Emma Hayes column: Why we are all responsible for women’s game

Tim Daniels Soccer

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Emma Hayes MBE has been in charge of Chelsea since 2012, following a stint at American club Chicago Red Stars. She was previously assistant manager at Arsenal. With Chelsea, Hayes has won three Women’s Super League titles – including the club’s first in 2015 – as well as two FA Cups and a Spring Series. She is widely regarded as one of the country’s best managers.

I’m a women’s football fan first and foremost. I have been in the game a long, long time and I have been desperate for the sport to get to where it is now.

But because of that, I know how fragile it can be. We have to protect it. We have to remember that all the hard work that has gone into getting the game up – from amateur, to professional – has involved an awful lot of effort from many people, a lot of organisations and from a lot of investment. It didn’t just happen overnight.

My message to supporters and players this week in particular,external-link on being responsible with the privileges bestowed upon us, was about not forgetting that. I know those of us in football are extremely lucky and privileged to come back at this time, but we are also at risk of exposing ourselves to Covid-19.

We are both vulnerable and privileged, so we have to think really carefully about the decisions we make every day. Our decisions have an impact on our team and our family.

We forget how challenging these times are. Everyone is human and wants an outlet and a break from it but I firmly believe that we have to put the sport at the forefront of everything. There are millions of people sitting at home with very little outlet and very little escape.

I believe in a collective responsibility. We are all responsible in making sure the league finishes.

The Women’s Super League is the envy of the world in the women’s game because the clubs, the Football Association and the media are so well aligned. Everyone has progressed simultaneously and that is what has contributed to the growth of the game. That is all my mission has been.

I will always remember fondly our chairman Bruce Buck’s words to me when I first joined the club in 2012. He said: “I want to change the pub conversation.” He wanted people talking about Chelsea women.

That’s what I want. I don’t like small things, I like big missions. That came from someone I respect so immensely. Bruce is an amazing chairman and an advocate for the women’s game. I’m really proud of him.

‘I value my players like they are my children’

Emma Hayes chatting to the Chelsea team
Defending champions Chelsea are three points off the top of the Women’s Super League table with a game in hand on leaders Manchester United

Being a parent changes you in life. I am responsible now.

I want my lasting legacy to be winning, obviously, but I also want it to be that when my son is going to watch a match, women’s football is a choice readily available in front of him – from everything he reads, plays and experiences.

But you would have to ask my players if I have been any different since becoming a mum. I think some would say I’m probably more patient and some might say I’m more vulnerable and emotional.

I care about people I work with in different ways than I did before I was a parent because I value them as if they were children. I’ve been trusted with the responsibility of developing my players. I take that very seriously. Do I care about them? Yes, immensely. If they are troubled, I’m like a parent.

I will help them, work through it with them and give them everything I can if they want it. Am I always successful? God, no. Do I struggle sometimes? Of course I do. Do I get it wrong? Yes.

I care about them and that hasn’t changed since I had a child but I’m calmer and more experienced now.

‘I celebrate the achievements of all women within the game’

Casey Stoney
Manchester United’s Casey Stoney is one of eight female managers in the WSL

I’m proud we’re in a league that hires so many female managers. Other leagues don’t really invest in female coaches but we are doing that at our clubs.

I have seen over the years how women are really hard on other women. Our players have not been exposed to female coaches in the same way they have to male coaches. There is always a degree of trepidation.

Players are often so used to only having male coaches, so we should celebrate the fact we have so many female leaders in the WSL.

That includes Manchester United manager Casey Stoney.

Casey is a fantastic leader who has taken that team from one division to the next with a great group of players. She is getting the support from her club to be able to build a team that their supporters are proud of.

The rise of Manchester United is clear for all to see and they are obvious contenders for titles, so we are really excited and looking forward to playing them on Sunday.

They are deserving of the position they are in. I certainly celebrate the achievements of all women within the game and I am proud that I’m a part of a league that puts these people in positions like that.

Emma Hayes was speaking to BBC Sport’s Emma Sanders. You can read her column on the BBC Sport website and app every month.