Football agent recounts appalling experiences of sexism

Long time football agent chats to Newstalk's Team 33 about how she blazed a trail in a male dominated world

Rachel Anderson, football, agent, Everton, Blackburn

Football agent Rachel Anderson takes her seat in the stands as she visits Goodison Park for the game against Blackburn Rovers in 1998. Picture by Peter Wilcock EMPICS Sport

In 1997, licenced football agent Rachel Anderson was turned away at the door of the Professional Footballers' Awards Dinner.

The reason? As flabbergasting as it stands, Anderson was barred from entering because she was a woman.

The following year she was also not allowed to attend despite having an invitation from the first footballer she represented, ex-West Ham hard man Julian Dicks, who wrote to the PFA on her behalf.

A year later she successfully took her case to court and won.

This week, she joined Newstalk's Team 33 to talk about her story, the sexism she had and the ins and outs of the football agency industry.

You can listen back to the full interview with Rachel Anderson on the podcast player or on iTunes:

Anderson took us back to that night in 1997 when she was turned away at the door.  

"This was an awards dinner for an industry and the only criteria I knew was that I had to be invited by a player. Only a player could invite people," she told us.

"So I was invited by a group of players, bought my new frock, went along. I was in the bar, no problem, and there were very few women in the bar. But that's perfectly normal in my world. But it's only when I went downstairs to dinner and went to see where I'd be seated, that I was told that I couldn't come in.

"And the only reason was because I was female." 

Then PFA deputy chief executive Brendan Batson was the main representative at the door

"I really thought it was a joke - a bad one - but I thought it was a joke. The players I was with got a little bit angry and I thought this will be the headlines tomorrow 'drunken footballers kicking off etc etc' which was not the case. So I just turned around. Sometimes less is more. I walked back up a sea of men coming down the stairs and I was being teased because I don't have the best sense of direction, should we say," she said of the players making their way down to the awards oblivious to what had just happened at the door.

Rachel Anderson, the UK's only woman soccer agent [in 1999] speaks to the media after leaving Central London County Court where she won her sex discrimination case against the Professional Footballers Association. Picture by Matthew Fearn PA Archive/PA Images

"They were saying 'no, you're going the wrong way again, you need to go down'. I left it and went back to my room and I thought 'This isn't right! This is ridiculous!' I left it, I dwelt on it and the next day I spoke to a couple of people and they said, 'No, this is what they do'".

The following year, Dicks invited her to the awards and he wrote to the chairman of the PFA.

"He actually wrote back 'No, we can't let you in because if we did, we'd have to let wives, girlfriends or even mothers come along,'" said Anderson.

In some ways that was the tip of the iceberg as it was the moments which led her to take action.

But she had previously experienced what it was like to be a woman in football with some of the restrictions that applied at the time.

For example, in some football grounds, women were not allowed in certain areas on matchdays and unwelcome remarks would be passed by some.

"I have had the odd chairman say women should be barefoot and pregnant and shouldn't be in a boardroom," she said, adding that sometimes when a deal was about to be negotiated for one of her players, board members would wait for her male boss to arrive - not knowing that it was Anderson that was boss and negotiator. 

Agents in general are not viewed in the best of terms within football and there are challengers for the industry, especially when it comes to changes in FIFA licencing.

Anderson spoke to us about the challenges facing the industry.