“When the manager introduced me, instead of saying ‘this is Rachel, the new physio’, his words were ‘look what I’ve brought for you boys’. That sounds like you are some piece of meat.”
This was physiotherapist Rachel Davis’ first experience of working in men’s football.
During her 10 years in the game she has had to endure sexism from fans and people within football, as well as a complete lack of facilities.
Davis, now at Harrogate Town and one of two female lead physiotherapists in the English Football League, has spoken to BBC Radio York about her decade of experiences.
Why is it so uncommon for female physios to work in men’s football?
“I don’t know, because especially in rugby, it’s becoming more popular and you see it more and more in other sports.
“There is a lot of sexism in football and there shouldn’t be, because there is no reason why I can’t do my job ahead of a male physio for the opponents standing next to me. But I think some managers will openly admit that they will not, still, employ a female physio for the first team.
“Last year in the National League there were probably six or seven of us. I keep an eye on the non-league circuit and you do see a lot of women working in non-league. It’s definitely the professional game within the EFL where there is a major, major lack of female staff in general to be honest.”
‘Stereotypical’ abuse and lack of facilities
“You do get that stereotypical abuse really. There’s the amount of groin injuries fans suddenly develop the second I walk past – it must be world record numbers – and there’s the wolf whistles.
“At one of my previous clubs, I once ran on the pitch to about a thousand people singing ‘you should be ironing’ over and over again. It was the standout moment in my first year in football, and the players I was with then still remember it if I ever speak to them. We laugh about it now, but that was only 10 years ago.
“The other major issue is the toilet situation at football clubs. In dressing rooms in football, there aren’t male and female toilets, and I’m sure no-one would be surprised to hear I don’t want to go to the toilet after 25 players.
“Sometimes I walk down the corridor and ask someone if there is one I can use and they look at you, and say ‘no’. Sometimes I have to walk the entire length of the ground to find a toilet that is slightly more civilised than the changing room.
“A couple of years ago at one ground, there was only one toilet in the portable cabin being used as our dressing room. There was a huge gaping hole in the door from where a manager had probably punched it. So I’m thinking ‘what do I do? I can’t go with a big hole in the door’. One of the players had to hold a shirt up.
“To work in this industry you’ve got to have a thick skin otherwise you would crumble.”
“I remember the very first job I got in football after I qualified. When the manager introduced me, instead of saying ‘this is Rachel, the new physio’, his words were ‘look what I’ve brought for you boys.’ That sounds like you are some piece of meat.
“I don’t understand why some people see it differently from being a female physio working in a hospital. Do they think I’m going to go and sleep with all the players? It’s ridiculous, it’s the non-talked about thing.
“That has to be the reason why working in men’s professional football is seen differently. There is no other reason, no reason why I can’t do my job as well as a man.
“Yes, I see a lot of naked men’s bodies, but after seeing 5,000, 6,000, 7,000, they’re all pretty much the same.
“If you’re recruiting for a job and you have 10 applicants, don’t judge it on the gender, judge it on the ability. If our manager left, I’d have massive doubts about being able to continue because I know for a fact that some managers won’t employ females.”
Being accepted in the dressing room
“It’s funny because some of the players at Harrogate have been there for six, seven years, so they’re part of the family really. But it’s quite funny sometimes for the new signings that are a bit timid and look at me as if to say ‘why are you in here?’
“I think it’s quite funny because I just get on with my job, I don’t care. I’ve seen it all before. But it is quite funny with the lads from academies that have probably never been around a female member of staff.
“We’re such a close-knit team, that’s the manager’s ethics. We have banter like every workplace but I’m truly accepted. If you were to ask any of the players, they say ‘yeah, she’s one of the lads’. That’s not an insult, it’s a compliment.
“It’s a privilege to be accepted at a football club, you have a big responsibility, I’m looking after their welfare. Gaffer calls me ‘mother hen’ because I see them as my little chicks. Football’s a great place to work and it’s a rewarding job.
“I love what I do. It’s such a great career to get into, but it’s really sad that there is that stereotypical nature around the industry.”