Suzy Wrack is a much-celebrated women’s football writer for The Guardian.
As an author, Suzy wrote the award-winning book 'A Woman's Game: The Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Women's Football', along with the leadership book 'You Have the Power' with England Women’s football captain Leah Williamson, and her new book 'Strong Women', which was published this month.
Suzy shares her journey into journalism and how her work at The Guardian enables her to combine her joint passions for social impact and sport.
We talk about Suzy’s investigation into the abuse of Afghanistan Women’s Football team, and she reflects on how un-regulated, self-governed sports can harbour abusers at many levels.
Generously sharing advice for those hoping for a career in sports media, Suzy is open about the realities of being a woman working in male dominated sector and how coverage of women’s football in print media is finally changing. That said, she also shares her disappointment that we’ve not seen more change following the Euros in 2022.
Thank you once again to our partners at Sport England who support The Game Changers with a National Lottery grant.
Thank you to Sport England who support The Game Changers Podcast with a National Lottery award.
Find out more about The Game Changers podcast here: https://www.fearlesswomen.co.uk/thegamechangers
Hosted by Sue Anstiss
Produced by Sam Walker, What Goes On Media
A Fearless Women production
Suzy Wrack: The journalist speaking truth to power
Hello and welcome to the Game Changers. I'm Sue Anstiss, and this is the podcast where you'll hear from trailblazing women in sport, exploring their stories as we consider wider issues around equality in sport and beyond.
I'd like to start with a big thank you to our partners, Sport England, who support the Game Changers through a national lottery award. My today is Suzy Wrack, a much celebrated women's football writer for The Guardian. As an author, Suzy wrote the award winning book A Woman's Game, the Rise, fall and Rise Again of Women's Football, along with a leadership book, You have the Power with England women's football captain Leah Williamson, and her new book, Strong Women, was published this month.
Suzy, we've not spoken to many print journalists on the podcast, so I'm thrilled to talk to you, especially as a journalist who's so celebrated. I wonder if I can take you back to the beginning and how your career in journalism started.
Yeah, it's a good one, because I didn't actually study journalism. I've got no journalism qualification, so I actually did architecture at university, did the three-year degree, worked in an architect's firm for a year, was thinking about going to do my part two, maybe, but then sort of just fell a little bit out of love with the industry.
So then I was looking elsewhere and I started working for a youth organisation called Youth Fight for Jobs. That basically was a campaign group sponsored by trade unions that campaigned on like with, you know, young people, mainly teenagers, on racism, for free education, for a better minimum wage, those kind of things. And I was doing all their communications, liaising the media, you know, getting them in the press, but also then doing all of their design work too, because I had a design background.
And then from there I got into newspaper design and I like started working for a little left-wing newspaper, the Morning Star and chatting regularly with the then sports editor, Kadeem Simmons, who's now with Reach, and you know we chat every day about football and you know, occasionally I'd write something for him on, you know, like Serena Williams and Sexism or the Bundersliga and the refugee crisis or things like that. And he asked me if I wanted to start going to games and I was like, yeah, why not? So I started doing the odd men's game here and there the odd women's game, and that was where sort of the interest sparked, like it was never something that I'd considered being a job I could do. I think if I'd known that sports journalism existed in a way that was accessible for me to be able to do when I was younger, in the way that architecture was delivered to me, I would have, you know so, been up for it, but it just never crossed my mind. I read the back pages but it never crossed my mind to think about who was behind the words and who was writing them. I don't know who I thought did it, but that's when I started actually like actively pursuing it.
I went to a talk how to get into sports journalism run by the London Press Club and the panel had Vicky Orvice on it and I approached her because I had an interview for a Guardian sub-editor job the following day and I went up to her and introduced myself. I said look, I've got this job interview tomorrow. Have you got any advice for me? One of the things she said to me is you're not going to get that job. And I was like, okay, thanks, I think that's a bit deflating the day before I go into the interview and she said no, you're not going to get it because the way the industry works is that they've got so many freelancers working from already. A lot of those will apply and it will be one of those that gets that job because you know they already do it and they want to reward them and they've been waiting for this job opportunity to come up and they're already doing the job and it'll be someone like that who gets it. But ask for shifts, she said which was something I never would have considered. So, I didn't get the job.
I got a rejection and I tentatively emailed back and said can I get some feedback and what's the possibility of any shifts? And yeah, so then I think about three months later I had my first shift and I've been at the Guardian ever since.
And it was in 2017 that they asked me to first write a women's football column, on the recommendation of Anna Kessel, who'd been reading some of my stuff for the Morningstar, when I was just doing weekend layout shifts at the Guardian and she was going. You've got Susie sitting on the desk over there doing layout. She can do it when they ask for a recommendation and yeah. So it was sort of like right place, right time. But you know, almost you know, kind of consciously, I was putting myself around quite a lot and trying to be visible in as many different areas as possible to be able to get there. But yeah, it's a it's a long answer, but it's sort of a weird long journey in.
