Written by By Dell Cameron, CNN
Emma Hayes , the first female head coach of a men’s professional football team, is passionate about creating more opportunity for women in sport.
“My long-term goal is obviously to coach the best teams. But I would very much like to see women playing professionally and specifically men’s football.”
She spoke to CNN about her journey from a childhood in Reading to coach at Arsenal FC’s Women’s team.
A new look
The 39-year-old first touched down in the UK more than a decade ago to chase a childhood dream of playing as a member of the United States National Team. But six years later, she found her path blocked by the kind of chauvinism she’d been trying to escape.
“I was training for a match in Manchester and someone told me they didn’t want me in the squad anymore because I’m a girl. Because that was very disappointing, I couldn’t control what people thought of me,” she says.
However, that kind of bias didn’t last long. Soon after joining a team as a defender, she was given a glimpse of things to come.
“I got a call saying I’m so excited about you, you’re part of this new first team and one of the sports we’re just starting to use. So thank you,” she remembers.
Emma Hayes (centre) as a player for U.S. national team at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1999, shortly before she was called up to coaching roles in the women’s game. Credit: Buda Mendes/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
While the U.S. Women’s team were honored for their achievements in that year’s FIFA World Cup, Hayes was recognized in the right place, even if they’re not in the same rank.
“It was really surreal being on the same stage as the really strong, successful female coaches, who had been there a long time,” she says.
Emma Hayes during a TV interview in 2015 Credit: Courtesy of Emma Hayes
In 2012, Hayes went on to coach Chelsea Women’s team — which garnered intense interest in the topflight.
“Chelsea was a really interesting place to be. Because I didn’t have the same support that I did here. They allowed me full rein to make my own decisions and completely change the style of play,” she says.
But that’s not to say she hasn’t faced pressure.
“Chelsea played two games in a row at Wembley. And they couldn’t get their shirts on the players because no one in the stadium could stop them touching their own shirts,” she says.
‘This summer has been unbelievable’
As the first woman to lead a club in England’s topflight, Hayes sometimes finds herself tempted to look ahead to the next challenge. “There’s always a part of me that feels like ‘I don’t want to do this ever again,’ ” she admits.
Although she admits that a long-term objective is already to become an academy coach. “I’d like to get into coaching the next generation of girls.”
One thing she’s sure of is that she’ll continue to challenge norms.
“For all of us as women, I’m determined we’re going to continue to feel we have the opportunity to lead, especially when there is a lack of opportunity,” she says.
“There’s not many barriers to what we want to do in sport. It’s just that there is always a chance of being judged negatively for your success.”
Her journey has undoubtedly been hugely successful. Her Chelsea Women’s team have brought home three FA Cups and been crowned UEFA Champions League winners. And the FA Women’s Cup has been played since 2004, which can be considered a milestone.
“I’m currently thinking about the best way to make it better,” she adds.
“I never thought I’d be coaching a team,” she says. “But I’ve certainly had the experience of it being completely different. You have to build every single relationship — where to make your first call, what your first meeting is with the players, what your first game is going to be like.”
“This summer has been unbelievable,” she says. “It’s an extraordinary feeling being here. We have the experience. We have the knowledge. We have what it takes.”