From the United States to Afghanistan to Morocco, Kelly Lindsey has worked in women’s football around the world. Now, she finds herself in Lewes, a county town in the heart of Sussex.
Lindsey was not drawn to Lewes by its medieval streets or its proximity to the sea, but by its football club. Based at the Dripping Pan, Lewes FC is the only club in the world to offer its male and female players equal pay, and is 100 percent fan-owned.
Today, Lindsey has been announced as Lewes FC’s first ever Head of Performance. She will be overseeing the performance of the men, women and youth teams, ensuring the club is as efficient and effective as possible, both on and off the pitch.
In an exclusive interview with GiveMeSport Women, Lindsey revealed why she wanted to work at Lewes FC.
“I love their mission of equality,” she explained. “I think that’s so, so important in sport, and humanity.
“It’s important for sport and humanity that we start to view men and women, boys and girls, equally, and that we make the best professional decisions we can across both games. So, it’s nice to be able to come to a club who really sees that and lives that.
“I always believe in the battle of the underdog. When people question if they can do it, I’m a big believer that the underdog can succeed. And if we can do it at Lewes, I think we can be a beacon of hope for the rest of the world.
“I think there are a lot of people in football and sport right now that want to do better, want to take care of players better and people better.
“If we lead with integrity, and we lead with the right values, and we lead with a person centred approach, I think we can show that we can do amazing things on and off the pitch for players, and the world of sport.”
Lindsey enthused about the opportunity to work with the Lewes FC’s chief executive, Maggie Murphy, who joined the club in 2019 after a career in anti-corruption, governance and human rights.
“I have a lot of respect for Maggie. I think she’s done an amazing job in her career before coming to Lewes, and now currently at the club.
It’s nice to be able to come and work for someone who’s so passionate about professionalising the game, and making sure that a club is really run with integrity and honour, and that people are taken care of.
“When I met with the Board, I felt that same vibe and energy from the members. And I think that that’s really impactful and powerful for the world of sport.”
Lindsey was a footballer herself, playing for San Jose CyberRays in the Women’s United Soccer Association, the first ever professional women’s football league. She also earned four caps for the United States between 2000 and 2002.
A knee injury curtailed Lindsey’s playing career in 2003, and aged 23, she entered the world of coaching. In 2016, she took on the role of head coach of the Afghanistan women’s national team.
This was no easy task. Lindsey had to coach players within Afghanistan remotely, with training camps held overseas for safety reasons. Team members in the country were often threatened with violence.
Some players were also subject to sexual abuse by Afghan Football Federation (AFF) officials from 2013 to 2018, as first published in The Guardian in November 2018.
Lindsey left her role with the Afghanistan women’s football team last year, and, like millions around the world, watched with horror as the Taliban regained control of the country in August.
“In the lead up, knowing the US was going to evacuate, and seeing the Taliban starting to come in, there were already conversations going on about what it meant for our girls and our women.”
Lindsey was part of a small group, including former coach Haley Carter and team founder Khalida Popal, which lobbied for the women’s football team to be flown out of Afghanistan.
Their tireless efforts were successful, with more than 75 people associated with the team evacuated from Afghanistan to Australia.
“I think the biggest heroes in all of this are the girls and the women,” Lindsey said. “What they went through in those two to seven days, the decisions they had to make – to leave home, to trust a group of people from the outside that they didn’t necessarily know, to leave their family members behind.
“The stress and the trauma and the battle, honestly, that they all went through for those days. I don’t think enough has been said about the heroism of the girls themselves because without them, battling and fighting, they would have never gotten out of the country.”
Lindsey promised to “keep working and raising awareness” for the women left behind in Afghanistan, but she will also now be focusing on her new role at Lewes FC. When asked what she was hoping to achieve on the pitch, Lindsey was bullish.
“Number one is the performance and the promotion.
We want to promote the women into the Super League. We want to promote the men, have them win the league and move up.
“Not just this year, but for the men to continue to move up in the coming years.”
If the women’s team was to earn promotion into the WSL, they would be playing in the top tier in the country. Does Lindsey think the squad is capable?
“I think the coaches have done an amazing job in the offseason, of recruiting and scouting talent, and that’s not just talent on the pitch, but it’s also good quality people who are willing to compete and fight for each other off the pitch,” she responded. “That really builds a champion culture.
“So I’m very proud of the work that they’ve done, and eager to help bring some of those unique little performance factors in, so they can be even more efficient and effective in the good work that they’re already doing.
“In football, there is a lot of chance for promotion, although you need a little luck on your side – we all know the ball can bounce in any way.
“But, I want us to teach ourselves and teach our players to create our own luck. And not just hope that we gain promotion, but that every detail is put in place to give us the best chance to get promotion.”
As someone with a “deep, deep passion” for the care of younger players, Lindsey will also be hoping to develop a youth system with a focus on compassion.
“I think it’s really really important that our youth side is focused on developing players. Obviously for Lewes, but even for teams above Lewes. It’s really important that our youth players know that we’re a development centre, and we’re going to help them on the personal and professional side to achieve their goals and dreams.
“I think often youth players get stuck into academies that don’t really care about them as people – we want to make sure that we really take care of them as people, and really drive them to be high performers in their life on and off the pitch.”
Lewes FC’s newest signing may not be a player, but it is clear Lindsey will have a significant impact on the club as it looks to hit new heights.
Lewes FC is aiming to become the most fan-owned football club in the world. To find out more about becoming an owner, visit https://www.lewesfc.com/owners.