Yeah, and from something so different as well. You've obviously you say you've been at the Guardian for quite some time. Have you seen a change in attitudes and commitment to women's sport at the Guardian across your time there?
it's definitely grown. Yes, I mean, when I was bought in, it was that sort of was part of that change of commitment in a sense, because it was the first time that I think any national newspaper, had sort of gone from reactive coverage to, like consistent coverage, sort of regardless of what happens, you know, instead of it being like, oh no, there's an FA Cup final and we better send someone to that, let's scramble something together, a freelance or whatever. It was like we're going to cover this sport every week, regardless of what is going on, because there is always something going on. So they got me into doing weekly column in 2017, just ahead of women's Euros. So Louise Taylor was out oatthe Euros for them and I was back home right in a weekly column and it was we're going to review this in September. and, you know, women's football audience is still so underserved, but, like then, it was extremely underserved like, in the national press. So it immediately got a take up.
And then, you know, I've been writing ever since and then the growth has sort of gone in line with the growth of the women's game in that, it's been a like, quite a long, slow journey but like the attitudes have changed, but I think there's always been the ambition to do it. I just think it sort of needed the game to grow to help win people over, as as it did. So like I mean, you know, you look at our World Cup coverage and it's so, so, so similar to how we covered the men's World Cup, so the level of coverage is really high and the ambition is like 50-50 ultimately, like that's what we want to move towards. But, obviously, you know that's a kind of a process takes time. There's different number of games in men's or women's football and you know different events in men's or women's sports that make that complicated. But that is what is driving the ambition of the editors and the intent, has always been there. I'd say it's just the growth of the game has opened up the door, resources wise, to be able to make those things happen, which is nice, because the whole industry isn't exactly kind of swarming with, uh, with opportunities. So women's sport is sort of the only real growth area that I see out there at the moment in the industry. Um, so it's it's sort of bucking that a little bit.
I was going to move on to that a little bit, and obviously we've seen great improvements in terms of gender equality across sport, but that's not always the case in sports journalism and it's really depressing to be at the sports journalists awards last year and see there's constant short lists of six white men, six white men, six white men. So I guess what's your experience been of that gender balance in sports reporting and do you think things are changing? And obviously The Guardian’s leading the way there, but across the, the print, area, do you feel things are changing?
They are. I thought there would be more change after the Euro's win than there has been. I think some outlets have actually sort of stepped back a little bit rather than step forward in a way that I didn't expect. I just assumed it would be sort of continued growth everywhere, like it is being for us, and I very much get the impression that that's not the case and that the commitment is very much sort of based on who's in the senior roles at what time, and that can make all the difference, whereas I'm really lucky at the Guardian, the commitment is just so from the top. My two main editors take their daughters both play football. They take their daughters to games that I'm sat in the press box covering. There's a real like they enjoy it. It's not just sort of tokenistic. I think I sort of assumed that everywhere was like that and everyone would be on the sort of Euro's hype train and wanting to do more after the Englands Euro's win, but that's not really necessarily been the case everywhere in the way that I maybe expected it would, which is disappointing, but also not that surprising in some respects, like, I say, the awards. What I find really disappointing is if it had been the men's team winning the Euros or World Cup for the first time. It would be, you know, every single award would be dominated by that victory. And I get that. There were other big stories last year, you know there was Ukraine, you know big social events going on that push the Euros sort of not down the pecking order but just alongside it were some of the biggest stories of the year. I just think the idea that if that was a men's team winning that wouldn't have been the top story and wouldn't have dominated is is just unconscionable.
It would have, it would have done, but yet you know, you get no women's football writer nominated for sports writer for sports writer of the year or football writer of the year in the year that England women have run a Euros. And like I'm not, you know, I'm not saying that should. It should be automatic. It was just the quality of the writing around that tournament was so good, it was so high, so many did such a good job and there was so much passion poured into the writing around it and a lot of emotion, particularly from some of the people who have covered it for a very, very, very long time and have followed the journeys of these players who you know, we've seen, you know playing whilst working full-time jobs and things like that. To for that to not be recognised, for that storytelling not to be recognised, just really frustrated me because I was like who's making this decision? Who is saying that there shouldn't be a women's football writer in the year that England women have won the Euros on the list of football writers of the year? Like that for me is just like mad. And obviously there's some brilliant men's football writing as well, but I don't know. I just still think there's a little bit of a it's a stepping stone attitude to the industry generally and I think there's even that amongst some women's football journalists as well, that you know are viewing it as a platform into the men's game or the little sister of the men's game, and they want to do both or whatever it may be. That's never, ever been my like. My goal has never been to be a men's football journalist.
