New Waves - An Interview With Chris Slegg
An Interview With Chris Slegg - Author of the Women’s Football Yearbook
There is a tidal wave washing over us at the moment & it is sweeping away everything in its path. Attitudes that are no longer in sync with modern society. A male-dominated order of things. The general perception of what women can - and can’t - do.
The last one is so important because how can we possibly hope to eradicate other anachronistic ideologies like racism or homophobia when some people don’t even consider half of our species to be equal with the other half?
If you spend enough time on Twitter, like I do, you will read the same things - over and over again - trotted out on any women’s football team page, written by people who would clearly be better spending their time reading books instead of being on social media 24/7. “Women can’t play football,” “get back in the kitchen where you belong,” and “I know the PC Brigade will be all over this - but women’s football is shit.”
Sometimes you get all three in one comment - women’s football Twitter bingo.
Women can play football and women’s football isn’t shit. Marta would make many a professional male footballer look very silly. She is a genius.
I feel that the women’s game is one of the best mirrors for wider society as a whole. Its growth is helping to change old attitudes towards women in general. Since more money has gone into the game & more women can play professionally without having to work a second job, it has improved out of all recognition. No real surprises - put money and effort into something and it will improve. It isn’t rocket science.
As a perfect symbol of its progress, it now has an annual to rival the standard reference tome for any football journalist - the Football Yearbook. A direct nod to its big brother it is simply titled the Women’s Football Yearbook. Written by BBC sports’ journalists Chris Slegg & Tom Garry, it is a detailed reference book of the season. It also hears from key players in the women’s game.
For me, it is a wonderfully researched & much-needed work. I interviewed one of the authors, Chris Slegg, about the book and about the growth and state of the women’s game.
Here is what Mr. Slegg had to say about it.
FATC: What prompted you to create the Women's Football Yearbook?
CS: As a kid I bought the men's Football Yearbook every year. It's where I learnt so much about all the teams in the country. When I became a journalist I continued to buy it, it is an incredibly useful journalistic tool. In 2017 I wondered if there had ever been a similar book for women's football, I looked into it and I couldn't find that one had ever existed. So I set about putting one together. Putting the book together was a really good way for me to learn much more about women's football too. At that stage, despite being a sports journalist I didn't really know much about women's football beyond the very top clubs like Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea. I wouldn't even have been able to name all the teams in the top division. I knew about the FA Cup and Continental Cup, but I didn't know how the game below the elite level was structured and the Cup competitions that existed at that level.
I set about finding a publisher. I found one but they pulled out after much of the work was done. The book was put together outside of work, entirely in our free-time by me and my BBC colleague Tom Garry. We decided to press ahead and self-publish the book because we had done so much work that would go to waste. We just about covered our costs and received many favourable reviews. We were delighted the Guardian mentioned the book in their Best Sports Books of 2017 article.
FATC: What aspects of the game does the book cover?
CS: For the second edition, which has just come out, we were able to find an established publisher called Legends Publishing. They have done a great job enhancing the look and feel of the book, so it is now all in colour and contains loads of great pictures. The book has an entry on all the clubs in the WSL, Championship and Women's National League. It also covers the teams who were relegated from that level at the end of 2017/18. As such it covers the top four tiers and the top 100 teams in England. It reviews their 2017/18 seasons, with all their results from the League, FA Cup, League Cup and County Cup competitions and all their goalscorers. There are facts and key stats about all the clubs. There is an exclusive interview with a player at each WSL club and inspirational quotes from players or officials at most of the other clubs. We asked every club to contribute and the vast majority replied. There is also a section on the history of women's football, all the major news stories from last season as well as the England results and Champions League results.
Women’s Football Yearbook Out Now on Legend’s Publishing
By Chris Slegg & Tom Garry
FATC: Both you and Tom are experienced sports journalists - was the research process the same - or did you have to pretty much rip-up the rule-book?
CS: Part of the appeal of putting the book together was to be the very first people to have brought together a yearly review as comprehensive as this. It is far harder to find key statistical information about women's football than it is men's football. We attempted to contact every club to verify information because there are often situations where even the FA website and the club's own sites disagree on scorers etc.
FATC: How far can the women's game go & what are the remaining barriers to its progress?
CS: It's not necessarily because women's football has changed that I feel it is about to "get big", it's because society has changed. The mainstream media and fans are waking up to the fact that this huge area of the game has been largely ignored. It's hugely exciting to explore a whole 'new' genre of the game, to find out about new teams, new players, new characters, an entire history that we should have explored years ago. Hats off to all the brilliant bloggers, journalists and fans who have been following women's football for years. Publications like SheKicks, blogs like SentHerForward, great podcasts like the show the Manchester City Women's Supporters' Club put together. We in the mainstream media have taken our time to wake up.
I think if England do well at next summer's World Cup it will again take things to another level. Another factor is Manchester United's presence in the Championship. As a football fan who is very much a traditionalist, I didn't really approve of the way Manchester United were catapulted into Tier 2, but you can't deny it's a good business move on the FA's part. There is a wider societal need to ensure as many women as possible have the chance to find a career in football, and United have the resources to offer that. I witnessed the power of their "brand" - again not a word I like using as a football fan - when I went to their match at Crystal Palace in mid-November. Palace had their biggest crowd of the season of 975, and their secretary told me it would make a huge difference to have a crowd like that every week. The husband of Manchester United goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain got chatting to us and told me that this is the first time in her 16 years playing at the top level that Siobhan has ever had a bespoke goalkeeping coach. If any team is likely to break the 10,000 crowd mark for a domestic match then I think it will likely be United playing Man City or Liverpool in a WSL match if they were to stage it at Old Trafford.
FATC: You're donating 50% of the profits of the book to sponsor non-professional players. How will you decide who to sponsor? How will you find them?
CS: Putting the book together has opened my eyes to how, outside of the very top clubs, women's football is really held together by the great work of volunteers. Even in the Championship, players are having to find their own sponsors to be able to play. I want the book to play its own small part in raising the profile of women's football, but I also thought it would be great if every sale could also help as well. We will have to see how well the book sells before we know the amount of royalties we receive and then we will have to make the best decision about how the money can be used most wisely to make the greatest impact.
FATC: Any other business?
CS: We're looking for stories about players and clubs at any level to feature on our website with the best ones hopefully also featuring in next year's book. This year we are delighted to have the help of some students at the University Campus of Football Business which is based at Wembley helping us enhance our coverage of clubs in Tiers 3 and 4 of English football.
The book can be bought from Amazon or directly from the publisher by clicking here. Alternatively - you can ask your bookshop to order it in. The book also has a twitter account, which you can follow here. Finally - visit their website to read more about the book & to see more writing (and interviews) on the the women’s game by visiting here.
To win a copy of the Women’s Football Yearbook - you can do so on the FATC Twitter page by clicking here.
n.b. - the interview was conducted before England had been awarded the right to host the Women’s 2021 European Championship on 3rd Dec. 2018
Photographs & FWY Cover copyright: Chris Slegg, Chris Slegg & Tom Garry. Artwork by FATC. All right’s reserved.
Article by J.S. Leatherbarrow