Mannie Neville is the Resourcing and Talent Manager for The Football Association (FA). With both extensive experience and knowledge in recruitment, lifelong football fan Mannie transferred his skills to the football industry, joining the FA in November 2018. From explaining the importance of data during the recruitment process, to sharing details of the FA's new diversity code - The Football Leadership Diversity Code - Mannie's interview is an insightful and interesting overview of what it is like to work for one of the football industry's largest associations.
In terms of working in the industry, that’s happened more recently but football has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. If you play, watch or support a team in some capacity, I feel we are all participants and a part of the game.
Professionally, I joined the FA – this is my first professional role in the industry – in November 2018. I was really fortunate and the opportunity arose because there was internal movement – the previous incumbent of this role went to lead recruitment and workforce management at the Men’s European Championships (Euro 2020) and the Women’s European Championships (Euros 2021), so that opened up this opportunity. From a personal perspective, it was the right time for me to apply for something new too; I had been at my previous company for some time and grown there over a number of years. I was keen to look at roles in an industry that I had a real passion for but equally, roles that I could balance with my skills and professional expertise. That’s what I get to do here with the FA, combine my experience within recruitment, with the passion I have for football. It was a perfect match. I applied, went through a number of interview stages - one video interview and two at Wembley Stadium – and I was fortunate enough to be offered the role. I’ve enjoyed it ever since.
I was also fortunate that they were open to considering me because I didn’t have a background in football so it’s nice to be the beneficiary of their diversity of thought in recruiting for the role. It’s two and a half years down the line and I’m really enjoying it.
I manage the full end-to-end recruitment process, so that is everything from once a role is approved and knowing we need to recruit for it, right through to how we attract candidates and who we want to attract to the role; how we are going to assess, select and interview the candidates, right through to the successful candidate accepting the role and starting with us. It covers all of the opportunities we have here at the FA, for example, there are a lot of divisions at Wembley Stadium – we have a number of staff based at the stadium, including myself. We also have colleagues at the National Football Centre at St. George’s Park, which is in Burton upon Trent. That centre is home to our national teams as well as our FA Education division who deliver all of our coaching qualifications.
It’s all end-to-end recruitment; the overall process of somebody getting a job here at the FA.
It’s based on the principles of merit-based recruitment, so the capability and demands of the role. We have to be flexible in our approach; there is a breadth of divisions at the FA. I think people don’t always appreciate the extent of opportunities available and the work that the FA carries out, and we have divisions as broad as Football Administration and Operations, right through to large Commercial and Marketing and Legal and Governance teams. Then you have the roles available with our England teams; the elite performance-based roles. We have to be mindful of all of the different areas and we look to attract and reach as broader a talent pool as possible. Of course, we look to attract as diverse a talent pool as possible too and consider people both inside and outside of the game; that’s really important to us.
There will be some roles where intimate knowledge and experience of football is essential but there are also a lot of positions where you don’t have to have that prior knowledge, an example of that being myself. You can be a subject matter expert within another industry or discipline and still be suitable for a role at the FA. That broad outreach is really important and from there, it’s about a robust, fair and inclusive assessment process, including the way we conduct the application process, video interviews… We hold scenario and situational based exercises too whereby candidates can really demonstrate their strengths. It is also very much values aligned; we are looking for people who share our values but can also bring something new to our culture.
In my role, I have been fortunate that I have been able to work from home – most of us have been working from home for nearly a year now – and that presents different challenges to different people, whether it is space or home-schooling children, but what has it done generally? I think it has accelerated our use of technology. We are fortunate that we have been using video interview technology for a number of years now, and so when the pandemic hit and we were all forced into remote working, it proved essential that we had that experience.
Some of our practices needed to be moved online too and again, that accelerated use of technology was key to being able to do that, to be able to continue the work that we do, not just in recruitment but across the organisation. I think communication has improved to some extent, in terms of feeling like you have more of a responsibility to communicate a lot more than in face-to-face scenarios, but equally, it’s been harder to build relationships because you are operating through a screen; you lose the value that face-to-face interactions can bring. I am very much looking forward to having that back, especially as I am in such a people-based role.
It’s really important. Data is essential and becoming more and more so; it’s about the analytics and the insight that it can bring. It’s used a lot in the performance side of the football industry to assess physical performance but off the pitch, it is just as integral. From a recruitment perspective, we track and monitor a whole host of data in order to understand how the recruitment process is performing, to evidence the progress we are making as well as highlighting the challenges we may have. That underpins a lot of our work, whether it’s in the area of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, the performance of our website, our attraction channels, how we attract and assess, and even down to the level of service that we provide to candidates and hiring managers. Data is an essential part of all of that.
The Football Leadership Diversity Code came into play in October last year, and the concept came from conversations between our Chief Executive, Mark Bullingham and the Chair of our Inclusion and Advisory Board, Paul Elliott, who not only has a lengthy and illustrious playing career but has also been involved in football administration and the business side of the industry for a number of years too. They worked with a number of players, coaches and the media in terms of establishing the concept of the code so it has evolved from many people who work in different areas of the game and that’s what I like about it. Yes, it contains recruitment pledges and targets to enable and drive change, but it’s also the football industry taking a collective responsibility to increase diversity and the equality of opportunity at various levels of the game. Football will be a lot better for it and it will positively affect the industry, and hopefully society too.
