It’s our final interview from our series on men who are doing amazing things to support and develop the women’s game. From muddy pitch side memories, to goal celebrations you need to watch out for this summer - we caught up with newly appointed FIFA consultant Kieran Theivam on his thoughts ahead of the tournament.
Thanks for taking the time to chat to us Kieran. Who are you, where are you from and what do you do?
I’ve just started a role with FIFA as a women's football communications consultant, so I’m supporting their women's department in the lead up to Women’s World Cup in France this year. I have held various roles in women's football over the last seven or eight years and could honestly go on forever about the stuff that I’ve done, but it goes from blogging to podcasting, to writing, to radio, to TV, to consultancy. It’s been really good to me - but up until this week, it’s always been on the side of a full time job. Now, I’ll be supporting the FIFA women’s football department in the run up to and during the tournament. It’s a fantastic opportunity, I’m very much looking forward to supporting the teams.
How did your journey begin?
My initial route into football started out really as a fan. I met Kelly Smith 10 years ago when I was working as a journalist in Watford (she’s also from there), and I interviewed her in her living room - this was when Kelly was one of the best players in the world and there I was interviewing her in her lounge. I just wasn’t used to that. I’d covered Watford for three years and was used to interviewing players who did interviews because they had to, not really because they wanted to. Kelly, recognised that any media opportunity was a good one. So I followed her career for a year, and realised I wanted to get more involved.
When the Women’s Super League launched in 2011 the game became semi professional so there were a few more eyes on it. That allowed me to branch out a bit more, so I started doing more writing for Jen at She Kicks, followed by launching the first women's football UK podcast which was first of its kind in the UK. That opened a lot of doors for me - I was doing something that no one else was doing and was able to interview some of the biggest players in the world. At that time, the media coverage just wasn’t there.
So from when you began, to now - how have things changed?
The first ever game I saw was Watford Ladies vs Chelsea Ladies and it was back in 2009/10. Chelsea won 6-0 and I couldn't even tell you how many people were there - it was a handful. Casey Stoney, obviously the Man Utd manager now, scored a hatrick. You always remember your first game and that was my first ever. Chelsea absolutely ran all over Watford. The quality now is so far superior. It was never as bad as some people would like to make it out to be, but the quality and standard of anything you do, if you have more time to dedicate to it and more resources invested in you will always improve, and women’s football has done that dramatically.
The reality is that in 2011 the game here was amaetuer. Since the FA Women's Super League went fully full time professional, the players have the opportunity to train everyday, and have access to all of the things that the men's game has had for however many years. With that you are going to see improvement and there’s nowhere you see that more than with the current England squad. England have been historically bullied, out muscled, and completely outplayed by the likes of Germany, USA, for years and years and now they compete with them, and they beat them.
Things have been slow moving in women’s football. Why do you think it’s had its difficulties, and what can be done to change this?
I think we need to get away from this view that women don’t play sport, and women shouldn’t have an opinion on sport. We’re in 2019 - we should be in a position where this is not seen as anything other than normal. If you look at the media recently, the criticism that Alex Scott has been getting, and the abuse that Alex Scott and Eni Aluko received throughout the World Cup. We need to change people's perceptions that when they switch on their TVs and they see Alex Scott - it’s normal, if they open their newspapers and see a column from Eni, it’s normal. A lot of women I know, know more than men do - and that’s because they have to because they are being judged every time they appear on the radio, or television.
I think there's sometimes a bit of a jealousy element too. You have people who's dreams from the moment they could walk, is to be a professional footballer and for whatever reason they didn’t make it - and then they see women on their screens, and it’s almost as though they feel those women have taken their place, that they don’t belong there. I can’t get into the head of someone who’s sexist - I don’t understand why people have this view. The argument often used is that it’s not the same level as the men’s. Women scientifically are not the same as men but there are so many technically gifted female players, you don’t have to be as fast or strong as the men’s to appreciate it. If we can have respect for almost every other sport - why is it so difficult when it comes to football?
With such a huge tournament coming up - why is it so important that we get behind this now?
For me, the reason I think it’s so important to get behind this tournament, is because of the next generation and the girls who’ll be tuning in this summer having something to aspire to if they want to. At the moment, a young girl who has a dream of becoming a footballer, or an athlete in any sector, is constantly surrounded by negativity - and in some cases, it’s within their own home. It might well be that there dad, their uncle, their brother - or their mum (it’s absolutely not always men), are discouraging them from following their dream. Why do we do that? Why discourage a little girl from wanting to go to a World Cup, and represent her country, and wear the countries flag? That’s why we need to get behind it - because it allows young girls to dream.
How do you think things will change after this?
You have to look at the impact of the Euros. Euro 2017, I went out and covered England and was in Utrecht for the opening game. As the Netherlands progressed further and further, it wasn’t just the attention they were getting in the stadiums - it was in the newspapers, on the television, making not just the back pages, but dominating the front pages too. Since they won the Euros, they’ve been selling out stadiums left right and centre. The game in that country has just spiralled and those players are celebrities now. There is absolutely no reason why the lives of the England players couldn’t change in the same way.
I guess it’s still not where we’d like it to be, but if England can do well this summer, then who knows how big it will get.
What are you expecting from this summer?
From an England perspective, the biggest player from a squad perspective is probably Lucy Bronze. Lucy plays her club football in Lyon, and Lyon are hands down the best club in Europe - they could even be considered to be the best club in the world when they play their top game. I think she is the player that has developed and grown the most since the last world cup.
The other one is probably Fran Kirby. Fran has the potential to be one of the best players in the world, if she can get over her injury problems, and some of the setbacks she’s had. She plays for Chelsea, and scored a hatrick in the midweek game against Bristol (that we’re doing this interview in). I know Phil Neville, from a number of the press conferences he’s had, rates Fran incredibly highly. Keep an eye on Sam Kerr from Australia too. She’s become one of the best players in the world over the last couple of years, she’s a player that has everything - she’s quick, she’s powerful, she’s a striker, she has an incredible celebration where she does a backflip and a somersault, so she’s one to look out for.
(1:10 mins for the backflip)
And finally - what are your predictions?
I have to sit on the fence because of my job, but United States went the whole of 2018 undefeated, although they didn’t start this year too well. US on their day are a very difficult team to beat. Australia has gone through a bit of a transition - they’ve just sacked their head coach so we don’t know what to expect from them, but they have a brilliant squad. And then I’d put England and France in that bucket as well. France as hosts, we can’t look past them - they have some incredible young talent. England they have great depth, and some really good players can’t get into that squad. Keep your eyes on England as well.