In Conversation With Brighouse Town Women's Manager Rob Mitchell

Kicking our 'In Conversation Series' for 2021 we managed to ask Brighouse Town Ladies manager a few questions about the club and his journey into the women's game. If you have been reading the blog for a while you will know our first post was actually a match report from our trip to watch Bradford City Women vs Brighouse Town Women's, the club have been a big support for the blog so far and I am looking forward to getting to some more games once we are allowed again and seeing how the club progresses. So here is how our conversation with Rob went...

EOTA :  What got you into football in the first place?

Rob : I think football has always been part of my life from a young age, although I didn't start playing for teams until I was a little older, I always used play in my grandmas back garden, on the streets and at school. I can remember playing on video games such as FIFA and Championship Manager.

EOTA : Could you describe the process of you becoming manager of Brighouse Town? 

Rob : Back in 2013 I was the first team coach for the men's side at Brighouse and we wanted to start a women's team at the club, I had already had a bit of experience of working in the women's game and felt it was a project I could really give my all to. We managed to put together the structure in place, recruit players and have grown each season to be where we are today.

EOTA : Was it always your intention to manage in the women’s game?

Rob : I think for me personally, I don't look at the gender of the players on the pitch. Football is football to me and as far as I'm concerned I'm managing a group of footballers who want to develop and be the best version of themselves that they can be.

EOTA : What do you believe you have brought to this club since taking up the role of manager? 

Rob : I'd like to think I've been able to instill a winning mentality and professional structure. The culture of any club is vital for you to be successful and I believe that between myself, the coaching staff and players we have done pretty well to achieve success. I think I'm quite an open and honest manager, always approachable and will support our players to improve and develop. If you're willing to give your all to this club and buy in to our ethos I'll fight for you and support you all the way, if not it's probably not going to work out in the long run.

EOTA : How important has your coaching team been to what you’ve achieved? 

Rob : We have an unbelievably talented and hard working group behind the scenes and as mentioned previously, without them we cannot operate to the same levels. Our secretary Becky Alderson is incredible, she works tirelessly behind the scenes along with the chairman Colin Tomkins who has become a really good friend of mine, he will do anything for you, is honest and says it how it is.

My assistant Kevin Heetun is an amazing #2 with his football knowledge and work ethic, I've not seen commitment like what he brings before alongside Lee Harrison who is a new addition this season, he's someone we've wanted to bring in for a while and I'm finally delighted we got him. Ruth Brazier is out first team coach and brings a wealth of expertise to the group, our calming influence somewhat and a bit of a super sub when required. Mikey Emery is our GK coach and has played and worked at the top level, great for the banter but another very knowledgeable coach. Sam Cleaver is our S&C coach, he's the one the players probably dislikes because he makes them run but he's amazing at what he does and has been, like all the others an amazing addition.

Georgina Neilsen is our newest recruit and she is in charge of our Video Analysis, it's been a massive help so far and really given us the edge in some of the games this season already.

I could go on and on with the amount of others that help out to make us successful, from Emma Stevenson, Ray Alderson and Ray Spencer the photographer. Together they are an amazing group.

EOTA : Could you tell me about how you personally coped with managing a side during lockdown? 

Rob : I'd be lying if I said it was easy, the constant stop and start not being able to build any momentum is not just difficult physically but it's mentally demanding for the coaches and players as well. I know there are bigger things going on in the world right now but football is vitally important for not only us as a club but for the wider footballing community and we hope that we can return once again to play the game we all love. For now we will continue to meet regular for Zoom calls and fitness, keep checking in with the players and plan for any eventual return that may come our way.

EOTA : We have seen the club using Zoom fitness calls to stay in shape what other ways are you helping players stay connected whilst the season is suspended? 

Rob : I think Zoom has been a big one but without putting pressure on the players to get out and go for a run, we have a Strava group where players can track runs and see what others have been getting up to. We are planning on having a YOGA session soon and will try to put some interviews together to keep everyone engaged.

EOTA : It must’ve been challenging to prepare for this season. Was there ever any doubt in your mind that you could retain a strong squad to push for top spot this year? 

Rob : I believe we had an excellent preseason and recruited really well, we identified the players and areas we needed and were very fortunate to get 90% of what we wanted. From there we've hit the ground running with the girls getting to grips with a new shape which demands high fitness and energy levels so that was a challenge but one I believe they mastered with the help of Sam.