I actually started off doing more men's football and drifted into women's and I love it, I'm passionate about it. I like believe in it as a thing and I believe it should be treated the same and have the same coverage and that the that I've got responsibility improving that in a certain sense of approving that it's. It's not a stepping stone and it can be the goal. And you know the fact that when I started at the Guardian, I was doing a weekly column and then, you know, now I'm on staff.
Like staff jobs when I started didn't exist for covering women's football. Now they do it at numerous places and I sort of see it, you know where we can go with it. There's no, there's no barrier on that. There's no like cap, because we're creating the jobs and we're creating the, the space for it to exist. Can there be a chief women's sports writer somewhere? Why not like that? Like that doesn't exist yet, but there's no reason why it can't be. So yeah, my ambition is that it is respected at the same level that men's journalism is, which I don't think it is at the moment, and I think that's where the problem sits.
Back in 2018, you wrote the story about FIFA investigating the allegations that the Afghanistan national women's team were being sexually and physically abused by men from the country's football federation, including its president. So I just wondered how did you first become aware of that story?
Yeah, it was actually a really weird process in that it was. It took me a while to get to the sort of heart of the story and what was actually going on. So I'd interviewed the captain of the team about eight months prior about just you know Afghan women's football and the team and its existence and her journey and you know just a general sort of profile on that and then, eight months later, I sort of see on her Twitter and on a couple of Twitter feeds of some of the other players them posting about them being kicked off the team because they refuse to sign some kind of contracts that they say you know infringes on their human rights and their you know freedom to speak freely and things like that, despite the fact they don't get paid to pay for the federation and things Just really like. It just sounded really dodgy.
And I spoke to her and I spoke to another player and they spoke about the contracts and what they meant and how frustrating they were and that they would be chucked off the team for not signing them as a result. And they think that that was a way of silencing them and getting them away from the team. And I was like but put silencing for what? You know what's going on here. I could feel a cageyness there, like there was something that they weren't saying. And they were like you need to speak to our coach. You need to speak to our coach, Kelly Lindsay, you need to have a chat with her. And so they connected me with Kelly Lindsay, former US international turned coach and like motivational speaker, who's worked in number of places as well as the you know, head coach of the Afghanistan women's national team. She's obviously worked at Lewes.
Former guest on the Game Changers.
Exactly! Incredible woman like just you know, one of the best people. I spoke to her and she she didn't quite say it outright, but she like implied that there was some kind of abuse going on, that there was something really dodgy, that was much deeper than this. No, actually, maybe she did sound right yeah, I think she did actually but she couldn't give me any sort of evidence or anything concrete or like any examples. She just could say this is happening, look into it, sort of thing. And she directed me to Khalida Popau, who was the sort of running the team at that time and was one of the founders of the team. And Khalida, you know, just completely like opened the door on the story. She had done a lot of work to interview the players, to collect evidence, to basically sort of build a case of her own back against the President of the Federation, to make it almost like impossible to ignore, and so that made it a story and made it something we could do, because obviously you know so many legal hurdles around covering accusations of rape and abuse and things like that and you have to have a certain evidence base there, because you know, we're not police investigators. We can't prove rape. Either way it's, you know, one word against another ultimately is what it boils down to. So you build up as much evidence as you can that suggests that it happened to be able to say to a certain degree that you know and with a certain degree of confidence that this happened. Enough to justify publishing it, because ultimately it comes down to being ed to all decisions rather than the legal one at that point.
We spent about two months working on it, going backwards and forwards, collecting other bits of evidence to back up a player's word. You know, if a player said they went to a friend's house after their abuse, before they went home to clean up because they couldn't go home because their parents had no idea and would you know, kind of disown them and chuck them out. Possibly worse, if they found out that they had been raped, we went to the friend and asked the friend if that had happened to their recollection. If a player had said that the president's security had knocked on their dad's door, their parents didn't know that they had been abused, they thought there had just been some kind of falling out. But we, you know, went to the parent and asked them did this happen in this way, like without actually revealing that their daughter had been abused? Did the president's security knock on your door at some point and they were able to confirm it?
Things like little things like that that never get published but just help strengthen the story around the story and the claims that the players are making. And we had five players that I spoke to. I think only four of the stories got published because it was just so long we couldn't like physically put more in. But we spoke to five players that'd be abused and obviously that's a layer of, collaborative stories. That sort of, you know, paint a picture of what could be the truth enough to be able to publish. But yeah, it was too much process lots of backwards and forwards, lots of backwards and forwards the lawyers, and lots of backwards and forwards with FIFA as well to eventually be able to publish it. But it was just so important to get their story, their voice, out there and to get international media attention on it because they had no recourse back in Afghanistan.
