THIS week marks my 30th year in football.
I have gone from being the youngest person to hold an executive position to the longest serving!
Football has transformed in the past 30 years and I am proud to have played a part from the day I walked into St Andrew’s, the rundown home of Birmingham City, as an inexperienced and fearless young lioness.
David Sullivan bought the club in 1993 and I pleaded that a 23-year-old woman with no experience of running a Subbuteo game, let alone an ailing football club, should be managing director.
He told me I would have to be twice as good as the men to be thought of as half as good.
Luckily, I said that’s not difficult.
That was on a Friday and on the Monday I started work.
It was not always easy going.
In my first press conference, desperate to look at least 24, I dressed with shoulder pads and a smart jacket and did a serious presentation of all the things I wanted to achieve with the club.
When it came to questions from the press there was only one: “What are your vital statistics?”
There are plenty of things I miss about the 90s but the overt everyday sexism isn’t one of them.
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Oh, and in 1993 women were banned from boardrooms. Today we are — mostly — welcome.
Woe betide anyone who tried to bar me as a doorkeeper did at Notts County in 1993.
I always say it was the first door I kicked down and I have spent the past 30 years holding that door open as wide as possible to get more women into football.
Football has come a long way in a hurry since then — both on the field and elsewhere. I have done my best to become a leader in the campaign for equality and diversity.
My first piece of advice was from then-Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein.
He told me to never let my heart rule my head and never believe the manager when he said, “Just one more player”.
I’m not sure what he would have made of Barry Fry, who had a revolving-door transfer policy with a squad of 50 and an average three signings a month.
Barry was a character. He once said live on TV after a match that Sullivan “didn’t know the difference between a goal line and a clothes line”.
Incensed, David went to the dressing room and dragged him out the shower — with only a small towel to cover his modesty — to tell him it was disrespectful.
It wasn’t exactly a highlight . . . but it was memorable.
Despite all the shenanigans, we got promoted to the Premier League, turned the stadium into an all-seater venue, doubled crowds with schemes like ‘kids for a quid’ and in our first year we made a trading profit for the first time.
Oh, and I also met my husband Paul and we have been married 28 years.
The most important people at the club are the players with the skills to entertain millions.
So, I have some fantastic memories of my 16 years there.
Now I truly delight in the London Stadium.
It is the best thing to happen to West Ham since the FA Cup win 43 years ago.
I have appeared on The Apprentice, had the honour of lunch with the Queen, awarded a CBE for services to women in business and entrepreneurship and been appointed to the House of Lords.
But the biggest achievement of my business life so far is to have won — yes, WON — our handsome home.
Over three frantic years, I led the battle with Spurs to become long-term tenant of what was the Olympic Stadium, overcame judicial reviews and made three separate bids before it became ours.
One thing that has not changed in 30 years is that the most important people at the club are the players with the skills to entertain millions.
They are paid enormously well and I don’t begrudge them a penny.
It’s funny how times change. I remember having sleepless nights about paying George Parris £1,000 a week at Birmingham in 1993.
That’s the thing about football. There’s always another opinion.
The Queen had one. She told me over lunch that she had gone off football because the atmosphere wasn’t always welcoming.
Even a great woman can be wrong. As Bill Shankly said: “Football isn’t a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that!”