Thursday, 26 April 2012

TWINTERVIEW: Jessica McQueen

Running a football club can be a pretty thankless task and Ebbsfleet United is a different beast to most. Still funded by the MyFootballClub website memberships, fighting hard to survive in a division packed with powerful full-time clubs and even harder to convince the people of north Kent to get off their sofas and push through the turnstiles on a regular basis, there isn't such a thing as a quiet week at Stonebridge Road.

As if director Jessica McQueen's workload wasn't already sufficient and the club's coffers under enough strain, the Fleet were the victims of two burglaries inside 10 days back in February. Cables were cut, disabling the floodlights at one end of the ground. An early kick-off for Ebbsfleet's next home game was the only way to prevent the further losses a postponement would have yielded.

I could ramble on about the Fleet, their victories in the face of adversity, their penchant for doing everything the hard way, their underdog spirit and the inimitable togetherness of a playing squad moulded and motivated by their indefatigable manager, Liam Daish.

But you'd much rather hear from someone who really knows what they're talking about. My thanks go to Jessica for taking the time to work her way through my questions.

First of all, the Fleet have booked their place in Blue Square Bet Premier for another season. Can you put into context how big an achievement that is?

If I say I'm surprised, it sounds as though I had no faith in Liam or the team, which of course if far from the truth. But we are part-time and Liam's budget is hardly the biggest in the league - there are some Blue Square Bet South teams with more in the kitty. Everyone says we are punching above our weight but if they had seen some of the great performances this season, they would realise what a talented bunch of lads we have and that Liam and his management team have once again trained, coached and motivated the team to achieve the way they have.

How are the Fleet viewed in other Conference boardrooms? Is it particularly satisfying when you beat a club that has underestimated you pre-game?
We are viewed well, we treat people in our boardroom very well and we are beginning to reap the benefits. I get a few odd looks as being a woman director, but it's fine. To be honest, we just love winning, I honestly have never got the feeling that anyone thinks we are easy to beat. They are very complimentary about our level of fitness and Liam.

What about you as a female director? What sort of reaction do you get up and down the grounds, and are there other women in similar positions throughout the league? In short, have you encountered sexism first-hand?

I have never encounctered actual sexism, but if I go into the boardroom with [club secretary] Peter Danzey they usually assume he is the director. Most ladies serve the food and serve tea. Sad really. Bath did have a lady chairman, not sure if she is still there as she was getting a lot of stick. Someone has moaned on a forum that EUFC is being run like the Women's Institute.

Tell us a bit about your background when it comes to football. What was the first game you watched?

I honestly cannot remember my first game. My family all are sports lovers, my husband was/is a Gravesend & Northfleet fan and I started to come to the ground with him in 1974 and have been attending ever since. I am a closet Arsenal fan.

How does your involvement with the football club affect the other areas of your life? Does the Fleet ever keep you awake at night?
Over the last five months, I spend on average five days a week working at the football club. Some days are very long and I get home around 10pm. Yes, it does keep me awake at night and once awake I plan things and work out figures in my head. It's very stressful and rewarding, depending on which day of the week it is.

How difficult was it for you to deal with the two break-ins in such quick succession?

It was very difficult. The second one nearly finished us off. But, as Liam says, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Liam's management credentials aren't in question, but I understand he contributes plenty to the club away from the playing field too. Tell us about that.
Liam is a rock, he is full of sound common-sense, excellent ideas and hardly ever gets fazed. He is no one's fool either, he has a good business brain, has been someone who I can talk to about anything and he has become quite a text buddy. He attends meetings with me and on behalf of the club. I cannot think of anyone else I would sooner work with.

Do you worry about the day he moves on from Stonebridge Road?

In some ways I do, but I understand that if he had the chance to manage a higher league club, we should all do our best to encourage him and wish him every success. He deserves it.

What has been your highlight of this season? And what have you learned?

Highlight of the season was the vital point against Telford. I have learned that running a football club is about people and that trying to manage everyone's expectations is an enormous task. They are real people who rely on the club for their livelihood, but there is little space for sentimentality. If you don't do it, someone else will.

Give us your forecast for the next year at the club. On the playing side, will finances allow you to keep the bulk of the squad together again?
We are only just starting this process and whoever we keep will be up to Liam. As far as money for the budget, that will be up to the owenrs and supporters, they have all been told what we want. Let's hope they can supply it.

How happy (or otherwise) have you been with home gates? Do you have a theory as to why they haven't grown more from last season?
If I am honest, no. We just cannot crack why we cannot raise the numbers. We need around 1400 every week, we hover around 1000, sad really when you think how many went to Farnborough [for the play-off final] last year.

Watching games from the terrace and watching from the directors box - very different experiences?

I hate the directors box, you just cannot be yourself. I love to have a go at the ref and generally join in the terrace banter. That just cannot be done in the box.

Finally - you've got one tweet to tell the world about Ebbsfleet United. Go...

"Ebbsfleet United Football Club, use it or lose it."

You can follow @ebbsqueen on Twitter

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