A South African’s Perspective on Breaking into the Football Industry in the EU
It is 9:30 AM on a Wednesday morning, and I find myself sitting at my computer perusing job adverts for an opening in football, as I have many mornings before. It has been over a year since I started looking for a job in football, and 4 months of sporadic employment since I started my General Management Programme in Sports Business. A course I enrolled in to help me break into the industry, and despite my best efforts, I have not yet landed my dream job. But, a lot has changed in that time. My husband and I have both lost our jobs; we moved into a new home; I made a lot of new contacts and attended my first sports business conference. Some things, however, remain the same. I am still hoping and dreaming of my big break, and I still have the look of hopeful desperation that I hope screams “Hire me” to potential employers. Yet with each application, I am reminded of how much experience is worth… and of how little experience I have in the industry. I have contacted every person I was advised to, followed up on every potential lead, had meetings, phone calls and even one or two interviews. I have researched the perfect cover letter, opening lines, read up on every team and every business ahead of every meeting or letter. Yet, despite all my hard work, I find myself still perusing those same job offers in the hopes that one application will work out.
On some level, I understand why, on paper, I don’t look like much. I have had international volunteering experience at some of the most prestigious footballing events in the world, but no full-time employment. How do you convey, in a cover letter, the years and the massive amounts of hard earned savings invested to pursue my passion for football? Is a CV ever enough to get the message across that I moved thousands of miles away from my home and family to pursue a dream career in football? No matter how much passion and drive I have, I still do not have the credentials. As I rarely make it to the interviewing stage in my applications, I never get to explain that I can read and assimilate new information at a rapid speed. I never get to explain that I am so good at learning and applying new knowledge that I’ve been known to be able to teach others after just 3 months. I never get to say that I constantly improve myself by taking new courses and gaining new skills. I never get to explain that I have a natural aptitude for analytics, research, organisation, and figuring out new solutions to a problem. All my CV shows is that I have 10 years working experience, none that is very senior and none in football. I desperately wish that one of the application forms would ask me why I am in this industry. I would gladly tell them that football gave me hope.
The FIFA 2010 World Cup came to my home country, and it was like the world suddenly opened up to me. I saw how my country changed for the better; people were more unified and had a more positive outlook for our country. The international visitors had nothing but good things to say about how we delivered the World Cup, and our hospitality. There was cheering in the streets day and night, and it seemed that just talking about the game was enough to make a new connection or friend. There was so much hopeful anticipation going around that the air practically buzzed with it. I had never before experienced excitement like that in my entire life, and it changed my career trajectory completely. Football gave me hope, for myself, and for my country. And that’s why I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in the beautiful game.
So here we are almost eight years later, and I am living in England with my husband. I am studying a programme that I’m not sure I can afford, in a house that I’m not sure I can afford, for a dream I’m not sure I can afford to still have. I should stop, I should take the nice safe jobs I’ve been ignoring in the pursuit of my dream. I should, I really should, but I won’t. And there’s a simple reason why. No matter how many rejections emails I receive, football has made me grow in ways that no other career path has. I’ve had to overcome my natural reticence in approaching people, to talk to CEOs, founders and co-founders of sporting companies, presidents and vice presidents. I’ve had to stop relying on my natural abilities, to really push myself beyond what I ever thought I could do. I’ve ignored jobs outside of the football industry, jobs that I’d be more qualified for, in the pursuit of a job in football. I’ve made it a do-or-die situation, yes, but I’ve also worked harder than any other time in my entire life. It has also taught me a lot about myself that I hadn’t previously known. I now know that I can keep up with CEOs, founders, or co-founders, etc. or just about anyone in any walk of life. I have found that I have a natural talent for public speaking, which I have decided to pursue in conjunction with my career in football. I realised that I have a lot of new and innovative ideas to contribute to football, that I hope to one day share with my future employer. And whilst I am still looking for someone to invest in me, I will continue to invest in myself. I know that I will eventually break into the industry, not because I am passionate, or driven or capable (although I am all those things), but because I will not stop until I do. For me every day is a victory, job or no job. Football is my best teacher, my most critical supporter, and one of my greatest loves. I will never stop chasing football.