EOTA : Do you think the stop start aspect of COVID lockdowns may be detrimental to some clubs especially in leagues like your own due to finances and players staying match fit throughout?

Rob : I think financially it's always going to be difficult for teams at our level, especially when games are behind closed doors and we still have officials and travel expenses to pay for. The FA cup has been beneficial with us putting a cup run together which brings prize money and a positive adventure to look forward to. I think fitness will be affected in the short term and we may see a few injuries due to demands of being on and off but we have games postponed due to the weather usually anyway, the big problem now is the restrictions on training which won't help with match fitness, sharpness and touches of the ball.

EOTA : Where do you hope to see the club in the next five years?

Rob : I'd love for us to be in the division above and be able to compete in the next 5 years, the level of opposition has improved, coaches are better equipped tactically and the demands are greater with so many teams fighting to achieve the same goals. I'd love for us to also develop our players to go on and play at the top level or at least contribute towards their development.

If we can go one better ourselves then that would be amazing too but we will continue to do what we always do and take it one game at a time and see where that takes us. 

EOTA : As the women’s game grows and becomes more popular do you think there is going to be more pressure added from lower club chairmen/women to get those clubs into the limelight & growing an even bigger fan base?

Rob : 100%, I believe that teams have already started to do that already, we've increased our attendances and engagement with local junior grassroots girls teams and regularly host girls tournaments. We offer free entry for U16's too which will hopefully help us to gain our fans of the future. I think its always going to be hard for teams such as ourselves, Liverpool Feds, Chester-Le-Street etc not having a big men's team attached to us or a recognizable name to piggy back off but in a way that's great because it gives us the chance to create something for ourselves and the success will always taste that little bit sweeter!

EOTA : As the game grows how do you think the male counterparts could help grow the women’s game & bring more fans through the gate?

Rob : I don't think they have to, I think the big thing is sponsors and exposure to the game are more important, of course it would be great if more people attended games who already attend men's games and I'm sure if they did attend they'd find that they probably would enjoy it because as mentioned before, football is football regardless of gender.

EOTA : Do you ever worry that as the game grows unnecessary pressure may be put on your players off the pitch as their profile grows as we have seen social media can be a tough place due to sexist comments even in 2020? How do you and the club help any players that may be suffering due to that?

Rob : It shouldn't be the case, but sadly we still get nonsensical, sexist and discriminatory comments aimed toward female players and coaches etc. I believe the culture we have at the club which is massive on equality and diversity really helps the players, of course it can be hard reading things online sometimes and we will always be there to support our players should they need it.

EOTA : Do you think we are ever going to see a decrease in those sexist comments and have it so big outlets can help promote the women’s game without seeing a load of abuse under each social media post or do you think governing bodies need to help promote the game more & in a better more consistent light for this to happen?

Rob : I think as the world evolves and peoples perceptions change I'd like to think there will be a change in peoples minds, sadly we will always get the odd few who cannot be changed. I think regardless of gender, footballers make mistakes on the pitch but I think women's footballers are highlighted more from the minimum expose the game does get compared to the globally marketed and branded male game. Anyone who takes the time to comment "No one cares" obviously cares enough to comment so at least they know women play football and as times goes on and their daughter, sister, niece etc start to play the game I'm I'm there perception will too.

EOTA : Once football returns (again), what is a realistic goal for the season? 

Rob : I think that will all depend on how the league looks if and when we return, of course we want to be successful and how that looks for our club is very different to others. To be competitive, improve on and off the pitch and finish as high up the table as possible would be what we will strive for and hopefully we can continue to finish what we started at the beginning of the season.

EOTA : Finally any advice for someone wanting to take up a management role in the women’s game?

Rob : I think I'd definitely advise anyone wanting to get involved in management to never stop learning or asking questions, get to know each player as a person and treat them as footballers. A big thing I'd like to think I've done well over the years is knowing the players around in the level above, below and current level, network as much as possible and ensure you set yours and the teams standards high regardless of the level you want to work at.

There you have it that was our conversation with Rob Mitchell from Brighouse. Rob and his team are doing a fantastic job at the club and if you do ever get chance to see the team play make sure you take that opportunity. You can follow Rob on Twitter & also Brighouse Town Women's to stay up to date on fixtures and club news. 

Who would you like to see us chat to next?

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