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Will Leversuch: Player Status Officer, The FA

Will Leversuch: Player Status Officer, The FA

Will Leversuch began his career in the football industry as a HR intern at West Ham United Football Club. After successfully completing two internships and working in a full-time capacity as a HR Coordinator, Will left the club to pursue a football administration role with the FA.

Having gained experience in managing complex administration tasks in transfer windows, to assisting in developing the women’s professional game, Will’s role as Player Status Officer certainly keeps him busy. With a genuine passion for football administration and with a separate role as an In-ground Correspondent for Opta, Will is keen to continue his career progression within the industry and hopefully experience more memorable moments along the way.


You started your career in the football industry as a HR intern at West Ham United. What encouraged you to take that position? Did you always have an interest in HR or was it just a good opportunity to work within the football industry?

I guess realistically, it was a foot in the door to the industry. I studied a business-related degree at university and learning about the area of HR was one of the modules within that. The role was of course of interest to me, although if I am being honest, it probably was more to do with the fact it was an internship at a football club, rather than an internship in HR. However, I hoped that after a period of time, I would be given the opportunity to explore other areas of the club, which I did. I ended up doing a little bit of work in marketing and also with the Club Secretary, Andrew Pincher.

The experience has really benefitted me though, as working within HR has given me a great oversight of how a football club operates. I was able to gain understanding of how departments are setup and the processes that are in place. That in turn, gave me an overview as to what area of the industry was of the most interest to me and therefore, where I should direct my focus; which ended up being football administration. I have to be honest though and say, the opportunity to work at a Premier League club was ultimately the initial draw to apply for the position.


And you just mentioned your internship evolved so that you were able to work on other projects. That opportunity arose via another internship opportunity at the club, the position of Special Projects Intern. How did that opportunity arise and what projects were you involved with?

Originally, the opportunity available was maternity cover for one of my colleagues but I was told I was seen as somebody who added something to the team and so they wanted to give me more responsibility than what that role would consist of. I was covering general administrative tasks but also looking at the ‘bigger picture’ in areas such as recruitment. At the time, the club were preparing for the move from Upton Park to the London Stadium so we knew there was going to be recruitment in several departments. One of the projects I worked on, was looking at the retail department, and more specifically, the increase in recruitment that would be required for the club shop. We knew with matchdays, key commercial periods such as Christmas and in general, with the shop being much larger, recruitment was going to be needed. We didn’t want to use an agency and so I worked on what would be the best way to recruit the ideal people, setting up assessment centres and eventually running the induction process too.

On moving to the new stadium, I also worked with a council recruitment service called Newham Workplace. Essentially, I was taking away the need for the Head of HR to project manage this area of recruitment so that she was able to focus on the larger, more complex projects such as the Premier League’s Equality Standard, which takes a lot of time to complete.


Your final role with West Ham United was as HR Coordinator, which was a newly established position. How did it feel to be offered that role after previously having internship opportunities with the club?

I believe it was to reflect the work I was doing and the Head of HR said that I added something to the team, which was nice. I had moved on from the HR Administrator duties but I obviously wasn’t at a HR Manager level; I was somewhere in between and therefore, coordinating HR projects. It was good to be recognised for my work though because it is difficult in such a large organisation, especially one that recruits fixed-term contract staff and offers internships, like they were doing during my time at West Ham. But to go from an entry level position and have the internship title taken away from me, was a nice feeling and it felt like a reward for the work I was doing.


From West Ham United, you moved to The FA to take a position as the Player Status Administrator. What was it about the role that persuaded you to move away from West Ham United, or was working for the FA an ambition of yours?

I’ve had an interest in working in football administration for some time and actually, that interest stemmed from sitting down and having a few conversations with Andrew Pincher, understanding his role and responsibilities. I looked into volunteer opportunities within football administration at National League level and those Leagues sitting below too but I ended up being offered the position at the FA so I never carried out any volunteer work. I was looking to get into a governing body, a league or a club but moving away from HR and into the administrative side of football. I applied for a few roles in this area within football clubs, and if I remember correctly, there weren’t any opportunities in the leagues at the time but I also applied for a few governance roles at the FA, including one that sits within the department I am currently working in. I just knew I wanted to move into governance and regulations.


