Birkbeck’s sport management degrees attract a hugely diverse group of students from across the globe. We spoke to three women whose studies at Birkbeck have helped them thrive in the world of football, where women are still woefully under-represented.
Preeti is passionate about evaluating the role of sport in driving social change, providing opportunities to those who might have been overlooked and encouraging diversity of thought in decision-making. As chief executive of Upshot, a social enterprise originally created by the Football Foundation that helps over 1,000 not-for-profit organisations measure the impact of their community work, she has countless opportunities to indulge her passion.
Named as one of the Sport Industry Group ‘NextGen Leaders’ in sport, Preeti was also recently appointed as a non-executive director of Brentford Football Club, making her the only South Asian woman in a Premier League boardroom.
“My master’s dissertation at Birkbeck focused on impact measurement,” Preeti explains. “This gave me a foot in the door to Upshot, which was a tech start-up at the time. I was able to develop the company from its infancy, so it can help demonstrate sport’s social value to communities worldwide.”
Talking about challenging perceptions of senior people in sport, she adds: “The adage of ‘you have to see it to believe it’ rings true for me. If you don’t see people like you in positions of power and success, then you never think it’s possible for you.”
“Football is changing but is still very male dominated and predominantly white. Other South Asian women can look at me and say, ‘if I want, I can do that too!’ But equally, there are so many other roles we haven’t touched. There are so many glass ceilings.”
“We are living in a difficult, divisive time and it has never been more important for us to be inclusive, to be tolerant and to focus on equity before we even think about equality.”
Faïna was raised in the shadow of Emirates Stadium, Arsenal’s north London home, yet has always been a fervent Manchester United fan. She was a committee member for the women’s football team at the University of East Anglia, but left sport behind when she went to work for a trade union after graduating, until she enrolled at Birkbeck in 2013.
Faïna has held numerous senior roles in the commercial and sponsorship side of football since her master’s. In 2021, she became the content manager for OneFootball, a news website committed to reinventing how more than 100 million fans worldwide consume football stats, scores, news and streaming. Her role involves growing the platform in emerging markets, which she says provides a great opportunity for her to continue to develop: “There’s never a set point where I’ve reached a level of comfort. There is always something more. I always want to learn.”
As well as excelling in the commercial side of football, Faïna is also the co-founder of Lived Equity, a website that supports companies to achieve their diversity and inclusion goals. She explains, “If I can help ensure that the next generation doesn’t have to face the bumpy roads most of us have, that would be amazing.”
“If now isn’t the time for women’s football to really take off, I don’t know when it will”
A former professional footballer, Brooke credits her transition to women’s football management and her role in the development of the FA Women’s Super League, to her master’s at Birkbeck.
Brooke enjoyed a successful career on the pitch, including winning the FA Cup at Everton and representing England at the European Championships and World Cup. However, her playing career ended abruptly after a cancer diagnosis in early 2022.
Now general manager for Reading F.C. Women, she explains: “I had no idea I’d need to retire early, but I was already aware that as I approached 30, I needed to start considering what would come next. It was this that prompted me to study sports management while I was still playing. Now it’s provided me with a second career and lessened the stress of no longer being able to play professionally.”
She describes the degree as having “covered so many different elements of the football industry.” This breadth prepared her for a multifaceted role at Reading, where despite being a top Women’s Super League team, the club does not have extensive operations support comparable to most professional men’s teams.
Reflecting on England’s UEFA EURO 22 win, Brooke comments, “the Lionesses have generated huge interest in women’s football, which really helps to develop the women’s game commercially. It will be important for me and others across the industry and domestic leagues to really capitalise on the opportunities this provides. If now isn’t the time for it to really take off, I don’t know when it will.”