Lewes FC chief Maggie Murphy on club’s landmark deal that recognises its equality ethos
Lewes FC has made one of its biggest signings in another landmark move by the East Sussex club.
And general manager Maggie Murphy says the partnership with fashion brand Lyle & Scott was achieved because the company bought into the Championship club’s philosophy.
She said: “I think this comes back down to our unique personality and our character. I think a lot of people might not have recognised the football ambition of this club. We are well known for our stance on equality but we are also ambitious on the pitch, not just off the pitch.”
The club’s new sponsor was unveiled this week and the six-figure investment which runs until next summer is understood to be the biggest deal for a club not affiliated with a Premier League side.
Murphy told NewsChain: "We're trying to be an exemplary club in everything we do. We think there are a lot of things about football that can be done differently and better. Lyle & Scott were really keen to support us because of what we do off the pitch as well as on the pitch.
"They love our approach to community. They love the fact that we are independent and different and quirky and unique when it comes to our matchday experience or our posters.
"All of the individuality and character and personality. Those are the things that Lyle & Scott really like about us. I think there are some shared values there. [We are] just trying to be different, trying to be a bit unique, trying to be progressive as well.
“It's very much a football sponsorship but it's also a club sponsorship in all the things that we do off the pitch as well.”
Murphy added that while Lyle & Scott held value in their actions away from the pitch, they equally were looking for a partner who upheld those principles.
Lewes’ number one priority, alongside performing well, is its values and the club have turned down investment opportunities with companies who didn’t share the vision.
Murphy says: "I think people are a little bit afraid of talking about equality because we are so far from it in football that it feels too much to ask for. But here you have a situation with a brand who would not be investing in us unless we had this equality stance.
"So it is finally proving that brands are willing to do more that just talk about it. They are also willing to invest in it. I think it is an exciting step. It backs up all the hard work that the club has done and a lot of sacrifices as well.
"We’re very protective of our shirt fronts. We have had other companies who have wanted to be our shirt front sponsor in the last few years but we have declined it because the ethos and the principles of that particular partner were not in line with ours. I think that, for us, this was a two- way partnership and process and that's important for us.
“We stand by principles and values and we don’t offer up investment for anything. It’s not just about us. It’s about them as well I guess.”
The milestone partnership has been years in the making and Murphy, quite emotionally, dedicated the deal to fans, players and staff at the club.
"I told the players last week just before training on Wednesday and they were excited. It’s a brand that they know about and I think for them a couple of the older players, including a couple of players who have been playing at the club for a long time, they really recognised it as a marker of how far we've come.
"So that was quite nice to have players talk about what incredible progress they have seen during their time at the club. Others were just really excited about having a brand backing their work. I guess for them it's recognition of how hard they have been working as well.
“I think that was important. We have had really positive feedback from fans and supporters as well. You have to realise that this has been a long road. It's been something that the fans have really driven and led on for years and years, decades. So even though I get to bring the good news, it's off of the hard work of fans and players and directors and staff who have gone before me as well.”
Equality is at Lewes’ core - it was the first professional club to pay female and male players the same - and so the sponsorship, which sees financial investment as well as content partnership, will be used equally between the men’s and women’s teams.
“[The investment] allows us to start planning for the second part of this season and beyond this season,” Murphy said. "It allows us to start tweaking and professionalising some of the club’s infrastructure that we have been wanting to do for a while.
"Just to improve the playing experience for existing and new players. But it also allows us to start paving the way for trying to transition into something a little bit more full-time which is ultimately one of our goals at the club.
"The men and women share the same facilities, the same ground, the same infrastructure. So any investments that we make in those areas will be shared equally between the men's and women's sides as that's how we operate. Then yes there will be funds available for both the men's and women's sides.
“It's obviously up to those sides how they invest in specific areas. There’s still some question marks over the men's side [they play in the seventh tier] as to when they will restart because of the tiering system and where they are in the league. So there might be some flexibility but it will be split equally as we do with everything else.”
Murphy hopes Lewes’ deal also highlights to other brands that lower tiers of women’s football deserve investment as well.
"The Championship is an incredibly competitive, exciting league. I would hope this visibility will show the investment should go beyond just the top tier. I think that’s really exciting for Championship clubs and smaller clubs. The ones that have well known brands through their main side.
"But I think lessons to be learned for other clubs would be to identify what makes you different. What makes you proud and really focus on that. Try to find a partner that believes in that.
“We would not have received this backing if we were not unique in our equality stance and because that goes to the core of what we are trying to do that has set us apart from other clubs. They maybe are a bit better known for football but maybe haven't quite cracked what they stand for on the pitch as well.”
Murphy is already planning her next steps.
"We are really keen to go to the next level and try to provide a full-time environment for our players. For us to be able to achieve that we do need additional investment. This won't get us over the line just yet.
"I think what we would like is for other people who are interested in women's football to see what we're doing. See us for what we are doing on and off the pitch. Really proving that equality can generate results on the pitch as well as in communities.
“We are still on the look out for additional partners. One of our biggest areas going forward will also be our pathway. So we are looking to professionalise our pathway set up for girls and boys so that is the big next project.”
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