And how difficult was it to transition into this area of the football industry? It is such a complex area, although I assume your experience within HR helped in managing the administration side of the job, but getting to grips with the rules and regulations associated with your role, how difficult has that been?

To be honest, I think I am possibly in the last wave of the recruitment of individuals fulfilling this role without experience in law, and I don’t mean a heavy legal background, but perhaps a law module within their studies at university. As the industry progresses, I think we will see that some understanding of law will be both beneficial and necessary, and those who are graduating from university, may be more inclined into taking this sort of role in football too.

My administrative background in HR was definitely an advantage but I knew I was capable of fulfilling the role and handling being thrown in the deep end; and that’s what happened. I joined in the month of May and the transfer window was just two months later so I was definitely thrown in the deep end early on. But I read up on all of the rules, made sure I understood them and showed I was capable of handling the pressure.


To be honest, a couple of interviewees have mentioned that an understanding of law in some capacity is going to be key in the near future, with one referencing the position of club secretary. Just on that note, and with you mentioning the discussions you had with Andrew Pincher, is a club secretary role something you would be interested in as your career progresses?

I’ve always been interested in the club side of the football industry and those pressured positions where you constantly have to be ‘on it’ because something can come at you at any time. I am drawn towards that and I am lucky that at the moment, I work matchdays for Opta so, I still have this fix of football. I have also had volunteering opportunities with the FA; I am a Team Liaison Officer for national teams.

Working for the FA has its benefits in terms of a work-life balance, but there is still a lot of pressure; it just falls in different places to the pressure you have within a club. But I have always been drawn to working in a club and I fully understand that roles such as a club secretary position come with pressure and an intense workload.

My work with the FA is in both the men’s and women’s professional game, although I do lead on the women’s side in regard to the Women’s Super League player registrations, so that’s also an area of interest for me.


But it’s definitely going to be an administration, governance type role?

Yes, definitely in that area. An Academy Operations role is another interest but again, it falls into the category of football administration. That position varies from club to club but some offer the opportunity to have a lot of responsibility and pretty much manage everything to do with academy administration.


And looking at the role you have now… Since August 2018, you have been the Player Status Officer at the FA so a step up from the administrator position you started in. For those unfamiliar with the role, can you give us a little background as to what it entails?

Our department has two officers; we both moved up from the administrator position at the same time. However, our role is still heavily admin-based so technically, we are almost doing a dual-role, both an administration and officer role. It’s nice to be able to separate the two sides of it though. The administrator side is registering players: reviewing them once they are on the system in accordance with the rules. Hopefully, you can approve them but it’s a case of approval or rejection. The officer side – and this is a bigger role outside of the transfer window – is to move the game forward, looking at developing football and the rules. It is more focused on the policies and the interpretation of the rules. It’s a more senior role and if I use my work with the WSL as the example, I have looked at whether the rules within the most recent transfer window worked or didn’t work, whether we need a new interpretation due to a FIFA circular that has come out; and whether we need to look at a query that a club has come to us with because we know it will impact on a few other matters.

We have a registration system that also needs constant upgrading so we look at the operational side of that. It’s strange because when I am in the middle of a transfer window, it’s so busy that I wonder what I am going to do once it closes but often, I am busier. Essentially, the administrative side is the fundamental part of my role but policies, rules and developing the game as an officer, is important too. I enjoy both roles though.


Earlier, you briefly mentioned your role as an In-Ground Correspondent at Opta Sports, a position you have had since 2014. What encouraged you to take that position and continue to fulfil that role in addition to your full-time job?