You know the legal system, it doesn't protect women, they don't have a way of talking about rape because they don't believe it exists. You know like so women aren't taught to understand abuse and rape and that language, and so they don't necessarily have the vocabulary even to trigger like safeguarding processes in FIFA or like in the AFC, because they don't have the word rape as a part of their vocabulary. So you know, if they, if they can't like trigger those safeguarding things, like like how, where is their recourse? So you know all these kind of discussions going on in the background as well. But we were so careful with the story as well because the power of sport to change things more widely is, you know, the bit that, like is what I'm most motivated by and most enjoy, and being able to do something that and elevate the voices of these women that you know in a way that can actually change things for the better, is the best part.
What was the final outcome? For those that perhaps didn't follow the kind of story at the time, but for those women?
Yeah. So I mean, they've had a really hard time in that they were mostly got out of the country. Some ended up in refugee camps in, you know, various countries. Most have ended up in like in other countries, helped by FIFA eventually, but initially helped by Khalida and Kelly and others to get out and the FIFA opened an investigation. Part of the reason the players came to me with the story in the first place was they had complained to FIFA months and months prior, but they didn't feel like the process was moving fast enough. They were very frustrated with the pace of it and so basically, you know, they wanted sort of the public pressure to help push FIFA along a little bit as well, and it sort of felt, you know, quite coincidental that very soon after we published, FIFA formally opened their investigation that they were going to do anyway, apparently.
But it was very, very, very coincidental timing that it just so happened to be sort of within a week of us publishing it finally opened the investigation after about eight, nine months of them having reported it, and so it helps speed up the process and make it happen. And that investigation suspended the president of the Federation for 90 days. That was extended for 90 days and then he was banned for life from football just before the 2019 World Cup, and he was also being investigated internally in Afghanistan. He avoided arrest, managed to flee and now obviously the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorated entirely and he's sort of just been subsumed into the system again. He was a warlord prior or, yeah, prior to him, a military general, prior to him being president of the Football Federation, so he's now back in in that world. So, yeah, I mean it's. You know, in a sense he's just a part of society and the you know that a product of a really really broken, terrible regime for women, but at the same time, at least you know, getting him ban for life from football was an important statement to the world and some of the federations around the world that actually, this can be taken up and it will be pursued. Yeah, even if you know Afghanistan is a bit of a unique country and you know what's happened since.
And you're now working on a book with Khalida, one of the founders of the team, as you said, to be published next year, I believe. Can you tell us any more about that?
Yeah, I mean it's Khalida's journey, but it's sort of the journey of the team through Khalida to a certain extent. She's had such an incredible journey herself, having fled Afghanistan at age I think about eight, six, between six and eight to Pakistan and then rebuilt her life there, then moving back to Afghanistan when the Taliban fell and rebuilding the lives again back in Afghanistan and then being forced to flee herself after she's become a very sort of vocal advocate for women's rights and women in sport and for change and, yeah, having to rebuild her life again, this time in Denmark. So she's had quite the journey. She was the first woman to work for the Afghanistan Football Federation. They employed her as sort of the head of finance, the head of finance committee, because, basically because they wanted a woman in that role, because they thought a woman wouldn't dare steal money and they'd had a bit of a problem with. You know people sort of you know working in the finance department and skimming money off the top and things, and so, yeah, she became the first woman to work for the Federation. Can only imagine what that environment is like. You know she founds, co-founds the Afghanistan Women's National Team, battling a lot there and really championed in women's sports in one of the most hostile environments towards it in the world. So her story is incredible and the book is incredible and yeah, I just can't wait for people to read and see the full scope of what they were able to do.
I like there's so much that's awful in it and horrible, and obviously abuse case is horrible and some of the things that you know she had to go through personally are really awful. But at the same time it's also like a real story of resilience and it just makes you think about what is achievable, because if they can do that there in literally one of the most hostile environments towards women in the world, like what can we do here? And like how much easier is it for us to fight and make change without the risk of losing our lives and things like that. And so like there's that real, like uplifting side to it in that wow, I mean, if they can do what they did there, like there is so much more that we could do here that we're not even even thinking about.
I feel inspired just listening to you talking about it, never mind reading the book, so I can't wait to read the book too. That is a kind of powerful indeed. So, moving on to your first book, so Woman's Game won the Vicky Orvis Award for New Women's Writing at the Sunday Times Sports Book of the Year Awards. I was really excited to chair that category and to be the one that presented you with the award. So, just taking you back, what inspired you to write it in the first place?
I didn't want to write a book. I had no intention of writing a book. It was like so I was approached by my agent, max Edwards really, really great guy about possibly writing a book on women’s football, and I met him with the intention of saying, yeah, there's no way, but I'll give you the time of day. It felt too early in my career. Obviously still at the Guardian, but on a full time writing contract at that point. So I'm writing full time. I'm not a staff yet. I mean it just felt like not the right point of my career.
