Pioneer: Lewes Football Club
Lewes Football Club is breaking barriers and shattering norms. We chat to General Manager Lynne Burrell about how the club is transforming football through equality and community ownership
By Mateenah Adeleke
Photography by James Boyes
Lewes Football Club stands as a beacon of equality and innovation in the world of football. This pioneering club has revolutionised the way resources are allocated and embraced a unique community ownership model that champions equality across genders, and Lewes FC’s story serves as a powerful example of how a football club can pave the way for positive change within the industry.
Lynne Burrell joined Lewes FC five years ago, and while her background lies in tax and insurance rather than football, Lynne has always been a devoted fan of the sport, thanks to her father’s influence. Dissatisfied with the treatment of fans after the Glazers took over Manchester United, Lynne began searching for alternative football options, leading her to discover Lewes FC. Instantly captivated by the club’s sense of importance and belonging, Lynne became a devoted supporter and also seized the opportunity of fan ownership, and her journey at Lewes began as a volunteer, assisting with fixture administration. In 2019 Lynne became Assistant General Manager and Welfare Officer, then, two years ago, she became General Manager, stepping into the shoes of Maggie Murphy who was appointed CEO.
Lewes FC’s pursuit of equality and equal resources began long before Lynne’s involvement. In 2010, the club transitioned into community ownership, and in 2017, a groundbreaking move was made to ensure equal resources for both the men’s and women’s teams. Rather than focusing solely on equal pay, the club emphasises equal budgets, allowing managers the freedom to allocate funds as needed. Beyond financial parity, this commitment extends to sharing the same pitch, stadium, marketing budgets, and collaborating with the same commercial staff. Lewes FC stands as the only professional or semi-professional club worldwide operating under such principles.
While implementing equal resources, Lewes FC encountered inevitable resistance and scepticism. However, a group of individuals who shared the club’s vision and values enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to uphold its standards. Lynne Burrell explains, “It hasn’t been an easy journey, but the resistance we faced only fuelled our determination to create a more equitable football club. We wanted to challenge the status quo and show that it’s possible to achieve equality in the sport.” Offering advice to other clubs considering a similar approach, Lynne emphasises the significance of small steps, highlighting that “It’s about taking incremental measures and gradually shifting the culture within the club and the wider football community.” She suggests measures such as providing more opportunities for women teams to play in main stadiums and reevaluating gendered terms while acknowledging that change is a process that requires patience and persistence.
Lynne also highlights the potential commercial benefits of investing in women’s football and the growing interest among fans seeking alternatives to the Premier League. By embracing women’s football and providing equal resources, clubs have the opportunity to tap into a burgeoning market and attract a new fan base. Consequently, attracting sponsors who align with progressive values, capitalising on media coverage and broadcasting rights, and contributing to the overall growth and development of the sport.
Lewes FC’s commitment to equity and resource sharing not only offers commercial advantages but also conveys a strong message of inclusivity and teamwork. By placing equal value on male and female players, the club establishes a sense of shared purpose, where players “both men and women, feel respected and valued”, which in turn fosters “a remarkable synergy between the teams.” Moreover, the club’s unmatched sense of community involvement, such as initiatives like a communal garden within the stadium, reflects the character of the town and further resonates with fans. These elements contribute to a positive reputation, enhanced fan engagement, and a closer bond between the club and its supporters.
Lewes FC’s pioneering spirit goes beyond their commitment to equality in football. The club takes a firm stance against the influence of gambling advertisements and the involvement of gambling companies in the sport. They actively campaign against these practices and support organisations that are advocating for change in the industry. Lynne Burrell expresses, “We believe in using our platform to advocate for change and raise awareness about important social issues. Our aim is to create a football environment that is free from harmful influences.” In addition to their advocacy efforts, Lewes FC forms partnerships with organisations such as Coalition Against Gambling Adverts that aim to combat gambling-related harm. They collaborate with these groups to develop initiatives, raise awareness, and provide support for those affected by gambling addiction.
Through their actions and partnerships, Lewes FC demonstrates their commitment to promoting a healthier and more responsible approach to football. They set an example for other clubs and contribute to the ongoing discussions surrounding the relationship between football, gambling, and the wellbeing of players and fans alike. Lewes FC’s groundbreaking approach warms the hearts of young, aspiring female footballers. As Lynne highlights, “Imagine telling your six-year-old nephew that he can play football and make a career out of it, but it’s unlikely that your seven-year-old niece will be able to do the same because no club is going to pay her! But guess what, some clubs do pay and they pay equally.” By providing equal opportunities and showcasing the value of women’s football, the club cultivates a connection between players and fans. Young girls and boys eagerly await autographs and selfies with the female players, fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment. Lewes FC’s unwavering dedication to inclusivity and empowerment leaves a lasting imprint on young football enthusiasts, inspiring them to chase their dreams and break boundaries in the beautiful game.
Lewes FC’s unwavering dedication to equal resources has not only caught the attention of fans but has also influenced player recruitment. Lynne acknowledges that players are drawn to the club because of its unique approach: “We sometimes forget how different we still are. Players hear about what we do, and some of them already use football for social change themselves. Lewes often aligns with their passion for social justice issues, and that’s why they choose to come here.” This commitment to equality from all involved fosters a strong sense of belonging and unity among the players, as Lynne explains, “We’ve created the culture here, something where the principles and values are ingrained. They know they’re part of something special, a close-knit team that supports each other and the community.”
In a male-dominated industry, Lewes FC recognises the importance of amplifying women’s voices. Lynne emphasises the need for a welcoming and open space, encouraging women to have confidence in themselves and apply for positions, even if they don’t meet all the listed criteria. She states, “If we want more women involved in decision-making processes, we need to create a welcoming and open space… So, my advice is to be confident, apply for things, and not feel undeserving of a place at the table.”
While celebrating the achievements of Lewes FC, it is crucial to acknowledge the challenges that women’s football faces. Lynne raises concerns about the potential replication of the men’s league structure within women’s football and the current dependency on men’s football for financial support. She explains, “This is partly where our campaign for equal prize money in the FA Cup comes in because we are seeking more opportunities for women’s football to be able to fight for its own resources, earn better prize money, generate sponsorship and earn income through its own success, rather than having money given to it by men’s football.” The club strives to create a future where women’s football thrives independently and achieves financial sustainability. Lewes FC’s pioneering spirit and unwavering commitment to equality have created a ripple effect that resonates far beyond the club itself. Through empowering young footballers, promoting equal resources, and amplifying women’s voices, the club has become a beacon of inspiration in the realm of women’s football. As the sport continues to evolve, Lewes FC’s progressive approach serves as a reminder of the transformative power that lies within football to shape a more inclusive and equitable future.