transfer fees are agreed, contracts agreed and the player signed. Plenty of media coverage tells us this. Yet, in the women's game, there is no media hype on transfers, no mention of colossal fees, and so, I had come to believe that perhaps the transfers worked differently. I asked Paula if this was the case?
"That is pretty much the same in the women’s game. Speak to a player, agree a fee, sign a contract. However, unlike the men’s game, not all players have to be on contract. Some are on expenses only and therefore not bound contractually to the club."
That led me onto the second element, contracts. We had recently seen several players leave, a year after joining, leading me to ask Paula if the contracts that are signed, are only for one year?
"Contracts are for a year, but they have an option clause in them. If the option is agreed, then the club have 7 days at the end of the season to invoke the option for the player to stay. If it's not invoked then the player is free to go."
Now that I knew a little more about how the transfers worked, it made me think just how busy the summer had been, with the club having seen a huge overhaul of the playing staff, as several players departed, and a host of new faces joined. Given the amount of activity, and that we have learned a lot of the work behind the scenes involves Paula, I asked what it had been like working through this hectic time?
"It was a very busy summer. We had a list of players we wanted to target but obviously not all were available. We knew we needed to overhaul the team as the step up from Tier 3 was a huge jump. It was challenging, but a great experience, and we learnt a lot!"
Now, a busy summer of signings is not something we are used to as Palace fans! While Dougie Freedman and our scouting team, seemingly scratched their head and once again failed to recruit the players we needed, our women's team managed to sign almost an entire squad! Given this monumental effort, I asked Paula if there is a scouting team in place, and if not, how players are identified?
"No we don’t have a scouting team lol! The women’s game is very close knit in certain respects. Players speak to players etc. We had a couple come through agents approaching us, some through direct contact with the club or through players and even other GMs contacting me about players they were letting go or who wanted to move on."
Perhaps Dougie should take a few pointers! So, with the players in, you then have to get them working together. With the men, we get regular updates from the training ground, where the players are daily. In the Women's Super League(WSL), the teams have to be Professional, and so I would imagine their time is spent training daily too. In the Women's Championship(WC) and below, the teams are semi-pro, and so this just isn't possible. As I have mentioned in previous articles, when our players aren't giving everything out on the pitch for us, they are working in other full time jobs! So, with that in mind, I asked Paula how often the players get to train?
"Players train on pitch Tuesday and Thursday, 8-10pm, and Wednesdays in the gym, 8-9.30pm"
Remarkable really, when you compare it to full time training. Yet, they work hard, work together and it shows come match day. Over the years, we have had too many players, like Jimmy Kebe, who were paid thousands per week, and couldn't be bothered. Our hard working women put them all to shame. While speaking of hard work, I had heard that quite often, given the small staff numbers and low funding, that some work carried out is voluntary. I asked Paula how much of her role, if any, was voluntary?
"My role is the only full-time paid role, but it’s definitely not a 9-5pm. My days can go on to 9 or10 O’clock at night."
Having heard all the answers so far, and building up a better understanding of how things run, I asked Paula what changes and improvements she would like to see with Crystal Palace Women as we move forward?
"At present, I don’t believe there are any changes I would like to make. We are improving all the time, and I see great things coming from this team! The attitude is fantastic, and the comradery is there to see on the pitch, getting stronger each game. There can always be improvements, training times, facilities, staffing but these will come in time with results."
So that was the club, but what about the Women's game in general?
"There is a huge division now between the WSL and WC tiers. It would be good to be able to reap the same benefits from sponsor funding. Unfortunately, the WC does not have a sponsor at present, but that injection of cash into the WC would really benefit ours, and other clubs with funding for more staff, promotions and medical benefits"
That left me with one final, burning question. Given we all love a promotion, if Palace were to get promoted in the near future, would we be in a position to fulfil the WSL criteria of turning Professional?
"WHEN we achieve promotion to WSL, I believe that would fulfil the dreams of everyone who works so hard for the team on and off the pitch, and the Palace Family would all be pulling together to make that happen."
You have to love the optimism, and from what I have experienced from those at the club in the last year, the passion, drive and determination is very much a part of the Crystal Palace Women's foundations.
I want to take this time to thank Paula for her time with this interview, and all that she does behind the scenes, so that us fans can enjoy watching our beloved team on match day. I hope that it has been as informative, and perhaps even a little eye opening, for all of you, as it has been for me. Oh, and keep your eyes peeled, as this month there will be TWO 5BY5 player interviews coming, which you can only find here at Back Of The Nest!