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Raise Your Game brings the present and future together

Emirates Stadium, the home of Arsenal FC, hosted Kick It Out’s annual Raise Your Game conference which brought together over 300 mentees hoping to advance their careers within the football industry with more than 90 mentors who gave bespoke advice and guidance to the next generation of the game’s workforce.

Caroline Barker, BBC Radio 5live and BBC World Service presenter, hosted the day. She kicked off proceedings by giving attendees a preview of what the conference had in store before introducing Arsenal’s Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis as the first guest speaker. Ivan talked about his upbringing in South Africa which emphasised to him the importance of equality from a young age.

He went on to explain how he got into football, helping to set up Major League Soccer, or Mythical League Soccer as it was named by their detractors, after working as a lawyer for six years. This drove him on to greater things, and he discussed the importance of taking opportunities and combining that with hard work.

“This is an important conference designed to help people from diverse backgrounds to forge careers in the game,” said Ivan. “Kick It Out is an organisation that is close to my heart, and I’m really passionate about connecting people with their passion. I hope this event provides the knowledge and confidence people need to take their careers forward. It’s important for clubs like Arsenal to attract people with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, and we were the first club to achieve the Advanced Level of Kick It Out’s Equality Standard. A football club is hundreds of people working every day in all aspects of the club, pushing things forward.”

Miles Jacobsen OBE, Studio Director of Sports Interactive, followed Ivan as the next speaker and echoed his sentiments about hard work by telling the audience how he managed to swap two gig tickets for an opportunity. He explained the theory that if you do something you love, you never have to work a day in your life.

“You’ve got to be prepared to go the extra mile,” commented Miles. “You don’t get a minute of the day where you’re not working. You’re always thinking, dreaming, making notes. There are always challenges and new things around the corner. You make your own luck to some degree, but the hard work is the most important thing. Everyone is taking a really big step by being here today.”

The morning’s activity opened up with over 250 one-to-one mentoring sessions taking place and three workshops being run at the same time which focused on the media (led by BBC Sport), industry jobs and how to access them (delivered by Careers in Football), and management and coaching (facilitated by Yeovil Town Ladies Development Squad coach Jazz Hervin).

Lord Herman Ouseley, Chair of Kick It Out, opened the afternoon session with a passionate speech touching on the role of football within society. Lord Ouseley talked about football being a force for good, how the people at the top of any industry are predominantly male and predominantly white, and the need for the game to embrace diversity across the board.

“Education is a very important part of what we do,” said Lord Ouseley. “We’re building a force for good, and football is capable of doing that. Football hasn’t created these prejudices but it does provide a platform for people to show them. We’re relying on the next generation to be better than the current one, and it’s great to see so many people in attendance for the conference once again.”

Shortly afterwards, England and Arsenal star Lianne Sanderson was invited on stage by Caroline to speak about how her career has taken her from London to America and back again, and how America truly celebrates individuality. She also reflected on growing up in England and the comments she faced when playing as part of a team of boys from the parents of opposition teams.

During the afternoon, a further 300 one-to-one sessions were delivered to mentees, and the workshops were replicated but with Clive Tyldesley, ITV Sport’s Lead Football Commentator, conducting the afternoon media workshop, in place of BBC Sport, as he spoke about the art of commentary and tips to help with employability.

“The Raise Your Game conference allows me to meet and talk to people who I wouldn’t normally have the chance to speak to,” said Clive. “I would say that Raise Your Game is incredibly uplifting as it provides an opportunity for young people seeking careers in and around football to be mentored by a variety of professionals within the game.”

The day closed with a panel discussion involving Charlotte Hodges, a mentee of Raise Your Game who is now working for the Daily Mirror, former Southampton and Reading manager Nigel Adkins, Watford first-team coach Dean Austin, Adrian Bevington, former Managing Director of Club England, and BT Sport presenter Reshmin Chowdhury, as they spoke about their pathways into the game.

The panellists also discussed how mentees can learn from their experiences as they make their own personal journeys into football before Troy Townsend, Kick It Out’s Education and Development Manager, spoke of his pride that another Raise Your Game conference had gone so well for mentors and mentees.

“Football is normally closed, so unless you’re in it these opportunities won’t arise,” he said. “So if you can grasp an opportunity, even an unpaid one, go and jump and board with it and grasp it. I feel blessed at the quality of mentors who want to give up their time to give advice, and the amount of people who are eager as they look to create a break for themselves.”

Caroline, who has been in attendance at the conference for the last four years, added: “The event gets bigger and bigger each year. Mentees and mentors learn from each other. Everyone has a different experience, and people have been harvesting that from so many different sources. It’s about having a passion and following that. It’s never too late to start, so it’s about believing in yourself.”

Marwan Awar, a football agent licensed by The FA who attended the conference as a mentee, said: “I was surprised I was able to get a place as I only registered a month ago. But Raise Your Game has allowed me to talk to people I would never normally meet. In a word, I would describe the conference as ‘awesome’.”

Photo: Isla Fisher & Roger Kelly, RPS (London)

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