The rise in profile of the women’s game in England has been more noticeable in the past year than at any other stage in its history. There are a number of reasons for this – the success of the inaugural Women’s Premier League this season; the hosting of the UEFA Women’s Champions League final at Craven Cottage in May and of course the huge success of the sixth FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany. However, it is not all about of the onfield progress. It is the progress of what is going on behind the scenes.
One thing is for sure. The amount of dedication of key individuals off the field will make the on field success even more noticeable in the years to come. We have already spoken to one of the most respected female officials in the Northern Leagues, Linzi Robinson, and in the coming weeks we will be talking to the manager of Lewes Ladies, Jacquie Agnew, on the success of the Sussex club.
But in one of those random Google searches we all do once in awhile we managed to stumble upon Tracey Crouch. Qualified Football coach, Spurs fan and Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford. Two out of three isn’t bad I suppose. I met up will Tracey at Portcullis House a few weeks ago and was bowled over by her enthusiasm for the game. Regularly checking her Blackberry, not for updates on policy making, but on whether Modric would be staying at White Hart Lane, we chatted for an hour about the game, the politics and why Clive Allen left Arsenal after just 7 weeks and zero competitive appearances for the club.
Afternoon Tracey. Football and Politics. Two worlds dominated in the past by men. So what made you decide on a career in politics?
I had always been interested in politics and started working as a researcher for an MP after I left university. Through this role I saw the difference the work could make to people’s lives at the most local level and that whetted my appetite. After a few years I moved back into the private sector before coming back to work closely with the shadow cabinet. After a stint in the Insurance industry before I was chosen to stand for the Chatham & Aylesford seat in the May 2010.
How does football transgress party lines?
The vast majority of MP’s, and in fact people who work in Politics follow a team. Once you know who people support then it can help or hinder your work here (in a nice way!). I used to play for the Parliamentary XI but in the past few years the team has come under the control of the Football Association and that means no mixed football teams, so effectively I was banned (See story here). So I can play 5-a-side with my male colleagues but an eleven a side game is now a no-no. Some days I want to just hide in a corner if Spurs have had a bad result.
As a Spurs fan you obviously know very little about the game, but even so when did your love of football start?
I grew up living, drinking and playing football. I lived on an estate and my family weren’t really into sport so either I played out in the streets with the other kids, or I didn’t play with them at all. At the time schools didn’t allow us girls to play football, only letting us play Netball or Hockey so it wasn’t until I got to university that I was able to play the game properly.
Peer pressure led to me becoming a Spurs fan back in 1983, in time for their UEFA Cup final against Anderlecht that season. I remember crying at the final whistle in the 1987 FA Cup final when Coventry City beat us, but I soon became used to crushing disappointment in supporting them.
I genuinely thought growing up that I would be the female Clive Allen, becoming the first ever female professional footballer.
How are you involved in the game today?
I still love the game and when I can I get to White Hart Lane, as well as Chatham Town, who are my local Non League side. They are having a great start to the season, near the top of the Ryman League North. I was at the FA Cup match a few weeks ago versus Worthing last weekend, although they lost 1-0 to Worthing. The Wembley dream ended for another year.
My main involvement is managing/coaching my Under 14’s side, Meridian Girls, where I have been involved for a number of years. The club are one of the few all female clubs in the South East, fielding teams at all levels up to adult level. I get as involved as I can outside of Parliamentary sitting times, enjoying coaching the team and seeing them putting the moves and tactics into play at weekends. The team are at the heart of the community which I represent so I am really happy to be trying to put something back.
Why do you think the women’s game is getting better and better every season?
It’s great to see it finally getting some attention. I think a combination of more media attention, better publicity and better players have pushed the game more into the public eye. The World Cup in Germany was a fantastic event, brilliantly organised and the games produced some real surprises, including the Japanese victory. I really want my girls to watch games that don’t necessarily involve English girls. We can watch Messi but not Marta or Poldoski but not Prinz. Our English girls are great but the foreign players, with their superior investment from national FAs, are phenomenal.
Where do you “sit” on the issue of Safe Standing?
This is a really tricky one as as a football fan I can see both sides of the argument. We need to protect the players, and obviously the fans and seating makes policing of grounds easier. I have heard the arguments for the reasons why people want terracing back and the good old days of standing.
You seem to have become a great user of Social Media. How do you think that is changing the way we view sport in this country?
I use Twitter because it gives me an immediate one to one relationship with my community. I try not to get carried away when I am at football – I am sure any of my followers who are Arsenal fans wouldn’t appreciate my Spurs comments! It is also very handy to find out what scores are when I am away from Sky Sports or Radio 5 Live. I also love blogging, being able to put my thoughts down for people to understand.
Many thanks to Tracey for agreeing to be our first MP interviewee. If we had more people like her in power then football would be a much better place…