But he is full of energy, is very persuasive. He's an amateur coach, amateur referee as well in his spare time and he just was so enthusiastic about the idea of a general history, accessible history, of women's football and also the fact that you know, at that point, because we were talking in 2018, the women's Euros was going to be on home soil in 2021. And that was a real great opportunity for a book to be released around that time and he thought that I was the right person to write it and I didn't want to do it, but I also liked the idea of it existing and I didn't like the idea of someone else doing it more than I liked the idea of me doing it mainly because I'm quite political and I wanted, like I feel like a book like that needs for me, it needs to tell the story of the sport in the context of the world and society and life and women's struggle generally, and like that's the way I view it. And I know other people would maybe say that it would be, they would do it very differently. If I'm going to see a book come out, that I think, oh, I would have done this so differently and I would have, maybe I should have done it, then maybe I should just do it. So I did, hated every moment of writing it. Like the process of writing I found really difficult. I mean the pandemic didn't help and you know that really made sort of research and stuff very, very difficult, but my articles for Guardian. You know they're short deadlines, short word lengths, maximum sort of 2,000 words. I think the Afghanistan went up to 3,000, you know we're talking…. I've not done long form writing like that before and I don't think I was quite ready for what it would entail and I'm like master procrastinator and you can't procrastinate on 80,000 words, which is like really difficult. So like I'm really struggled with the mental side of writing a book but I'm like very happy with what has come out of it and, like you know, people come up to me and say they've really enjoyed it. I get messages all the time saying that they've really enjoyed it. Got one yesterday from someone who read it who said you know, they really really loved it. So like that is all great and I like that it's there and it exists. I would write it very differently now. I think weirdly, like in the light, I just feel like I've got a slightly different way of looking at the way you write a book and also the way I look at women's football and things. Now I agree with everything in it. Like I stand by everything I say in it and all my opinions in it and stuff that I just I think I'd find a nut, like I think I could make it even more accessible than I do, and you know just little things. You always notice the flaws in your own work, don't you? You always notice the gaps, so I'm proud of it. I like it. I hated doing it and I, you know, four books. I said I never was going to write a book again. And then, the day I handed it in, I got approached about doing Strong Women, the illustrated book, and I was like, oh, I hate. And now I'm four books in, so I want a break!
I was going to ask you about time. How do you find time? You're also writing, full time work at The Guardian, you're a mother, but how do you find the time to write? That's the other thing, isn't it?
Yeah, and that's the hardest part, right, because what takes the hit ultimately is your family life, because you can't sacrifice work. You know, like I have to ask work to let me be able to do the books and you know you've got to do it in your own time. I was lucky that the first one was published by Guardian Faber Collaboration so, like you know, The Guardian were invested a little bit and had, you know, a little bit more time to spare. But the other ones, you know they're not. So that is very much my own time and my own time is my family time. So that takes a real hit and it's difficult and you know my son, like you know, suffers for it. My husband suffers for it when deadlines are approaching. It's really, really difficult for them. For me, I can't do as much housework, that kind of stuff. I obviously travel a lot for work, so it's there's a lot that takes a toll and yeah, I, like you know I I never say never to any book in that like there is. You know there's so many stories in women's sport and women's football that need telling and like I would love to do. But it's nice to have a little bit of a break, and I think it'd have to be a particularly special project to get me to look at it like right now and there's plenty of those that exist. But yeah, I'm not rushed, put it this way, I'm not looking for one, but if one falls in my lap I will do it. But, yeah, a little bit of a break.
I think you'll be back in a few months with the next one. I can see it happening already. It's been, as you mentioned, you alluded to. there's so many things to talk about. It's such a tumultuous time for women's sport and women's football, and obviously there's this positive news around record crowds and viewing figures and sponsorships. It's like not a week goes by, though, that we're not hearing around sexual harassment, unfair pay, unsafe working conditions, and it's fair to say, I'm sure, that there's this entrenched abuse in national soccer federations academies. So why do you think there is this abuse, and is it worse, or like, why is it worse in football than it is across other sports?
I don't think it is necessarily worse in football than across other sports. I think, and I was going to say maybe it is more than society generally, but I don't think that's the case either. Really, I think it's all a reflection, but I've been working quite closely with a group of gymnasts, recently did a big story with a gymnast on telling the story of her abuse. She's a woman in her fifties now but her abuse from age of sort of like five to twelve in her in her gymnastics gym by Commonwealth Games bronze medal winning trampolinist. iIt's prevalent in every sport.
I think the reason why it is quite easy to get away with it in sport is because sports so unregulated and you know it's quite easy to become a coach. I've got my level one FA coaching badge. It's not a difficult process to go through. You've got to go for a DBS check and things like that. But you know it's, it's a short course, it's a couple of weeks and then you can go off and coach kids in schools and you know anywhere and there's very little follow up on that. You obviously have to renew your licenses and all those kind of things, but in terms of day to day checking of clubs and the way they run and making kids aware of what is right and what is wrong and what is acceptable for them to see and what isn't, that stuff doesn't really go on. It's like quite a quite an unregulated self governed, like sport in that sense, and I think that makes it quite ripe for predators and that is concerning and I think more needs to be done to change sports so that those there are those checks in place, there are places for people to report and speak to at any level, right down to kids at grassroots level that there is the education piece done on. You know that is beyond what kids get in school about sex education but is about like what is right and wrong from an adult and someone in charge of you and those kind of things.