It’s very new but I think we can see, with the take-up of clubs and other partners and bodies within the game who have committed to the code, that there is real intent there to improve and hold itself accountable. I think from that perspective, the reaction has been really positive. It’s also led to a number of conversations behind the scenes around it being better to work together and face challenges together, along with sharing the success stories that we have; that’s really valuable too. I think some of the relationships that are forming and the conversations that are happening are integral to moving the game forward. I look forward to seeing what the output is going to be after the first year of it being in place but it’s not something that is going to be achieved overnight; it’s going to take a lot of hard work. Progress and change will come but it will take time, work and intent from clubs and bodies like ourselves, to make that happen.
Talent, and having the right people in the right roles, is always going to be integral in order to achieve some of the great things that football does, whether it is through the lens of elite performance in the national teams and the professional game, or through the impact that football has on society and local communities; how it can positively affect physical and mental health. It’s always people that underpin that. I hope and believe that the value of recruitment and talent will only increase.
We’ve briefly talked about technology and I think that will play an increasing role as an enabler for us to not only ensure that things are happening in an efficient, well-managed way, but also ensure that there is increased value in what we are doing. Technology will enable us to reach more people and deliver a better experience. I think generally, in terms of the recruitment industry, I see the integration of recruitment, HR and learning platforms providing a greater level of data too. I also think there will be increased sophistication in terms of the assessment process in football; how we recruit. I think, in part, this will come through because of the new code.
How we manage people and their performance in roles will also be key, and one of the positives that has come out over the last year, is that that conversation on EDI has been at the forefront of football and society. That conversation and focus is not going away; people are holding each other to account and that will rightly continue.
I think you need a broad range of expertise and experience in recruitment. The role carries a lot of responsibilities and you have to wear many hats at times. You have to have an understanding of the employer brand; how people perceive the FA as an employer. Understanding recruitment technology is also important; knowing how we attract and assess talent.
Under the umbrella of expertise and capability, there are softer skills that are essential in recruitment roles and any people-facing role really. Partnering with the business, understanding their challenges and their goals and how we can support them to meet those. Relationship-building and communication are the fundamental skills that you need to have in this role to be successful in it, which hopefully I have!
We can be a lightning rod for everything that is good or bad across the game but football is made up of a lot of bodies and sometimes people don’t appreciate that the FA is just one of those bodies. You have the Premier League, the EFL, the LMA, the PFA and then a whole host of clubs, local authorities and bodies that are involved in the game. You very quickly realise that the breadth and scope of the work that the FA carries out, is huge and you see the positive impact the FA have, not only on the professional game and in elite football, but also in grassroots football and in local communities; providing football facilities for everyone to be able to play and enjoy the game.
You soon become aware of that positive work and as an employer, before I joined the organisation, I perhaps had some preconceptions, which I probably had because of what you see as a football fan. But a lot of them just aren’t true. The FA are a very welcoming and supportive employer; very keen on culture, mental health and wellbeing and personal development too. It’s a much more diverse organisation than we perhaps get credit for, and while there is still some way to go, we have plans, initiatives and strategies in place to achieve that. I am certainly very happy here and I know we are on a journey to continue our evolution and progress.
I would agree. One thing I have felt since working here is that the passion people have for the role that they do, is so noticeable and it’s great to work with people who are passionate about what they do. They are not doing it for a ‘pat on the back’ or for recognition in the media or beyond, they do it for the good of the game and they really enjoy their work. It’s a real credit to the FA and to the people fulfilling those roles.
There is a wealth of opportunities across the game and it can be easy for people to look at the game and go by what they see on television or in the media. Yes, there is obviously the elite performance side of the game, but there is also a huge number of opportunities that support that side of the game and make it happen, along with those roles that make a real difference to society and local communities. So consider all of the opportunities available and not just those at the FA, all of the football organisations and bodies, whether it’s your local club, a county FA… There are many ways to become involved in football and make a real difference.
Don’t be put off if football isn’t your favourite sport or if you don’t have a background in football either because there will be a home for you in the industry, certainly with the FA. We want to speak to people who have different perspectives and can challenge us on how we work because they have valuable experience of working differently elsewhere.
My very, semi-professional playing days have long since been over… but my professional career has hopefully got a long time left in it. I am really passionate about people, talent and making a difference to the game; it is something that drives me. Making a difference to people’s lives is really important to me and I believe in the benefit and value of diversity; my personal values support that. I know the positive affect of diversity, with my own heritage and experiences, and I know how beneficial it is to have diverse teams and what that can create. But there are plenty of opportunities here at the FA and lots of work for me to do; we are currently working on several initiatives to be able to evolve and move forward. So yes, I am hopeful there is a lot for me to still do here and continue making a difference in the game.
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.