[Interview by the one and only Alex Leith…]
“I’m just about to go into my first-ever board meeting,” says Claire Rafferty (pictured above, on the right), sitting in the admin office at the Dripping Pan. “I’m not sure what to expect.”
I’ve managed to catch Lewes FC’s newly appointed executive director for a quick early-evening chat, before this momentous occasion. Is it possible, I wonder, that the former footballer – who has played for England in two World Cups, won three League titles and two FA Cups at Chelsea, and been a pundit in front of millions on the TV – is a little bit nervous?
Whatever the case, she’s certainly delighted to have been asked to take on her latest role in a long career in the game. “I met Karen [Dobres, fellow Lewes FC director] at a Women in Football networking event, and we had a few coffees together,” she explains. “Pretty soon, she asked me to join the board. I have long advocated equality in football, and long admired the pay-parity stand Lewes FC have taken. I jumped at the chance. It’s a great honour.”
Rafferty, 32, has witnessed a lot of changes in the women’s game. She started out in 2003 as a teenager at Millwall Lionesses, later making over 100 league appearances for Chelsea, scoring 12 goals from left midfield. She represented England at the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, providing live punditry for ITV for the 2019 edition. During her
long career, women’s football grew in prestige, with TV audiences and stadium attendances significantly increasing.
“But it’s not nearly enough,” she says. “There is so much more that needs to be done, to even things out. Every single club is still a long way off parity. To achieve that, they have to start making things even at the grass roots level. It’s all down to money: clubs must invest the same in their female academy as they do in their male one. That would be a start.”
“And not just the clubs,” she continues. “The Barclays investment [a three-year, £10m deal with the WSL] has been great, but other big companies need to follow suit, with sponsorship.”
I ask her what she can bring to the table, as director, at Lewes. “I’ve played at the highest level, and I know what steps a team needs to take be successful, and win trophies” she says. “If we can create more noise around the club that can only lead to more people buying into it, and more money going into the infrastructure and facilities.”
Having such a well-known figure at the club has certainly increased the ‘noise’ around Lewes FC, and particularly the women’s team. I ask her, as a parting shot, as she gets up to leave, if she can help out more directly. Would she ever consider coming out of retirement, and playing for the Rooks? “Never say never,” she replies, with a glint in her eye, and, just for a moment, I think she might be serious.