Inspired by England 2022: Carly Farrell
Following the Lionesses bringing it home last month, we thought it was time to profile another one of our incredible female role models in Sussex, Carly Farrell.
Fresh of the back of Lionesses winning the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022, our sit down with Carly is one we looked forward to. She’ll be well known to most in the coaching community and has been instrumental in the growth of female football in Sussex.
“I've got two sons and one of them at the final said to me they want Mead on the back of their shirt. I just thought that was amazing and a real wow moment because when does that happen?”
Carly beams with pride when talking about the success of the Lionesses this summer. She doesn’t pretend that things weren’t always this way, but rather appreciates the hard work she’s (and many others) had to put in over the years.
Carly started playing football at the late age of 14 for Belmont United, under the arches of Wembley but by the time of turning 16 was thrown into open-age football for Bushey Rangers in Hertfordshire.
A very successful side that moved up with many promotions, she had been able to play against the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal, Watford, and a highlight she states was scoring at Griffin Park against Brentford.
“I suppose the level back then was very different.” She says with a grin on her face reminiscing on her playing days.
“As much as I was playing a good level of football, it was still grassroots, paying to play. We even had a player that was playing England Under-19s level, which is mad to think, a grassroots team having that.
“We had players that were dual-signed to us and Arsenal Ladies, players that were generally in and around their academy, so my social life was very much around that environment as well.
“They were obviously good players, but fundamentally we were a pay to play grassroots women's team. You'd never see that in today's game."
Carly also played football in the hit movie Bend it like Beckham and still gets messages from people seeing her in the 2002 movie. Being in a huge and cult film that had such a big impact on women’s football and even 20 years on is still regarded as the start of the change the perception of women’s football and sport.
“It was amazing to be a part of it and defiantly not what I expected at 18 years old thinking I was auditioning for a Bollywood movie!”
So how did her passion of playing the game transfer into a passion of coaching?
“I had done a lot of youth work when I was younger, I helped out at Brownies and Guides then I started coaching when I was playing in early 2000s. I did that for the younger age group at Bushey Rangers.
“I did my FA Level 1 in 2006 and FA Level 2 in 2008, so I got those very quickly. The Level 2 was quite an experience because it was an unusual course for females to do back then.
“At the time I was living in Hertfordshire, there was an event run by Hertfordshire FA where females could go, it was delivered by Sian Williams (ex Arsenal player & Watford Ladies Coach), and that had a big impact on me.
“It inspired me to take coaching further and go for the Level 2. It helped that in Hertfordshire you had Watford and Arsenal Ladies, where there were quite a few good role models that made you think it was an option.”
It must have been a daunting prospect for Carly back then knowing there was a good possibility she’d be one of the only females on the course.
“I found the environment a lot tougher than my driving lessons!” Carly tells us as she laughs off what overall she believed to be a very positive experience for her.
“I went into the Level 2 completely blind, it was really tough back then as well, there was a lot of 8v8 football, and it was probably not far off a lot of the B License stuff now.
“I had to join in on a lot of the football. I was there with only one other female and was probably the youngest there as well playing against grown men!
“I felt like that was probably the making of me though because if I could make it through that environment, I could probably make it through anything!”
After getting her badges, Carly really got the buzz for coaching and started making inroads within the game.
“Off the back of my Level 2 I got a phone call asking if I wanted some paid coaching work, so I jumped at that. I had just left Uni and was working as an office manager, just buying time and getting money then I got that phone call asking if I wanted to be paid to coach.
“I was earning more from my job, but I obviously enjoyed the coaching a lot more, so I took time out of my job to do that instead. It was a company called Apex Multisports in Hertfordshire who alongside myself employed back then Helen Ward (player for Watford & Wales), Natasha Dowie (player for Reading) and Lydia Bedford (Leicester City head coach) so a good crop of young ambitious role models.
“I remember Helen and I delivering sessions in secondary schools and getting her to demo - she was a huge role model to those girls we worked with.
