Women’s football is one of the fastest growing sports globally and here in the UK it’s no different. I had an insightful chat with Newcastle alumna and Pathway and Development Manager at Durham Women Football Club, Maddy Wood, to discuss her role, the influence Newcastle Uni had on her career path, and the future of the game.
Maddy answered the phone to me just as she was finishing up with a bike ride. Sport has always been something that she loves and an environment in which she thrives, explaining, “I was always very much trying to build myself into a sporting environment and sporting future”. As a student at Newcastle, not only did Maddy play for the women’s rugby 1st XV, as a member of the scholar’s program, but she also founded the Newcastle women’s intramural football team during her first year. Socials are a significant part of any university sports team and I have to ask which was her favourite club. The answer is immediate and unequivocal... “Flares”.
Working for Durham allows Maddy to fulfil her desire of working in sport and helping to grow the women’s game. The role of the Pathway and Development Manager is to oversee the youth program at the club. Durham’s youth set-up is one of four in the country taking part in the FA’s pilot program which focusses on how women’s football is being shaped and how it’s growing.
Interestingly, Durham is one of only a few teams in the 2nd division who are not affiliated to a men’s club and if they were to gain promotion this season, a feat which Maddy says would “mean everything”, Durham would be the only team in the entire FAWSL not tied to a men’s club. Maddy explains that this is something which has both its benefits and its disadvantages: “Obviously there are financial benefits to being attached to a men’s club whereas we have to go out, seek funding and account for every penny that we spend. If we were to be promoted, we’d be coming up against clubs like Man United and Man City and it would be difficult to compete. On the other hand, we are completely free to market the club the way that we want, get the sponsors that we want and make sure the same values are running all the way through the club. We aren’t overshadowed by other priorities like some women’s teams are”.
"Durham would be the only team in the entire FAWSL not tied to a men’s club."
Many of Durham’s first-team players have been at the club since the age of twelve and like many female athletes work other professions before training in the evenings and travelling and playing at weekends. Maddy believes that this links to a bigger and more important theme in women’s sport, where the athletes at the top are often more relatable figures who can be closer to their fans. This is a concept of the game which she has always been interested in and was even the theme for her dissertation.
With more opportunities, funding, and positive role-models for younger girls, Maddy is excited about the future of the game. “I only see it growing. Look at the American players coming over to the WSL, yes it’s becoming more of a business but it’s also becoming more of a marketable opportunity”. Sam Mewis, for example, is a US World Cup winner who signed for Man City during the summer.
She and her sister, Kristie, are two players that come to mind when I ask Maddy who her favourite sportswoman is. Sam impressed her when she featured on the podcast Just Women's Sports presented by Kelley O’ Hara (“that’s a recommendation for a podcast by the way!”) and she admires Kristie for the way she has bounced back following her injuries.
Tomorrow we speak to Kate Sutton, senior manager of digital growth at Adidas.