Aston Villa Search For New Head of Women’s Football A Big Statement of Intent

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English football giants Aston Villa has made a major public statement of intent by commissioning SRI to appoint a Head of Women’s Football.

The seven times men’s Champions of England and European Champions in 1982 are one the biggest clubs in the UK and are up-scaling their women’s football operations at an exciting time for the women’s game.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off in Paris this Friday (7 June) with hopes of attracting a global audience of 1 billion, an unimaginable prospect when the tournament began in 1991.

Founded in 1874, “The Villa”, as the team is known, has also won the FA Cup on seven occasions. In 1982, they reached a new pinnacle by becoming Champions of Europe. Last month, Villa’s men’s team returned to the Premier League with a victory at Wembley witnessed by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, who is one of the club’s army of fans worldwide.

Since arriving at Villa Park as CEO last year, Christian Purslow has made it one of his priorities to invest in women’s football. The women’s team finished a strong sixth in The Championship this season and reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, and are now looking to build on this great success with clear ambitions of promotion to the Women’s Super League for the 2019/20 season. This further cements the organisation’s statement of intent to become a leading club in Women’s football and consistently challenge for silverware.

Ambitions have been raised at Villa Park with promotion to Women’s Super League the target for the 2019/20 season and the decision to appoint SRI to lead the search for a top executive to run Women’s football is a clear sign that the club wishes to significant improve.

Aston Villa Chief Executive Officer Christian Purlsow said:

“A club of our stature should have a huge level of support and commitment to women’s football. We will set our aspirations higher in terms of where we expect the team to be playing. There should be no distinction in the way we think about our women’s and men’s football.

“We want Aston Villa women’s teams to be challenging for trophies, helping to grow the game and reaching out to inspire our communities.”

The successful candidate will lead the club’s entire women’s football operation with the administrative headquarters base at Villa Park and all Women’s first team training held at the club’s Bodymoor Heath Training Centre.

High on the successful candidates brief will be raising the profile of Aston Villa Ladies within women’s football and attracting top playing talent to bolster Head Coach Gemma Davies’ squad for the new season which begins in August.

The new Head of Women’s Football will work closely with Aston Villa’s Chief Commercial Officer, Nicola Ibbetson, who was last month elected to the FA’s Women’s Championship Board. “I am very excited about the Club’s strategic focus on women’s and girls’ football,” she said. “From the top down Aston Villa is fully engaged in making our women’s and girls’ teams some of the best in the country. I’m looking forward to working with a progressive and determined appointment in this new role.”

 The appointment represents Aston Villa’s lasting commitment to women’s football, says James O’Neill, consultant for SRI. “Our involvement is to put someone in place who has a long-term strategy and vision for the future of Aston Villa women’s football.”

The new Aston Villa Head of Women’s Football will have a wide-ranging role that includes leading on all sectors of the women’s game. From the first-team through to the girls game at age-group levels, the successful candidate will drive the club’s strategy. There will also be a focus on supporting local women’s football and developing interest in the game among women and girls in Villa’s catchment areas around Birmingham.

SRI has a track record in being innovative in its recruitment across women’s sport.

SRI was behind the 2017 appointment of Shelley Kerr as the head coach of the Scotland women’s team. Kerr was previously the first woman to be coach of a senior Scottish men’s team and had herself won 59 caps as a player for Scotland. “It’s great to see how much the women’s game has evolved, there has been a lot of progress,” she told the Daily Record on her appointment.

Two years later, after a successful FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign, she will lead out her players in France for their opening game this Sunday in Nice, where they will face Scotland’s “auld enemy”, England.

The United States is favourite to retain the World Cup trophy they won in Canada 2915 – a tournament which caused a surge in the sport’s popularity, attracting 750m viewers worldwide. France, Germany and England are among the other fancied teams this time.

This pattern is being reflected at women’s club level, with a world record crowd of 51,211 watching last year’s women’s cup final in Mexico between Tigres and Monterrey. In England, home of the most successful league for men’s football, 43,264 attended the Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley between Manchester City and West Ham United last month.

Research by Nielsen Sports at the end of last year encapsulated the remarkable growth of women’s football, where sponsorship deals increased by 37 per cent and their average monetary value rose by 49 per cent between 2013 and 2017.

“The positive momentum we are seeing in women’s football is echoed more broadly across women’s sport, across participation, consumption and overall engagement.  The game changers will build from this momentum; and drive even greater progress. At SRI we are committed to being part of this encouraging trajectory.”  Helen Soulsby, Managing Partner, SRI

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James O’Neill is a Consultant at SRI, based in London. James is leading the search for the Head of Women’s Football at Aston Villa FC.
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