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Paige Bailey-Gayle (black women in football)

Delving deeper into the need for more representation of black women in UK football

By Bryana Gold

Few know Emma Clarke, Britain’s first black female footballer. Debuting in 1895 in London, her games attracted crowds of over 10,000, yet she earnt only a shilling a week.

Emma Clarke, born 1876, is regarded to be the first British black female footballer

Although more black women are gradually participating in professional football, there remains a distinct lack of representation. With the Women’s World Cup kicking off in June, women’s football is attracting more attention than ever, and the spotlight could well fall on the lack of diversity in top clubs, the national team and managerial positions.

Paige Bailey-Gayle is a 17-year-old black footballer. She made her Arsenal debut with the first team in the Women’s Super League (WSL) last season.

She spoke about growing up playing football as a minority in the United Kingdom: “I don’t think there is enough representation of women of colour, because I don’t think society values women of colour on the same level as white women. For example, adverts for women’s football don’t depict women of colour or playing for their national teams. Some teams don’t have any women of colour playing for them.”

The striker suggested more campaigns featuring women of colour as role models, to boost profiles of black women in the game, and encourage others.

Lack of diversity in women’s football is in stark contrast to the men’s game. About 70 per cent of players in the Premier League come from foreign countries, but only around 10 women of colour represent the top six teams in the Women’s Super League.

Diane Culligan, chair of London City Lionesses, is the only black chairwoman at her level. “Generally there’s not a lot of black women in football at the higher echelons that equals what’s going on the men’s game,” she said, admitting that she has never met another black woman in a similar role.

Lack of representation amongst owners and managers transcends into the youth. According to Culligan, Hampstead FC’s youth girls club doesn’t have any black girls in its teams. On encouraging black women to become involved in football, Culligan said: “It’s difficult…from boardrooms to grassroots.”

Hope Powell and Alex Scott are changing women’s football for black women in the United Kingdom. Powell, who is mixed race, was selected by the FA as the first full-team manager of England in 1998. She now manages WSL team Brighton & Hove Albion. Scott, former England international and Arsenal Women footballer is a leading pundit with Sky Sports.

Importantly, the FA is recognising the lack of women and specifically women of colour in the game and is beginning to take action to increase representation. They have set a three-year target plan, aiming to increase participation from 2018 to 2021 in two specific categories: “Female” and “People from BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) backgrounds”.

In leadership roles, the FA’s goal is to increase female representation from 30 per cent to 40 per cent and people from BAME backgrounds from 5 per cent to 11 per cent.

Kelly Simmons, the FA’s director of women’s football since 2018, said the FA’s strategy is set to grow all facets of the game and its workforce.

“We don’t just look at women as one group; it’s broken down. A big focus is around coaching and identifying female coaches, supporting them, giving scholarships. There is a BAME coaching scholarship whereby coaches come in and work with elite coaches.”

Simmons recognises the need to improve commercialisation, cementing Bailey-Gayle’s suggestion that more women of colour promoting the game will encourage others, For Simmons, ultimately women’s football should “represent the country that we live in”.