In May I went to Meadow Lane to meet up with and interview the then CEO of Notts County Ladies, Matthew Alexander. As you will all know, Matthew has now left the club, but the piece I wrote bears publishing, I think. I never managed to sell it to a publication and I never quite finished it – there was so much more I could say. Matthew contacted me the other week and I said I was happy for him to read it – he did and loved it. So, I feel I can publish it here now without reservation.
The future of Notts County Ladies may be currently in some doubt, which I consider to be a terrible pity, and the club will certainly suffer for not having Matthew at the helm.
The Matthew Alexander Interview – It’s a steep learning curve, but I’m a quick learner.
Notts County Ladies’ CEO talks business on and off the pitch, the pleasures and frustrations of running an FAWSL1 club and how to take on the big guns.
Notts County FC is the oldest professional football club in Britain. It was created in 1862, playing its own brand of “football” until it became one of the eleven founding members of the Football League in 1888. By contrast, Notts Counties Ladies only came into being in 2014 after it moved from Lincoln, rebranding from Lincoln Ladies along the way.
The move was not without controversy; Lincoln was an established team, formed in 1995, with its own identity and fanbase. But the qualifying criteria for the new two-tier FAWSL meant clubs had to be linked to a men’s club and so something had to change. And now, with the resources of Meadow Lane open to them, and increased support, few can maintain that the change was anything but for the good of the club.
In fact you only have to visit the Notts County to see it is an up-and-coming enterprise. And some of this is directly down to CEO Matthew Alexander.
It is early days. Alexander has only been in post since December 2015, but when you’ve talked to him for five minutes you feel his commitment and passion for both the club and the role he has taken on. When I arrive, he’s outside the main entrance emptying his office rubbish bin into a larger one – very glamorous.
“It’s a steep learning curve, but I’ m a quick learner. There is nothing that will put me off. Nothing will phase me,” he says and I immediately believe him.
Asked whether he is a “business man” or a “football man” he does not hesitate – it is the latter. Indeed how can it not be? His father, to whom he refers regularly during our discussion, was Keith Alexander, a professional footballer, but probably more well-known as loved and respected manager of Lincoln City and Peterborough United. He was managing Macclesfield Town when he died suddenly, aged just 53, in 2010.
His son, therefore, was steeped in football from an early age. He cut his footballing teeth in scouting for Bradford City, moving to Notts County in 2011. His commercial experience came as an agent, at first securing boot deals for his clients. He went into the business of running a football club with Notts County in March 2015 as Interim Commercial Manager and Head of Business Development, before taking on his current role in December.
Chairman and owner, Ray Trew approached Alexander and asked him to take on the job of CEO. His quarry was just about to take a job with a Premier League club working on their under-21 recruitment, but Trew didn’t have to wait long for his answer. And there’s no sign that Alexander is regretting his decision; he’s enjoying (nearly) every minute.
But there are frustrations – many of them.
He knows he has a small squad and limited resources. With these he has to build a club that can take on Manchester City and Chelsea – the “millionaires” of women’s football and Arsenal and Liverpool – the big four. But he insists this is not necessarily a bad thing,
“It’s a tight-knit team. When we sign new players we have to consider how their personalities are going to fit.”
But this, he says, gives them the edge over others.
“For a club this size we should be aiming to stay up every year,” he says .
But this is not enough for him. He knows it’s ambitious, but he is desperate to break the monopoly of the top four. But not just that – his ultimate aim is Champions’ League football for Notts County Ladies.
Although he is very clearly a football man, he realises he has to hone his own business skills and the business skills of Notts County Ladies if they are to survive and progress. This is where his major frustrations lie.
His frustrations go from having to ask the Football Association (FA) for basic guidance on employee rights and human resources issues (what should a “new starter” form look like, for example), to why they can’t secure the levels of sponsorship they need.
“I could do with employing someone full-time just to ring round companies and talk to them about sponsorship,” he says ruefully.
The club now has its first accountants to look after the books – another innovation since Alexander took over. But it’s a case of needs must as they strive to compete.
The Club Development Fund money that comes from the FA isn’t enough to pay for two players’ wages for a year, never mind about contributing to any “development”.
“The FA needs to get on top of the commerciality of the game,” he says.
Things are proceeding too slowly for him and he clearly feels that the FA should be doing more.
At this point, Alexander reveals he has a small daughter.
“I’m one of the parents who tells their daughter they can do whatever they want.”
And he is determined that if she wanted to be a professional footballer she should have a pathway to achieving just that.
“We want our players to be role models for women all over the world. I’ve never been prouder of being involved in anything than this.”
“We’re on the verge of creating something really special,” he says. And I come away thinking that yes, he probably is.