Over six years since she assumed the role of CEO at Mansfield Town, Carolyn Radford remains at a now-progressive club currently perched just outside the League Two playoffs, alongside her husband, the hometown owner, John Radford. Taking on the job at just 29 years old, she has talked of adding business expertise to what the fans and volunteers built at the Stags.
In this interview, she speaks on the issues highlighted after England Women manager Mark Sampson’s recent dismissal from The FA amid alleged ‘inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour by a coach’ during his spell at Bristol Academy. She also discusses the online treatment she regularly faces, the personal side of being a CEO in football, and why she feels she now has to take greater responsibility in accelerating the everyday working culture for women in the sport.
With regard to Mark Sampson’s dismissal from the England job, a lot hasn’t been made clear as yet, which is creating its own problems because people are guessing, going off rumours etc. What are your thoughts on it so far, as you understand it, and the issues it brings to the forefront of discussion?
The problem is there doesn’t seem to be transparency there, and I know in the businesses we run, we’re very much about transparency and making sure we don’t hide anything or appear to be hiding anything. I think it’s important if something does go wrong to let people know the facts of the story, otherwise you begin to wonder all sorts. Also, carrying out your due diligence, I think that’s vitally important. Like you said, we’re not in a position to know the full facts, so it is hard to comment, but safeguarding around The FA is very important, and a very high priority in our club. Are they following their own procedures that they put in place for the rest of the clubs? I don’t know. Sometimes you have changes in governance, but you have to make sure that things are still carried through. It’s a shame as well that women’s football, after the last few years, now seems to be overshadowed by this controversy.
Unfortunately, still at plenty of football games, often you don’t have to look too far to pick up some subtle or more striking instances of sexism, homophobia, racism. As a club, how much do you focus on ensuring Mansfield Town is the opposite of all that?
I mean we obviously follow the zero tolerance of no racism and abusive language in the ground. You don’t want to make football a clinical kind of atmosphere, because that’s not the nature of football itself; it is full of banter, so to speak, and we don’t mind that, but I think there is always a line that can’t be crossed. With sexism, there’s still a little bit of an undertone there that’s not really being addressed, specifically at the moment. I think with myself, being a woman in the ground helps a lot, for our fans especially; they can see what I’ve done for the football club, so that’s great and I think it’s not unusual to have me around the place now. I don’t get any ridicule from our fans. I think having more women involved in the men’s side of the game is a great thing.
In football and in your other businesses, how many cases of the small ‘banter’ and remarks have you come across? Do you see it as part and parcel to an extent, or do you take it upon yourselves to stamp it out before it escalates?
I think it’s hard because you don’t want to seem too ‘sensitive’, especially as a woman. You can tell with the smiles and the way I’m kind of talked to sometimes, it’s a kind of patronising tone, when I come into contact with other individuals who aren’t used to having a woman around. It’s still extremely rare in football but in other businesses – I work as a solicitor and with the insurance company that we run – you don’t see it at all, because there’s a balance of men and women, and even on the board of those businesses. With football, though, it’s still unusual, so I think it is important to not let things escalate when there is a problem there. For me, I kind of take it on the chin and try not to make a big deal of some comments and undertones, but it’s a difficult one.
How much do you get in terms of the less than desirable comments, or much worse than that, when you’re trying to communicate with fans or the general public via your posts on social media, or even in person? Has it got better over time or worse?
I think it’s here to stay, social media, and it’s great because it’s a platform to get your views across, but unfortunately you can be a target. There’s a lot of abuse that goes around that’s uncalled for. With rivalry in football as well, we just played Notts County and you just look at my Twitter and the comments; completely pointless about what I look like, for example. But then people do it to blokes as well, like with our manager, Steve Evans. I think it happens across the platform, but it’s one of those things where I choose to post, but then I don’t read. I think it’s important to get my voice across and not hide, as a responsibility of being one of the few females in football. I went through a period of thinking, ‘no, I’m not going to do anything,’ especially when I was pregnant with my children, where I don’t want the unnecessary abuse. I’ve gone under the radar at points, but I think I owe it to other women to show what goes on behind the scenes and how rewarding a career in football can be.
