This week Karyn McCluskey was appointed to the board of the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) in a non-executive director role. It's an unpaid position which Karyn will be performing in her own time. In this article the VRU's director explains in her own words why she took on the role and what she hopes to achieve.
I was speaking to a group of students last week about tackling violence and trying to change some ‘wicked’ problems in society. At the end, one of the students raised her hand and asked what it’s like being a woman in what is perceived to be a male dominated profession.
In truth, I try not to think about it – even when I have been confronted by some particularly abhorrent behaviour. My great friend and colleague John Carnochan, who worked with me for many years, gave me some of the most valuable advice I have ever received. He saw me take something to heart that, in reality, was nothing to do with me. His advice was ‘you need to give it back – it’s their problem and not yours’. It sounds simple, yet I obsessed about why an individual behaved in the way they did towards me and what I could do to sort it. The reality was I could not make this person feel better, his attitudes and behaviour were rooted in something deeper, and it was not my responsibility to make him a better person, it was his.
So I approach this week with a bit of trepidation. In the latter part of last year, I received an email asking whether I would come and meet the Scottish Professional Football League about potentially joining the board. There are two K McCluskeys on the email system and I thought they had perhaps sent it to the wrong one! Once I’d confirmed they were sure they had the right person, I spoke to my teenage daughter, who, after laughing for ten minutes, skulked off into her bedroom muttering about the fact I was intent on ruining any credibility she had. I am, I will.
I have had a number of meetings with different members of the SPFL – and they confirmed my appointment last week. The feeling of trepidation is huge – nervous and excited, a sleepless night dissecting possible problems, few of which I can do anything about.
Will I be targeted on Twitter? Yes, probably. Although I often think Twitter is a little like barking into cyberspace – it’s not my favourite medium, and there are lots of people on there who could do with a hug (for a variety of reasons).
Will they try and catch me out about football? Definitely. So here is my confession. I love sport – trying it mainly. I run, swim, climb and love trying sports – I’ve been average at loads of things. Doing sport has been a huge part of my life and I can’t imagine not doing it. I don’t support any football team. My knowledge of football is at surface level. I watched the World Cup. My Dad never took me to a football match, as he didn’t support a team and I am in a family of three girls, none of whom were interested in the game. I’ve been to a few games over the years, but I’m looking forward to seeing teams around Scotland and, of course, sampling a pie and Bovril while working out how to keep warm in the stands!
Will there be a dissection of the colours I wear, forensic analysis of phrases that I say, to see if people can identify a bias? Of course. So for the record, I wear loads of colours – it means nothing – it’s only what’s in my wardrobe, and I propose to keep it that way. Don’t read anything into it. Yes, I will also say things that are misinterpreted – that’s life. I have learned to get over it. Broadcast interviews are sometimes tough, editing sometimes makes it difficult to get your point across, though that’s not the fault of journalists who have a difficult job to do.
So why am I doing this? I love Scotland and the potential that we all have to do great things – I see the change that has happened around some of the agendas that I look at now and the outcomes for our young people, and I know great change is possible if enough of us get together and move in the same direction. I don’t think there is anything that we can’t change, if we really want to. Our problems have been created by us and can be solved by us.
I work with hundreds of children, many of which love playing and watching football. Their lives are shaped often by what they see in football. Football in Scotland often shapes the mood of Scottish life and can be a real force for good. I work with children who have some really difficult lives, and I want them to be allowed to be children – free from racism, sexism, violence in all forms – I want them to go to watch what is a great team sport, and be carried away by the sport, to understand what it is to be part of a group who support a team and are overjoyed by their success and sometimes despondent at their defeat. I want them to know that sport is a great thing to be involved in and watch. They are the next generation of supporters. So I am doing it for them.
I don’t own a football club, I am taking on the role of a non-executive director. I can’t tell people what to do, but I have the opportunity to influence, to be independent, think differently and, importantly, learn from others about how we make the sport even better. For we seem to adopt that old ‘Calvinist’ thing – we love speaking about what is wrong, how doomed we are, how it will never get any better. Yet football is transformed from what it was decades ago – we seem to gloss over that. Yet 99% of football is good. The fans enjoy it (mostly), and huge numbers of people turn out for games on a regular basis.
The other 1% is what makes the papers, and it is what exercises us. I don’t underplay it. I’ve worked in violence reduction for nearly 11 years, I know what damage a small number of people can cause. I know it’s serious. Yet, we need to think of the assets we have; the number of people keeping fit and healthy at clubs round the country, the matches that generate great passion, the family outings to support their teams, the journeys fans make all over Scotland to support clubs, the kids who mimic their heroes in playgrounds around the country.
I enjoy working with the media – they are hugely important. They reach more people than I ever will and communicate it more articulately. We are all a part of this, and so are our colleagues in the media. I hope they can help me deliver the improvements we all want to see.
Lastly, I have two X chromosomes. Move along, nothing to see here.
So don’t ask me about the offside rule, technicalities, or who came where in the league last year. I’m doing this because I want to make a difference. I don’t get paid for it – nothing – end of. I’m doing it voluntarily. It will eat into the time I have with my family and the little spare time I have. I have a full time role that I throw my heart and soul into, so life just became a bit more complicated.
I’m sure people will give their opinions freely to me over the next while about what I should do. I hope we do it with coffee and a smile, knowing that we may disagree on how to get to our goal, but that we all want the same at the end of the day – great sport, safe venues, bigger crowds, family involvement and a great game.