This week’s game changers podcast features Fleur Robinson, the new chief executive of Wrexham AFC. In an illuminating interview, Robinson reveals how she became an accomplished commercial leader in football.
Robinson is set to start her new role with Wrexham on June 1st, moving on from two decades at Burton Albion. As the daughter of Albion chairman Ben Robinson, she began her career at the club at a young age, describing her initial work as “really varied.”
During her time at Albion, Robinson was a key figure in their incredible journey from non-League to the Championship. The team was then relegated to League One in 2018, where they still remain.
Despite being one of only a handful of women in football management, Robinson said she “hadn’t really encountered any negativity.”
“When we got promoted, I went to my first commercial managers meeting at Walsall, and yeah, I was the only female,” she explained. “I was more than half younger than anybody else in the room, you know. But it was great and really supportive. Football is a great environment off-field, most people get on and we all share ideas. So I've been very fortunate in that way.”
In fact, Robinson had to battle her own doubts more than those of the people working around her. She revealed she had sometimes been affected by imposter syndrome, describing it as a “real hindrance.”
“For me moving on to my next role, I've been at Burton for so, so long, and with any job, any new challenge, you know, you always have those doubts. But it's making sure that those positive nerves or those negative nerves are turned into positive, and make sure that it pushes you forward.”
Robinson has also balanced a career in football management with family life. She discussed how she faced the tricky task of being a working mother with two daughters.
“Again, I think I'm fortunate, because it's family working in football,” she said. “There is not a lot of time for family, and quite often children don't come first. For me, my girls have grown up to be very strong, independent young ladies, and I think that's played a part in it. It's such a social environment to be in. I've been lucky that I can bring my children to work on match days.
“That's been great for them, that social environment, for them to learn to speak to people and have that social side has been really important."
But it's a challenge, it's a lot of guilty moments, like there is with any working mothers. But you know, I've been fortunate that I've had a good balance.
Robinson announced in March she would be leaving Burton Albion to take up the new role with Wrexham. For her, it was a really agonising decision.
“I've never sort of sought to move anywhere really, but the opportunity came along when they approached me,” Robinson explained. “And I mean, it was a journey that I had to have a look at and see, and the more conversations I had, the more it excited me. And I think, my time of life, I think if you don't take these opportunities, they don't come around very often.
“I certainly feel like I'll be out of my comfort zone, but that's good. You know, we should all push ourselves out. So yes, it was an opportunity in the end that I just couldn't turn down. And yeah, it has been a really hard decision, but you know, a decision I've had to make. For myself, mixed emotions, I feel very guilty leaving everybody behind, but you know, you have to make these decisions in life and hopefully it will be the right one for me going forward.”
Before Robinson’s appointment, Wrexham had been making a splash. In one of the more unexpected stories of the year, Hollywood superstars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney completed a takeover of the Vanarama National League side in February. How does Robinson feel about having Reynolds and McElhenney as her bosses?
“It's exciting, but I think, you know, owners are owners, whether they are Hollywood movie stars, it's got to be the right fit,” she responded.
“And you know, I've said that if it hadn't been for the vision that they're looking to achieve at Wrexham, I wouldn't have even considered it. I'm going very much with the mindset that they want to hopefully achieve a similar journey to what we've done here at Burton on the field, but equally, and in equal measure that community engagement, which is really important.”
Having taken Burton Albion from non-league football to the Championship, Robinson discussed the ambitions for Wrexham and the resulting pressure surrounding her new role.
“Wrexham is a big club and has so much potential and there's a lot of excitement around the new owners. Far more excitement than I ever imagined for my appointment as well,” she laughed.
It's a huge amount of pressure.
“But, you know, we've said from the start that this has got to be the building blocks. Rome wasn't built overnight. You see clubs who sort of rush through things and the foundations aren't right. And it catches up eventually. So, you know, the aim obviously is to get into the Football League. And that's got to be the one big aim, but it's got to be done in the right way, with the right foundations for the security of the football club, going forward, in the future.”
As the interview came to an end, Robinson offered advice to young women hoping to follow in her footsteps.
“I think if you know what your career path is, I think it's just getting that foot in the door, which is really hard with football. And it might be that you have to be creative and get your foot in elsewhere and then work your way to the position that you want to do,” she said.
“And I think, you know, don't be frightened to fail. I think we're all too frightened to take that step, just in case, what if, you know, and that's held so many people back. So it doesn't matter if you fail. You've got to have a go to try, you've got to do it to fail. So, let’s have a crack at it and follow your dreams.”
This article was produced in partnership with the game changers podcast, which is supported by Barclays. You can listen to the full episode with Fleur Robinson here.