Fleur Robinson is the Commercial Director at Burton Albion Football Club. With over 24 years’ experience with the Brewers, as well as fulfilling other senior positions in football - such as a Council Member for the FA - Fleur has a wealth of experience. In this interview, Fleur shares details of her experiences in working in football, including her varied roles at Burton Albion, her enthusiasm for the Burton Albion Community Trust and her passion for mentoring individuals who have an interest in the football industry.
Obviously Burton Albion is a family business so I’m not sure I had a choice!
I have a vivid memory of going for a walk across the fields with my Dad (Ben Robinson – Chairman of Burton Albion) and he told me he was getting back to being involved with the club. From that point on it meant that, we as a family, were involved too. It seems like a distant memory now.
The time has gone so quickly and it was actually in 1995 when my Dad returned to the club and I first became involved.
I always say that there haven’t been many roles I’ve not fulfilled when it comes to Burton. I’ve not mowed the pitch and unfortunately, not played but other than that, I have been a part of it all and my role now is one that has developed from working in all areas of the business across many years. It’s been nice to gain an insight and some experience across all departments, as well as playing a part in structuring the great team we have now - with fantastic people now fulfilling all of those roles.
From the time we took over ownership of the club, I was working on small commercial projects and was involved in a bit of selling, as well as general administration. I even had stints behind the bar! All of that experience has developed my role into what it is today. I think that’s why I have enjoyed it so much; we always say in the football industry that every day is different and that’s what I like. Yes, you can never plan a day properly because it always seems to change but that element is what has also kept me interested.
The Pirelli Stadium (Source: Burton Albion FC)
The family aspect is also special to me and in football in general, people that I have spoken to – who have been in the industry a long time – often feel you have to be a special type of person to work in the industry because it ‘hooks’ you into a way of life and keeps you involved.
We always had the ambition to bring the women’s team under the wing of the club structure and we are so pleased we have been able to achieve this. We have always wanted to support them and help them develop.
The women’s structure is different to the men’s; a lot of people working for the women’s team are volunteers and have been there for a long time. That set-up has enabled us to build a relationship and grow closer to them, and I think we reached this point last season where we were all finally in the same place, at the same time, to be able to form the partnership.
All of the team through every department, see this as an important step. We are all behind the move and support the women’s team across our functions, such as media and player administration. It is a project that is in its infancy; it needs growth as it is a team in grassroots football but it’s great that we have a passionate team behind it to help steer it in the right direction.
We’re all really excited to see what the future holds.
It was a fantastic experience and that is a huge part of why we are where we are today. At the time, it was a general chat the team had with the manager (Nigel Clough) about whether Pirelli would consider selling some of their disused recreational land to us for a new stadium. It felt like a pipe-dream but the negotiations proved successful and, combined with selling the Eton Park stadium, we were able to see the project through. Financially and operationally, it was a case of right place, right time for it all to come together because the cost to purchase land for house building was high and Pirelli were in a place where they decided to let us buy their land.
Our Chairman was the real driving force behind this project though, as he is with most of our projects. He was extremely passionate and led the negotiations to success.
But it is fantastic that we have been able to build a stadium to take us to the Football League and sustain our ambition. It is also used for many activities for the local community and that’s really important to us too.
Anybody who knows Burton and our Chairman will know that everything we do is about the community. We have always been community focused but years ago, it was mainly about providing raffle prizes for local causes and more of a general support for community events. Getting into the Football League gave us a foundation to set-up an operational Trust, as a separate charity. We launched the Community Trust in the first season of being in the Football League, although we also had the opportunity to set-up an Academy at the same time. With those opportunities coupled with our promotion, it was such a huge moment of growth and we were managing everything as a small team. We ultimately decided to launch the Community Trust first and it is one of the best things we have ever done.
There are so many highlights of work that the Community Trust delivers and the team, led by Matt Hancock (Head of Community Trust) and our trustees is absolutely phenomenal. There are a lot of community trusts in football that look to us for best practice and we are really proud that it is delivering everything that it can to support local communities. In a time where we are living with the pandemic, the reaction we have had and the support we have been able to give has been amazing.
It’s only recently that I have thought about that side of my career. I think I have always been so busy building a business that I hadn’t ever thought about my position in that way. I don’t necessarily see myself in that role but yes, I am a woman working in football so it is important to me to support where I can; and not just women but men as well. If I can assist people in achieving their dream then that’s brilliant. I think it is great if you can get yourself into the industry but it is difficult to do so and that’s why I am always glad to help anybody with advice if they need it.
