A year in the life of a GM

It’s 12 months to the day that I took over as General Manager at Lewes FC. Naively, I’d intended to keep up a regular blog on the week to week life as a GM, aware that nobody really knows what we do. That ambition slipped after about 2 days. The problem is in the title. We generally do everything that generally needs done in order to have players on the pitch and a team present to play against. The work never feels done so writing a regular blog never reaches the top of the “priority” or “top priority” or “urgent red-hot, double starred priority” lists. So instead, a year on, here are a few bite-size GM takeaways from the last 12 months -

  1. GM life is an adult version of whack-a-mole. I’m a planner, but I’ve come to terms with shredding to do lists. Being part of elite women’s football means a constant stream of day-to-day requirements to fulfil our licence to play at the top level in the country but each week brings a carousel of moving pieces involving tens of people. It’s impossible for everything to go to plan. It can also be hard to carve out thinking time to look beyond the week to week — though the days leading up to away games give slightly more breathing space as you are responsible for a lot less! When not dealing with COVID protocols, the last few months has given an extra bit of space to stop, analyse, reconfigure and develop a more strategic path forward.
  2. Games are excruciating. You think that once the away team has arrived, the refs have inspected the pitch, the players are warmed up, doping control have selected random tests, the mascots have proudly done their duty, the sponsors are enjoying their food, the teamsheets are with the media and the doctor has given the all clear, you’d sit back and enjoy the game. Alas, now starts 90 minutes that will make or break your week but over which you have zero control.
  3. “The job is a lifestyle choice”. No really. Sorry everyone — I miss you loads.
  4. Building positive relationships is testing. There are simply so many people involved in a club — we have around 150 players on the books, more than 100 volunteers, tens of coaching and medical staff and just a tiny handful of staff. Football and the club is a huge part of each person’s lives. So when you do make a mistake, or when they don’t like something, it becomes very personal, very quickly. One of the things we’ve tried to do in the last 12 months is create pride and loyalty and coherence across the club, from the fans to first team players right through to the parents of pathway players. But this doesn’t happen by chance, and we don’t always get things right. Working in a football club has to be one of the biggest tests of “people skills” that anyone could possibly have.

5. Mascots are the best. Matchdays are stressful, but I will always, always, take a minute to watch our mascots walk out on the pitch with the players. Their beaming smiles are evidence enough of the power of role models, and win, lose or draw — they will be there at the end, demanding their autographs. I wish I had that as a kid — we are literally changing lives and aspirations every week.

6. The club is really really really important to people. In the words of one of our biggest supporters at the club: “I feel more accepted here than in my church”.

7. The club is really really really important to me. I’ve received a couple of throwaway comments about how I won’t be here long, or how I can’t get it, because I’m an outsider. The problem is that as soon as the club stood up tall and took on some of the big social issues facing football, it became a global club (we have owners in 30 countries). We are a club that people want to succeed even if they support somebody else. It means so much to me — but also to many thousands of other people who want Lewes to succeed because of its bravery in trying to lead by example and change the status quo to make football genuinely for all.

8. Marching to our own drum….is difficult. Rules and regulations from above often feel designed to promote speedy but arguably superficial progress. It feels like the strategy for women’s football success is — go attach yourselves to a rich men’s club (at least one of our players has been approached by another club with the argument that in order to succeed they need to join a club with a rich men’s team). Requirements we need to put in place can feel designed to make the product look attractive on the outside, but we are rarely asked how we are doing with what we see as crucial pillars on the inside — such as our strong club community and incredible supporters, the very people who will keep our club alive during COVID when others could fail.

9. A football club isn’t just what happens on the pitch. It’s too easy to be distracted from important bigger-picture club building by the exciting frenzy of looking for urgent quick fixes such as a change of manager or player when results aren’t going so well. But there is no success on the pitch without everything else. A strong club community creates a strong fanbase which generates revenue and attracts sponsors which create funds for facilities and playing budgets which attract coaches and players, who build a playing philosophy to win for the club community who become a strong fanbase and so on. Lewes has a brilliant community — it’s so good to see people of all ages wearing the Kappa kit around town, and the matchday posters in the local shops, cafes and pubs, and seeing the walking football teams or vets teams or football therapy teams and knowing you’re all part of this bigger picture.

10. Saying bye to players sucks. You build a relationship with players, and they become a big part of your year. It’s difficult to say goodbye.

11. People want equality to fail. It’s always fascinated me how some people attribute setbacks or weaknesses to the equality “project”. When the men’s team weren’t playing too well at the start of the season questions were raised about whether equality was sidelining the men’s progress. Those comments seemed to subside when the women’s team form dipped.

12. But campaigning for equality isn’t a hypothetical exercise. Lewes has taken a strong stance on the gross disparity in FA cup Prize money (see here for various dissections of the argument as to why it might not be ok that the women receive 0.69% of the men’s prize money for the FA Cup final). But this isn’t hypothetical. When we won our FA Cup 4th Round tie we won £2000, enough to cover our travel to an away game v Blackburn that was called off a few hours before kick off. If we were male we would have won £180,000. £180,000 would have covered our COVID testing for the remainder of last season so we could have finished the season that ended up terminated. Or it would more than double my playing budget so my players wouldn’t have to hold down 2 or 3 extra jobs to play elite football. Or it could get me staff to work on generating sponsorships or marketing or communications. Or I could pay for coaching staff and equipment and physio and medical care across our pathway teams and build brilliant players who could go on to represent our country. Equality is not a hypothetical exercise, it’s people’ lives and careers and opportunities.

13. Leading from the top. Not just a cliche. Half your job is done if the people at the top of the club back you and open doors instead of closing them. The Directors are constantly striving to be exceptional and learn and improve. I’m ambitious, but I often find myself being pushed to think even bigger or demand even more than I would have considered possible myself.

14. Find a Lynne. I can’t complete this list without acknowledging Lynne, our incredible Assistant General Manager. Not only does she do the vast majority of the thankless tasks at the club but she takes her welfare officer role to another level, carrying a huge emotional burden, and going above and beyond to make sure the the players (and me) are coping ok with whatever major or minor thing might be on their minds. Pre-lockdown I spent more time with Lynne than with my own partner and she’s somehow kept me sane and balanced (But also apologies to her long-suffering partner too…)!

All of this is to say, the last 12 months have been about learning. But we’re only just getting started. Let’s go 2020–2021.



Chief Executive Officer, Lewes FC. Director of Equal Playing Field. Formerly @anticorruption @minorityrights @amnesty

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Maggie Murphy

Chief Executive Officer, Lewes FC. Director of Equal Playing Field. Formerly @anticorruption @minorityrights @amnesty