“That was purely for the love of it, not the money, because I probably spent more money going there! From that I started coaching for Watford, which was very much grassroots in them days, but it was linked to the club.
“I managed their under-10s on my own and was the only female coach in the pathway, I was very young, early 20s, but was probably one of the most experienced and certainly ambitious coaches there.
“With that, I tried to work with some of the other male coaches there to develop a bit of a philosophy within the club. I stayed with that group of girls for three years and some of them now play a good level of football either in the Women’s Championship or National league.
“Some of them have also started their coaching badges as well now which is nice to see, and I still stay in touch with them. We were very successful, won the league, won the cup, but one of my proudest things is that these girls are still playing football in some shape or form. Even more proud that some of them are now coaching.”
From there, Carly relocated to Surrey and went to coach at Fulham in their Centre of Excellence in what was a big step up for her in the coaching world.
“I realised then the level of the more elite football, some very good coaches there as well, Michelle Jeffcoate was big female role model and Amy Price who is now a national coach developer who was a few years younger than me but such a professional and role model.
“I was in with some really good people who kind of mentored me a little bit. We trained at Motspur Park and it was definitely a step up in what was essentially the equivalent of what today is the Regional Talent Clubs.
“I stayed there until Fulham lost their license and had a reshape, I then moved down to Brighton as a coach at their Centre of Excellence for a season; but with Fulham we continued to operate a player development centre, for another two seasons.
“Fulham had been on such a high and were one of the first fully funded professional women's sides, they'd won The FA Cup two years running (2001-02 & 2002-03), with some really talented players coming through.
“I started to see a real change and things were very positive, but the most disappointing thing was that those licenses could be taken away so easily and that's what happened.”
Carly had a career break at this point when she fell pregnant with her first son before eventually securing a job with The FA. Her laughter at this point suggests there was more to the story!
“When I was still at Watford I had applied for a job as a Skills Coach full-time with The FA, I got really far in the interview process, but it wasn't quite the right fit.
“I saw another job advertised, again as a Skills Coach, I'd had a little bit more time to embed my football, I'd done the FA Youth Awards with Fulham, and I thought I'd apply again.
“I got an interview but the day before, I found out I was pregnant! So, I knew I couldn't really go for it but also didn't think I could say why, so I just said it wasn't the right fit.
“I didn't expect the job to come up again, and that even if it does I'm probably blacklisted by now! But then a job did come up and I got it, so started full-time as a Skills Coach with The FA.
“We had an induction at St. George's Park, and I worked with some really great coaches. Worked in and around Sussex, but Surrey as well.
“I did it for four-and-a-half-years, had my second son whilst doing that job, then linked in with the County FA and got to know the staff well.” A relationship that has continued and years later Carly coached the successful Sussex Womens Rep squad for 3 seasons. Then in 2019 becoming a FA mentor working in Sussex for the National FA.
The work she did with The FA Skills Team you can tell is a period Carly is immensely proud of. “I had worked hard up to this point, but I had also worked for free and for little money,” she says.
It was something she had worked towards, and something she was going to leave her mark on.
“A lot of the work I did with The FA was increasing female participation in football, so for example in Sussex, we had areas that just didn't have girls playing football.
“Our key areas at the time, going back to around 2013, were around Bognor, Rustington, Uckfield, and also the Lancing/Worthing area as well.
“I remember going into Bognor and going into every boys’ grassroots club, walking into a field and there being about two girls amongst a huge amount of boys. I went to the different chairmen and asked if they'd thought about setting up a girl’s section, which they hadn't.
“I was also going into schools teaching P.E. and supporting teachers in different ways we could get girls involved with football. I would get them into our skills centres which was basically a holding pen if you like, and we'd then feed them into grassroots clubs.
“The bonus of it was that girls would experience some casual football to start off with before going to a club, a bit like Wildcats today.
“It was also about putting girls in the right environment and that might have actually been to go into a mixed team, but we would also try and create girls’ teams for them to go to as well. Off the back of that, Rustington, Felpham Colts, these clubs started getting female teams, and form female sections.”