I think all those conversations don't happen enough and in sport really, really need to, because there's so much power involved in the desire of a kid to be good at sport and to do well and to make a career out of it that it gives you know, a lot of control to the person in charge of their, their hopes and dreams. That is like worrying. So I think that's a big part of it. But then again, like all of those are similar to the problems in society generally, like I mean, we've seen, you know, comedy. We've seen, you know in politics, like there's just so many issue in film, so many Me Too movements in different areas of society all pointing the same way and that is that society is fundamentally like anti women, is maybe a bit strong, but misogynistic, and like there is deep embedded sexism ingrained within it and that stuff needs to be done. And it's only when you get towards that societal change and a change in attitudes towards women more generally in society and respectful women more generally in society that you're going to then see that carry over into sport. That said, there's no reason why sport can't be a pioneer in championing the change in society that it wants to see, even if it can't eradicate it, like you're never going to be able to get rid of like abuse and sexism from sport, if it exists in society, it's always going to like be present, I think, but you can limit it and you can put steps in place to make sure that it is, you know, easy to report it and you know, kind of stop it if it does take place as well.
And you've obviously written extensively about this Spanish football scandal post the World Cup and you are a really powerful piece this weekend in the Guardian. I'm going to quote you your own piece, if I can do. The struggle of Spanish players feels like a key moment in this rich history of struggle, the colliding of their enough is enough moment with a broader reckoning in society over women's rights. So I wonder if you can expand a little bit around that. I would recommend anybody to read. It's a fantastic piece but where you feel now, a month on, in terms of those changes and how they might impact society more globally.
Yeah, what I mean by their enough is enough moment is like for so long, women have put up with a lot, and women in football have put up with a lot, and it's very much been a sort of whatever crumbs from the table we get and we're grateful for and let's not rock the boat too much for more, you know. So in the case of the Spain players, they could have stopped their fight when the manager was sacked. They could have stopped their fight when Rubiales finally resigned, the president of the federation. You know there's all these points at which they could have said right job done, back to work. And they've seen it as a responsibility to go further. They've recognised as well that they have the power to keep pushing at the door and to make more sustained and substantive change than just the superficial right. Let's clear out this first layer of misogynistic men just for the next wave to come in in their place to our part of the same system that they have built and cultivated. And I just think it's such a key moment in that, you know they are willing to keep going beyond that and they've seen that this is the time that they can keep demanding change and make it happen beyond. You know, just the superficial or the right quick now get our heads back down and let's get on with the football kind of thing.
That feels like a really important moment for me and a really important lesson for women in society generally, that you know you win one thing and you don't have to stop there. You don't have to go right off. Thank God, phew. We've won that. Now let's. You know we've got equal pay for. You know, the US women's national team players. We've got all. We've got, equal pay. Let's keep our heads down now, or whatever they can. You can go much, much further than that. You don't have to put down the microphone and go right now let's keep quiet for a bit, because we've won that and we, you know, we've got to be good for a little bit so that they don't, you know, kind of think we're just up on a high horse or whatever, and I think that's a really important thing and I think we're already seeing others take it on. I mean, when you look at how outspoken England have been after the Euro's win on accessing schools, on their bonuses, on commercial rights, on just the, you know the future, you know not letting the government put out a statement saying, yes, we're gonna honour all these agreements and then leaving it. You know they're chasing it up, they're following it, they're not gonna let it just be a something that's paid lip service to and a bit of PR, yeah. So yeah, I think people are starting to learn those lessons and that, for me, is exciting and like really important moment, because that's when you get like more systemic change, when you start to challenge things at a much deeper level, when you're pushing beyond those, like the individuals, that are the problem to it. Being a more systemic thing, I think, is what needs to happen.
And it does feel like it's been more collective, doesn't it post the World Cup? I definitely feel that almost from a not watching from the outside, but just seeing that, I wonder do you ever get overwhelmed with how much still needs to change in women's football and society? How do you personally balance the celebrating the great stuff that's happening with also highlighting the challenges that are out there?
That's a good question. I mean I like, have you know, I've like say, when I left university and finished working architecture, I started working for a youth campaign that you know campaigned against racism and for, you know, against during the riots in Tottenham. We weren't, we went out campaigning against the fact that there had been. I think it was. I have a nine or thirteen youth club closed in the area. Like, society is crap and has abandoned the futures of young people in so many ways. Climate change, I mean, free education, you name it.
So I started off doing that kind of stuff and you know, this is just a sort of continuation of that in a way, in the like, yeah, these kind of battles are everywhere.