In terms of other areas of business, do you think football makes excuses for things that would be deemed unacceptable elsewhere?
Yeah, well business is competition within itself; the business world can be very cutthroat, but people conduct themselves in a more professional manner, basically. You also don’t have thousands of people with an open voice; if a business deal doesn’t go well, for example, you don’t have thousands of people chanting at you or writing about wanting you out the door. It’s a very unique industry and it’s very results-oriented; unless you’re doing well, you’re not going to be the favourite, no matter how hard you’re trying. You can’t really compare football to any other business in the world – it’s completely out there on its own.
We’ve seen a number of cases where it’s been reported that a woman in football has had a grievance and has seemingly been told to ‘get over it,’ or that they’re being too sensitive etc. How far are we now from moving away from that culture, as a sport and as a society?
Well I have to take responsibility for that as well because I think with some grievances I’ve had, I should have said, ‘no, I’m not accepting this and I won’t accept this kind of behaviour towards me.’ I think in the six years I’ve been involved, things haven’t really changed, so I think now I’ve got to be a little bit more proactive in trying to get the game brought up to speed in terms of inclusion of women and making sure your voice is heard instead of being dismissed as someone who’s going to be here one minute and gone the next. That’s the worrying trend around The FA and what’s happened – are they taking women’s views seriously? It’s hard when we haven’t got the full facts, but from what I’ve heard about it, I think if the roles were reversed it would be a very different outcome.
What specific changes do you think this ongoing situation with the Mark Sampson sacking should now bring about at The FA, at national level and right through to the bottom?
Greater transparency, honesty, integrity; otherwise it just makes it unclear, it makes people uneasy and it just comes across as quite seedy. That’s not how we want things to be running nowadays in the football industry. I’d say transparency is key from it – we still don’t know the facts – and then safeguarding. There’s all these strict rules and regulations we abide by as clubs, and in business, everything should come from the top and they should be the lead example that we follow.
As fans, we can get so deflated at times when things don’t go well for our team. For someone like yourself and for your husband, who are so heavily invested not just from a business standpoint, how do you deal with those more testing times? What are some of those examples?
I think it varies but something like being approached by other clubs trying to steal your manager – that can be a bit of a down day! Then when you lose games, because it’s our job at the top, even though we’re the people who invest the most into it, it’s our job to pick everybody up. This is something I’ve had to learn and it’s come from experience; being young, I used to be crazy like the fans and just think, ‘argh, things aren’t going my way!’ and thinking ‘how do I conduct myself?’ Now I’ve learned that I’ve got to get myself together and get this manager back up, because I know certainly with Steve (Evans), he hurts so bad when we lose; he’s a winner and if we lose he’s absolutely devastated beyond belief. So somebody’s got to pick him up for him to then go back and pick up the team, if for example it’s a Tuesday game and you’ve got another game on Saturday, because it’s all about picking up the points. Also things like deals that don’t go through. I think football’s all about picking yourself back up again and being able to keep driving the club forward.
Looking back over these last six years, is there anything you underestimated about the job and what it demands of you in a wider sense?
I think it’s just the ferociousness of the game and how rigorously demanding it is. How much it hurts when you lose. I think I thought it was going to be really easy to get promoted and I didn’t really understand how much of a challenge it really is and how much infrastructure you have to have in place in order to make a football club work. There’s so many different components you must tick, in terms of having a youth setup, bringing in revenue and commercial activity to the club, having a safety factor, because I think we were heavily reduced in capacity when we went in because of so many safety issues. Also attracting players and dealing with things like where they’re going to live, what their wife will think of it, where their kids are going to go to school. Winning games every week seems easy but it really isn’t, even when you think you might have an easy game coming up. So it’s just the whole, all-encompassing nature of football.
Finally, what do you feel are the biggest misconceptions about you?
Well, misconceptions that I can’t do the job, maybe because I’m blonde – still a problem, would you believe? Maybe that doesn’t help, or maybe it’s because I’m quite down-to-earth and approachable. People just don’t think I can do it, until they meet me and see what I actually do on a day-to-day basis and how active I am throughout my businesses, and I can carry that through to the football club. Hopefully I’m proving everybody wrong.
Words: Chris Brookes