As much as Carly has spent time developing young girls and getting them into football from a playing perspective, she believes it is equally important to see more young coaches as well.
“One thing during the UEFA Women's EUROs, it was great to see at events like the roadshow, how many young female coaches there were.
“I think in the same respect, it's great to have people like myself, Sharon Muxworthy, people that are a bit older and have had careers as coaches. But I'd also hope that some of these younger girls will see it as a career now and will see it as a pathway for them to go down.
“For me, that would be a big win. Growing up, full-time jobs in football were very rare for me, and hard to come by. We've had a lot of females come through the Playmaker course; I think 200 in the last 18 months in Sussex. It's then about supporting them in whatever path they wish to take.
“Some may just want to do their Level 1 and that's enough for them, but some also might want to go through their badges and look to have a career in football.
“It's important that we support both of those angles but appreciate they may be on different paths. In the last few months alone, there's some I have seen with real potential; whether they want careers in it or not, there are some really talented ones coming through.
“There's a 15-year-old girl volunteering at Southwater Royals and is really keen to jump on and get a Level 1 when she turns 16. She's a really talented girl that's already got hours on the grass. On the back of the success of the Lionesses, I'm hoping that some of the barriers I faced, will have been lifted.”
During the UEFA Women’s EURO, there was a lot of focus on how it will inspire young girls, but equally Carly talks to us about the other groups she hopes are inspired by the tournament.
“I've got two sons and one of them, at the final, said to me they want Mead on the back of their shirt. I just thought that was amazing and a real wow moment because when does that happen? If a boy turns round and wants a female player on his shirt I think we've also made it in that sense as a culture.
“I went to the England-Northern Ireland game at Wembley in October and it was about 20,000 people there. I then go online recently to get tickets for England-USA at Wembley, and it sold out within a few hours.
“This is all happening within a year and I think it's amazing that young girls have these role models and want to see women's football. I've had so many dads and men comment on it to me recently as well which as I say, is equally fantastic.
“The older generation of women as well, the missed generation, it's great that they can find their place. You have Walking football but even if it isn't playing, you can get involved as a coach or a welfare officer, it doesn't always have to be playing.
“For me also, seeing two female coaches going head-to-head in a final, on that huge stage, I'd love to see girls in the crowd to, obviously be inspired by Millie Bright, but also I'd love for them to look at Sarina Wiegman and be inspired to coach as well.”
We get on to the conversation about the incredible attendances at the tournament this summer and she responds: “When we get Brighton games at the Amex, let's fill the stadium for these games!”
In terms of the future of women’s football in this country, attendances are essentially where Carly believes the growth needs to happen.
“I think we need to get WSL matches attended, that's the next step. I've heard some incredible statistics about season ticket sales at some WSL clubs, by a long way exceeding their previous tallies.
“It's important we support our Sussex clubs; Brighton don't have any Lionesses in their squad at the moment but the more we support them and generate interest, the more we get more media there and grow these clubs further.
“With Brighton being in the WSL, there will of course be games where Lionesses are in town, but it's not just Brighton, let's get all other Sussex clubs attended, you've got Lewes, Chichester, Crawley Wasps there's a lot of good standard there.”
When discussing her career, Carly doesn’t show frustration that opportunities were harder to come by for her but instead appreciates her own hard work she’s put in to make a successful career out of coaching.
Lastly, she offered advice to aspiring coaches: “You have got to enjoy it. When it comes to coaching, you have to enjoy it. I've built up a tough mindset where I've overlooked the barriers I've come across.
“Don't be afraid to make mistakes, we develop players to make mistakes, and equally with coaching you have to develop coaches to learn from mistakes.
“Experience all types of coaching environments as well. I've been lucky to experience a lot of different ones myself but also, I've been out coaching 30 reception kids on a muddy football pitch and those different environments are crucial.”
“It's easy for me to say, but don't be afraid to rush your journey. It's not just about getting through your badges, go out there and get the experience as well.”
For mentoring opportunities and support you can contact Carly at Carly.Farrell@TheFA.com.
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