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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Is this the most progressive football club that you’ve never heard of?

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It might be the biggest sport in the world, but football still has work to do, when, in fact, according to one club, they are the only ones to dedicate an equal budget to their male and female players. Meet Lewes FC.

“I think we may be literally absolutely unique and as much as we are first, and we’re pretty sure we’re the only football club in the world to give equal resources to our men’s and women’s teams. And that means equal playing budgets, playing at the same stadium, equal marketing, equal training, equal social media coverage, equal everything” says director Charlie Dobres.

Based in the south-east of England, Lewes FC men’s team play in the seventh tier, whilst the women’s team play in the Championship, the second tier. Maggie Murphy has been a member of the club since 2017 and became CEO in July 2021:

“Lewes FC is the greatest football club you’ve never heard of. It is a football club that puts principles and values and passion right at the heart of it. It is a club that wants to provide for everyone, not just your traditional men’s side of the football club, but also the women’s side in the U.S. and it believes in giving back to people. So giving back to its communities, its owners, its fans, anyone that is also a believer of what we’re trying to do, which is make football good and make football better.”

The club has six-figure budgets for both of its sides and they play their football at the Dripping Pan stadium. Despite a capacity of just 3,000, it was named as Britain’s Greatest Grounded in a recent book titled: British Football’s Greatest Grounds, One Hundred Must-See Football Venues. Lewes FC Men’s manager Tony Russell joined the club back in April:

“It’s just unbelievable. I was blown away by it. You know, I wasn’t too keen at first. When I first knew about the involvement I went on a Zoom call, but within 10 minutes, I was just gripped by what they believe in, what they drive, and just what the club wants to do. It’s a special football club with special people and even the supporters, they’re not like a football crowd. They’re not rude and aggressive. It’s just a quirky football club.”

2021 saw a major breakthrough in football when the US soccer federation agreed to pay its men’s and women’s national teams equally following an appeal from 28 current and former US Women’s national team players. It was a similar story in the Republic of Ireland with their Football Association agreeing to do the same, but these examples are few and far between, something which Murphy says comes as a surprise:

“I think that when Lewes FC took the decision to split its revenue equally back in 2017, we assumed the other clubs would follow suit pretty quickly and they didn’t. They still haven’t, and this is several years on now. I think that ultimately, although it’s been a great decision for us as a club, people are still scared. They still believe that equality is taking something away from the men’s side of the club.”

Lewes FC’s stance on equal pay isn’t just what makes them unique, they are completely owned by supporters with a share in the club costing up to €100. It follows a similar, albeit smaller, model to FC Barcelona who has nearly 150,000 members known as ‘Socios’. Lewes has nearly 2,000 members, but Dobres believes they can get to the very top:

“What other football club could you buy into where you can actually spend your money to bring about societal change, gender equality, inequality throughout football, throughout the world? Also, we are one of a small number of football clubs standing up against gambling sponsorship on shirts: we won’t accept it, won’t have it anywhere in the ground. We take a number of stands on various things and we think people like that. So when I think about being the most owned football club in the world, I think it’s entirely doable and I have absolutely no doubt that we will hit it. I don’t know how long it will take, but we will definitely hit.”

In paying their men and women equally, Lewes FC are, without a doubt, trailblazers but with Barcelona in their sights, it’s clear that they are not content with stopping just yet.

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