As we near the end of our 100 Pioneering Women of Sussex blog series, today’s post is a little unusual. Today we are celebrating a local campaign which is truly trailblazing in the world of sport. Written by football fan and Museum Assistant, Lisa Hinkins.
In July 2017, Lewes Football Club launched its Equality FC campaign, becoming the first and currently the only club to allocate equal playing budgets to the men’s and women’s teams. Unlike most English female teams, the Lewes women’s first team play all their home games at the club’s Dripping Pan stadium.
Lewes FC is a 100% community owned democratic club. In its constitution it states, ‘the business of the Club is to be conducted for the benefit of the community served by the Club not for the profit of its owners.’ It understands community as both geographically and the wider football community, with Gender equality as a key part of both. The club eloquently declared, ‘the absence of equality is discrimination and discrimination is something that undermines all communities.’
The Guardian newspaper brought national attention to the club’s Equality FC in a 2019 article reporting on the club’s move to not only equal pay, but equality of participation and resources.
Both male and female senior squad teams are offered the same level of coaching and use of facilities.
Karen Dobres, writer and co-director of Lewes FC spends time talking about the club to women’s groups locally and nationally and has made a presentation to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Discrimination in Sport.
She says, ‘We know that before women’s football was banned by the all-male FA in 1921, the women’s game was drawing higher crowds than the men’s. So, in a way, it’s not surprising that since Lewes FC became the first club in the world to pay and value our women’s team equally to our men’s, we’ve seen both teams promoted and the gate figure at women’s games quadruple. It’s very motivating to be pioneering a cause that – because of football’s immense power over hearts and minds – will reverberate way beyond the pitch’.
The club’s pioneering approach is an example other clubs could follow.
Lewes FC goes beyond football in supporting women in society. In 2019 they founded Lewes FC SisterShips, bringing together a group of like-minded organisations that are all striving in their own way to support the fight for gender equality either by campaigning or by directly supporting women.
My introduction to Lewes’ Equality FC campaign was at the annual International Women’s Day event held at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery and The Dome, which is organised by Brighton Women’s Centre. The football club had a stall to promote Equality FC.
I had an engaging chat with a young girl who supported the club. It was an opportunity to reflect just how far the women’s game has come since I played football at middle school. I was the first girl to play the game regularly with the boys in the early 1980’s. My sports teacher had to make phone calls to the Football Association just to gain permission for me to play in friendlies with other all boy school teams. On a few occasions in the absence of female changing areas, I found myself dressing in a car!
Written by Lisa Hinkins, MA Curating Collections and Heritage student, University of Brighton and Museum Assistant.