Like I am driven and enriched by the idea that there is possible to have something better and that it is possible to live in a society where women aren't walking down the street expecting to be shouted at, abused, potentially assaulted, that they can go into a workplace and not have to keep quiet if, you know, someone grabs them inappropriately or something called set or says something inappropriate to them. Like I suppose the vision of better drives me in that like and keeps me motivated and keeps me not getting depressed about it, in the fact that I genuinely believe that people care enough about the future of humanity to want to ultimately see better and that the majority are with those kind of ideas, and it's just a lot of change that will get us there and a lot of fighting back that will get us there. But I do believe that there is possible. I think if you don't, if you don't think that so that it is possible to change things and it is possible to like live in a better world, then that is the point at which you could probably have like massive existential crises about you know what, why, why you're doing what you're doing and stuff. But I do think that we can. We can change things and so well, I want to. I like elevating the voices of people who are doing things to challenge and push back against, you know, outdated ideas, broken systems and things, because, like anything, that kind of helps influence more generally, the idea that we can live in a little bit of a better world is the way I want to go and the way I look at things, because that's yeah, that for me is the hope, right like the, the future of, of the world and society being better.
Absolutely, absolutely. That's fantastic to hear and I'm seeing that the way in which you brought all of that element of your life to the reporting of sport too, we've obviously seen that intersection of sport with social issues becoming ever more prominent, especially around women's sport. So around with gender equality, obviously, but around racism, lgbtq, inclusion etc. Do you ever get not frustrated, because clearly that is a passion for you, but feeling we want to report on those athletes, those female athletes, as athletes and on their performance and their skills, rather than us always needing to have a storytelling narrative around them? And what do readers want? And that's been a bit of a discussion I've had in a few what's happened other groups recently, of that balance, of it's a fabulous thing to celebrate, but actually do you ever think I just like to report on the sport and the game too?
Yeah, I like totally do in that, like I think that it deserves to be reported on properly. But the thing is, is it's so interconnected to all of these things that it's hard to just report on the sport because the context of it, like if you just report on women's, like a women's football match as a women's football match, that's it's fine, but you're almost doing it to service by just doing that, because if you watch a men's Premier League match and you watch a women's Super League match, there's a difference, right, like it's inescapable. There is a difference in the quality of the technical level of the players, of the physicality of the players, you know, of the way they think about the game. Women's football is brilliant, it's exciting, it's like that gap is closing, but you're ignoring the context, like you could just look at it and go well, women's football is not as good. But the reality is those male players have been groomed for professional football and playing three times a week from the age of like five. They've been built for it. Like they have been taught tactics and formation changes and all of the nuances of the game from like a really, really young age, pre-puberty. These women players haven't. So it's inevitable that their technical level is going to be lower, and the exciting thing about it is that the potential is there for it to be better, because they've got to use their bodies in ways that men's players don't, where they've not got the physicality in the same way to like use technical skill and ability and tactical ability to compensate for a lack of physical presence in some cases, and that like is really exciting. You know, when you've got female players being groomed for elite football from the age of like five, how much better will it be as a sport and how differently exciting will it be to men's football if they're given exactly the same sort of level of resources and support to develop as elite professional athletes from such an early age.
Obviously, you know it's a question mark, so whether you actually want it to start as early as that and all of those kind of things and whether that's right and you know the academy system in the men's game is broken and there's all those caveats. But just in terms of like, the basis of the like, what the game looks like and the potential of it, like, if you just report on it in isolation, like you sort of miss out all that nuance and context of the development of the game, let alone then you know you're reporting on the World Cup final. How can you not talk about Spain and what's been going on there since 2015 and before? Because that is all background to the context of their journey. So, like I think it's really really hard to just report on the sport as sport, because there's still so many struggles being waged, so much has been put into getting to the point that it's that that it's sort of it would be doing a disservice just to report on it as sport. That said, like you know, a classic match report on a game like I think can do both can like tell the story of the game and what's happened in that game really really beautifully, whilst also acknowledging the context in a way that doesn't diminish it as a match report. That's the balance that, like, I want to strike is making sure that you, you read a match report and about a game, or a bit of analysis about a game and you know, say the England game the other night, you know, was it inevitable that England were going to eventually lose a game like that, I would argue yes.
Will I write an opinion piece on it at some point? Probably Like, will I talk about the context of the history of the England women's team and stuff? Probably not. Will I talk about the like sort of recent history and you know some of the things that might have disrupted their campaigning, the run up to the Euro's, like the bonus question, things like that? Yes, I probably will.
But that's important to the football, right, like, if you've got players and the sort of unity of the relationship between the players and the FA sort of slightly ruptured ahead of a major tournament that's going to impact things on the pitch, like somewhere, like or it or, you can at least allude to the fact that maybe it did and yeah. So like those kind of like I think you, there's always something going on. You know even men's football, like I don't think I mean, you know there is always context there to what is going on, and it might be sporting context, it might be a slightly more political context or social context of what's going on around the game, the team, the sport. But yeah, it's so interwoven it's hard to separate and I like that. I like that you can do a match report that acknowledges what's going on.
