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Women’s football: What it is like playing for a team that pays it players equally

Rhian Cleverly plays centre back and is Lewes WFC Captain, as well as player liaison and lifestyle officer.

This is my fourth season. It feels like home now! 

What drew you to the club?

Before Lewes FC I got released from a club in France. I was really upset and considered quitting football, but my close friends and family encouraged me to give it one more try.

I sent an email to the Lewes coach at the time and straight away I could tell how much the club cared about me as a person as well as a player.

The club helped me create a dual career by connecting me to Chichester University to do a MSc in Sport Psychology. From then, the more I learned about the club, its values, and community the more I knew it was the perfect environment for me. 

What is it like being a member of Lewes Football Club?

It’s like a big family. A lot of us live here and we come just for football, so the town becomes our home and the other players, staff, and community become our family. This is needed because it’s bloody hard work 99% of the time. Competing against teams that have more money and better resources/facilities adds an extra challenge, but we believe in our values and when you work for everything, winning together only means more. 

Can you tell us more about Equality FC initiative and its impact on you.

Equality FC means fairness and doing things the right way, not just how it’s previously been done or the easy way.

Most people think we just have equality in terms of money but it’s so much more than that. Other aspects of our equality include resources, facilities, opportunities, kit, time, effort and most importantly value & care! It shouldn’t be but it’s special.

The fact we are still the only club in the world to pay its women’s and men’s equally makes me very proud to play for Lewes FC. 

Have you seen an increase in the women’s team since England won the Euros?

Yes, attendances to our games have grown bigger following the success of the Lionesses at the Euros.

People who have never been to a game before have become big fans practically overnight. It’s so good to see our team and more importantly our sport starting to get the recognition it deserves.

However, the Lionesses’ understood the importance of their legacy when they wrote an open letter to the government demanding more opportunities for girls to play football in school.

The bottom of the participation pyramid is the most important for development to get more young girls playing which will only make quantity and quality of the next generation of players even better! 

How has the perception of women’s football changed?

It is becoming normal for girls to play football. This was weird, discouraged and previously banned. The positive perception and growth of the game in the last decade is unbelievable, bigger than ever before. I’m so glad the next generation may not have to experience the struggles & sacrifices many of us have and continue to.

Despite this positive perception it is so important to remember women’s football still has a hell of a long way to go.

For many players, we still have to fight for football before we even step foot on the pitch. For many players the professionalization of women’s football is the best & worst part of our game. 10-month contracts. Below minimum wage. Part-time jobs so that we can play full-time football. Just like many of the Lionesses (e.g., Lucy bronze working in Dominos), I know players in every club who have or will experience balancing an impossible lifestyle. Too many players have quit as the sacrifices have grown bigger than their love for the game. More still needs to be done for the players that are still working to make this game professional.

What would you say to someone who hasn’t been to Lewes FC before?

Come to a game, watch our documentary, talk to us, become an owner!

You can make a massive difference and fall in love with football like you never have before.

I know I am biased but come and experience it for yourself, we are a truly special town, community, club, place and people and we want you to be a part of the magic too. 

What plans are their for the future?

We’re working harder than ever before – on & off the pitch! The more successful we are at football the more powerful our messages become, and we really want our football to do the talking for us.

We know our time is limited as the more we push and advocate others to similarly prioritise equality the less our message becomes unique.

However, if we can help create a world where football truly values women the same as men, we can start changing the perceptions across other sports and in wider society too. I love winning but that is so much greater than the result of any football game.

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.
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