I think you need to be happy in whatever role you do – you need to enjoy it. We spend a lot of our life working so I couldn’t think of anything worse than waking up and not wanting to go to work. I am sure like everyone, we have ‘those days’ but as I said earlier, every day is different and that’s why it is the best job – it is exciting and full of highs and lows.
I think I have the same answer for both of those and that is, the diversity and fast-flowing pace which you have to adapt to and run with all the time. As I said, I can’t really plan too much but as an example, this interview has been arranged this morning but prior to talking with you, I had a couple of important phone calls that have juggled the rest of my schedule around unexpectedly!
On the one hand, I see it as a positive because that diversity is exciting but on the other hand, it does seep into the life you have away from football. We all live in a bubble of football when we are working and we know we need to take time for ourselves but invariably you can’t; special occasions and holidays are often interrupted by something that is happening at the club. But it goes back to what I said earlier about being a special type of person to work in the industry, you accept that the work-life balance is what it is.
I am a divisional representative on the FA Council – there are 14 clubs in my division – and it’s a role that came by chance but one that I am really enjoying; it gives me a different insight into the industry. Within that role, I sit on 3 committees including the Membership and Sanctions committee, Facilities, and the Women’s Ambassadorial Role, so it has been really great to have the opportunity, as well as be able to give something back to the industry by fulfilling the role.
Results impact everybody connected to the club. From fans, to players and all of the team working in the office; it affects everyone. I think Covid hasn’t helped and it feels like a double blow because commercially, there isn’t any normality whether you are bottom of the table or right at the top. It’s been a real struggle for everyone but you have to keep positive, have morale and ensure you have plans for the future. We are fortunate that many of our partners have supported us through this period too.
It is a varied role and the key aspect is to drive revenues and increase growth. However, as an individual you need to be innovative and have a wide range of skills – be able to spot opportunities for growth and revenue streams. Equally, you need to have the right team around you to help you implement the vision and deliver the strategy and operational function. We are fortunate at Burton that we have such a team in place and I need to be a good leader to ensure I involve the team in the right way.
There are individuals who are more qualified in some areas than I am so I like to ensure they have the opportunity to bring their ideas to the table.
Being involved in the stadium and ensuring the club has a home for the future is one of them, as well as developing the Community Trust and seeing what it is today; what it is delivering to our local communities. Then on the pitch, I have been able to see some great achievements with the cups and promotion to the Championship, along with retaining our status to have a second season at that level, which was beyond all our expectations.
Also, it’s lovely to be able to have a job which I share with my family. I have been able to get my kids involved and share those experiences with them, which is really special to me. It’s such a great environment to be a part of and there are a lot of nice memories. With that said, I have to give a big thank you to my Dad because he has been such a great mentor. His passion for both the club and our community is huge, and his morals and values have been embedded into who I am and how I work. He is a big part of my career path and it’s great to work with him every day.
It is difficult to break in the door to the industry so any opportunity you have to volunteer or get into a club, take it and build from there. If you have a specific role or career path you want to follow then that’s great but invariably you need to find your way into the industry in any role you can and develop your path from there.
Never say never, although, any career move I make would have to be to an organisation with the same values as Burton Albion. Working for a club that plays such a big role in the community has been one of the greatest parts of my journey, and if I moved elsewhere, I would need to be in an organisation with like-minded people who have a real passion for the community - club ethos and values are really important to me. But wherever I end up, I will always make sure there is an educational aspect to it.
I am keen on implementing education from an early age and it is something I have always been passionate about and tried to be involved in. For example, I have set up the Inspiring Your Future Programme at Burton, which includes education days at the club for local schools to attend workshops on personal development, aspirations, and self-confidence. For the Business Community Speakers taking part, it is an opportunity to share their knowledge and experiences, particularly around well-being. As leaders, we often look at our colleagues and family’s well-being but ignore our own. I feel it is important to have an educational aspect to what I do, as well as offering mentoring where I can; this is where I see a big focus for me going forward.
Interviewer: Sascha Gustard-Brown
Sascha is highly experienced within the area of Supporter Engagement, having held the positions of Head of Supporter Engagement at Luton Town Football Club and Supporter Liaison Officer at West Ham United. She is currently working on small supporter engagement projects in sport and freelance writing in football.