And that's engages us as fans as well too, doesn't it? And just looking ahead for your future and your future career, and it progressing too. So what kind of where do you see that? What more would you like to do? You've done your podcasts and you know your writing books, etc. So kind of what ambitions and thoughts do you have for the future?
I'm pretty open in that, like I don't really have any particular like journey or path I've set myself on, like I'm happy, I'm happy to have finished these books at the moment. Like I I finished writing Kaleeda's book and I've read three novels since. And while I've been writing books, I find it very hard to read because I feel like, well, if I've got some free time I should be writing, you know, and then you punish yourself because you don't actually do the writing you're supposed to be doing and then you also don't have the like the pleasure of having read or whatever. It is right. Like I took, you know, art equipment to Australia with me and was doing like line of cutting in between games like and in my hotel room and stuff, and like I get a lot of pleasure from art and music and other like artistic areas of life. So like I'm enjoying the opportunity to be able to do that a little bit more and spend time with my family and my free time and stuff. So I've got not got ambitions to. Like you know, there's other books I definitely like to write. There's, you know, people that I'd like to collaborate with.
I just like my ambition, I suppose, is just to grow the Guardians coverage of women's sport and to drive like to produce good enough quality to justify it constantly expanding is sort of like my, like immediate ambition in that, you know, we I argued that we should have a podcast a couple of years ago and we finally get one and it's every WSL match day and match week. And you know, we've pushed it to a point that's been so successful that when our weekly just full stop, not just you know, WSL match weeks and it's those little things, it's like pushing and doing a good enough job in these different areas to say, yeah, we need to take on a second staff member. To say, yeah, we need to move the podcast to being weekly all throughout the year you know, like the men's is, and just, yeah, driving in my own way the growth of women's football through the growth of the coverage in the way that I can.
I like the idea of, you know, maybe like a little bit of governance stuff in the future or something, but like long, long, long, long term, I'm enjoying the like, holding truth to power, more than perhaps I'd enjoy that.
Finally obviously had this huge success in your career, but you, as you said, you didn't take that traditional entry through journalism degrees. So what advice would you give now to young women young men I mean, but young women, because we want more of them in sports journalism for coming into sports journalism today?
Yeah, it's one of the things I really like doing is going and speaking to secondary schools and stuff. I get asked to a fair bit. A to just open people's eyes, like we're saying at the very start, to the fact that there are many areas of sport that you can work in. But then, I always pass on the bit of advice that Vicky Orvice, gave me right at the start, which is ask for shifts absolutely everywhere, you're never going to, in this industry, apply for a job and get it cold If you've not met them before and not, like, been working for them in some capacity already. It like it happens, but it's extremely rare because quite often, like, there are so many freelancers within the industry that are already working in those places. And so, yeah, I always say you've got to, you've got to try and get your face in as many places as possible, you've got to network as much as humanly possible. You got to go to women in football events, women in journalism events, sports journalism, association events, you know anything that comes up and network and meet people and introduce people and produce content that you can then share with them and say, oh, I've done this, could you give me a little bit of feedback on what you think and that's how they remember you? You know that's how they remember. You know, when they've got something that actually opens up.
You know you've got to sort of put your face out there so that when the jobs become available, you are known and yeah, it's basically a lot of hard work and not saying no to anything really at the start. You know, there's one point where I was working a day a week at the Guardian, four or five days a week, the Sunday times. I had a two year old at the time, since about eight years ago, and I was doing an evening course two nights a week in motion graphics because I wanted to expand, like just my like skill set, and that was three hours on a Tuesday night and three hours on a Thursday night. So I was working, yes, six to seven days a week with a two year old and doing an evening course for six hours over two nights a week. And, like, you just do it and you just make it work, and you just graft.
How lovely was that to talk to Susie? So nice to hear all about her career and her thoughts on how sport can impact society. It's fascinating stuff.
If you enjoyed the podcast, there are over 160 episodes featuring conversations with women's sports trailblazers that are free to listen to on all podcast platforms or you can find them all at fearlesswomen.co.uk.
My previous guets include elite sportswomen, broadcasters, coaches, administrators, scientists and CEOs from a vast range of sports. The whole of my book Game On, the Unstoppable Rise of Women's Sport is also free to listen to on the podcast. Every episode of series 13 is me reading a chapter of the book.
Thank you once again to Sport England for backing the Game Changers with a national lottery award, and also big thanks to Sam Walker at What Goes On media, who does such a great job as our executive producer and has done so since the very first episode back in 2019. Thank you also to my brilliant colleague at Fearless Women, Kate Hannan.
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The Game Changers. Fearless Women in Sport.