In the first of a new series as we build up to the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022, we spoke to Worthing Town Chief Executive, and one of our Board of Directors, Pauline Fox as a way of profiling the female role models within Sussex Football.
This summer, we will see the biggest ever female European football tournament come to this country meaning more and more role models for young girls. Luckily, in Sussex, we have plenty of those already.
“I was suddenly watching matches all the time and getting more and more involved with the club. Ordering the kits, watching training sessions, interviewing coaches, and I'll admit I had to wing it at first!”
Pauline epitomises the fact that anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it. As she approached retirement, and having not particularly liked football, she’d have probably told said you were mad to suggest that football was what her post-retirement life would be.
“It was purely by accident! I was Chief Executive of a local charity. A lady turned up at my office and told me that she wanted to raise some money through the charity I headed at her local club.
“Obviously any charity CEO will welcome something like that and as it turned out she was involved in the lady’s team at Worthing Town.
“They did all sorts of events with my charity and all they asked from me was that I popped along to the football every so often and present a few cups and medals.”
But like most things in grassroots football, that spiralled into much more than that.
“In 2012, the Chairman of the club came to my office and asked if I'd help out with their CRC checks because the person who did them left.
“I did that for a couple of months then he came back to me and said they were putting a lottery bid in for a new club house. I helped them with the football foundation application.
“They got that build and didn't have enough people to help around the club, so I was asked for business advice.
“They'd gone from Goring Rec. to all of a sudden having this club house and they had trebled their memberships within months.
“I gave them business and fundraising advice but then found myself doing a welfare course, became their welfare officer and then the Chairman left so I got asked to join the board.
“It was then suggested by somebody at Sussex FA that as the club was so big they needed a Chief Executive. It was one of those moments where everyone looks at you!
“I knew how to be a Chief Executive as I was just retiring as one and then it really snowballed. I think at this point I'd never seen a football match!”
As the early years went on for her at Worthing, Pauline made a name for herself within Sussex Football. The FA came to visit, along with our very own Chairman, Mathew Major.
“I think I met Matt when Greg Clarke (former Chairman of The FA) came down to the club because he heard about this woman that was running a football club and wanted to visit.
“Mathew was there, and I had a very, very pleasant invitation to meet him at a pub one night, to talk football. We still laugh about it to this day because I said, 'Well I don't meet strange men in pubs, I'm a married woman!'
“But nonetheless, over a couple of pints we talked about football and I told him I knew nothing about football nor was I that interested! That's not to say I wasn't becoming interested because you can't wing it forever.
“I had a crash course from my husband on the offside rule, what referees do, what coaches do, and then I agreed to join the Board of Directors at Sussex County FA in 2017.
“I like to think it's gone well. I've always had strong confidence in my ability, and I like a challenge. Once I was retired, I needed something to keep my brain engaged and incredibly that's been football.
“I now love, speak and dream football, I got to the Amex, Stamford Bridge, Culver Road and it's just got bigger and bigger over the years.
“My husband still laughs that I'm involved in football, but he did think it would be an excuse to always have it on the telly, not the case! I always watch the lady’s games on the telly.”
It wasn’t long before Pauline’s love for football started to grow but specifically, in female and disability football. Pauline has a background as a nurse where she specialised in mental health and learning disabilities, so she was quick to find her passion in this area.
"The charity I headed was Worthing Scope and we supported a lot of people with disabilities which is why I got involved with the Sussex Disability Football League along with my nursing background. One of my goals is for all clubs in Sussex to have disability access and inclusive football.
“I believe that it's essential we achieve this. It's the reason I chair the Sussex County FA Inclusion Advisory Group. I've wanted to ensure we have an adequate pathway for all girls at the club also, so that as far as possible, they aren't in mixed teams.
“I wasn't expecting to become chair of IAG, there was no one else on the board free enough to do it. I was starting to lean towards safeguarding but there was a need for this, so I stepped up.
“The group has grown, and we've recruited recently. The work I think we've done is very good. We've got a new prayer room that we've implemented at Culver Road which I think is great.”
“It really pleases me to see more young girls come into football though. It goes to show that they are definitely interested but perhaps the pathway hasn't always been there for them.
“The general growth of the women's game has been amazing and to see more and more professional teams create a women's team, is fantastic to see.
What’s more, she is delighted to see how well the promotion has gone for the EUROs this summer and hopes to see it continue.
“I just really hope that the plans in place for the UEFA Women's EUROs this summer continue to move at the same pace because it's looking good. The advertising and marketing have been amazing.
“The fact that the first game has sold out is just incredible. I've been to women's games and it's been good if there's 1000 people there.”
She’s a fascinating character, Pauline, one who, until her retirement had no interest in football whatsoever. Little did she know years down the line she’d be a role model for women and girls all over the county and be the Chief Executive of a very successful grassroots club.
Lastly she told us of her highlights in her football career so far: “An early one for me was when I went to a safeguarding conference at St. George's Park. It made me realise I loved being in football and felt part of the community.
“I listened to people at the conference and didn't feel out my depth at all. The strategies they were talking about, I felt confident I could do myself.
“After a long time of feeling like I was winging it in football, I finally felt like I belonged and felt deserving to be a part of it.
“The other highlight for me has to be securing the funding for the 3G pitch at Worthing Town. It's been a huge achievement for me and something I've been working towards for over five years.”
For further information about Women and Girls Football in Sussex please contact:
T: 01903 766855