I suppose technically, that was my first role in football because I started it when I was in my second year at university. It was the perfect job, working in the evenings and at weekends. Initially, it was an office-based role and I was just being paid to watch football matches, getting to see lots of weird and wonderful games across Europe! Perform, who own Opta, moved their offices out to Heathrow and I didn’t particularly want to travel all that way for that particular job but then they asked me if I wanted to stay on as an In-Ground Correspondent and work with two teams that rotate: one team being at home one week and the other the following week. My teams were Fulham and Chelsea. I had a game every week and sometimes two games a week when Fulham were playing in the Championship.


And what does the role entail?

I am Opta’s point of contact on the ground so for example, if we lost the video feed or the cameras stopped working – we have had a power cut before – in theory, I need to give feedback on what’s happening to the team in the office. I don’t want to use the word commentate because that would be unfair to commentators but it’s more describing what’s happening. Luckily, problems are quite rare.

Also, as you’ll know, there are times when the live feed of a game will pan to the crowd and if that happens while a free-kick or throw-in is happening, I need to be watching the on-pitch action. A free-kick on the halfway line may not be particularly interesting to Sky Sports but if there are betting markets counting up the number of free-kicks in a game, that data needs to be collected.

I am on the phone constantly throughout the game and then in the office, they are collecting the data I give them. They will ask me questions throughout the match and I will tell them information they may be missing too, whether it’s them asking for me to confirm a player that has just been fouled, or me given them information on who just received a yellow card.

I also have the opportunity to speak to a representative from the Premier League or EFL and be able to confirm information with them or obtain an explanation to a certain decision, which is obviously helpful for the office team too. It isn’t particularly demanding but it’s a necessary role for Opta to ensure their data collection is correct.


It’s funny you say it’s not a demanding role because the thought of paying attention to so much data in a live format, instantly makes me think of the feeling of panic!

I have taught myself to watch football in a different way. There have been times when I have been watching football at home and my muscle memory has wanted me to write down the fact there was a corner, so I think over time, my brain has developed this way of working so that I watch football in a way that automatically collects data. I guess I have subconsciously trained my mind!


But you must have felt pressure when you first started the role?

Oh yes, definitely.

I don’t want to appear as though I can watch football in the same way as an analyst does, because that’s a completely different level, but I watch it in a way that makes it easy for me to do my role. It would be easy for me to watch the player and/or crowd celebrations when a goal is scored but I know that I need to look at the referee just in case he pulls out a yellow card. Those are the details I have to be aware of so while everyone is enjoying the fun side of the game, I am looking at Michael Oliver for thirty seconds!


It’s genuinely quite interesting to know that you feel your brain has been trained to watch football in that way.

Nowadays, when I am watching football at home or at the pub, I can usually switch off after the first couple of corners but I am just hoping it doesn’t make watching football boring for me.


I’ve interviewed a few people recently, who have spoken about data and analytics and the increasing use of it in several areas of the football industry, so it’s interesting to hear you have that experience in addition to the work you are doing with the FA.

I always try to broaden my knowledge and if we go back to the role of club secretary, I know that a lot of them do what I am doing in my role for Opta: collecting similar data to tally up with the referee’s report. I remember speaking to a club secretary a few years ago and she told me that she used to stopwatch timings in the game, such as the moment the whistle is blown at half-time to the moment her team were back out on the pitch. She would take a screen shot of the clock too so that if the Premier League, the FA or UEFA questioned why the team were over their allotted time, she would be able to dispute that and show evidence that they were wrong. So that low level collection of data, is key and something I feel my role with Opta relates to.


What has been the most memorable moment of your time in football thus far?

In my current role, you can’t beat transfer windows; they are intense and you don’t know what you are going to get. There can be hours of the day where nothing is happening but in the seven or eight deadline days I’ve worked, there has always been something that has given me a real adrenaline rush. There is always something that happens late too, and while I haven’t dealt with a high-profile matter, sometimes smaller clubs try to do something really complex late in the day and the adrenaline rush you get is great. It can be 10.30 at night, your mind is shutting down but you have an hour and a half where things just cannot go wrong!

I also remember when Spurs were playing at Wembley; there was a game happening during one of the transfer windows and we were all in the offices at the stadium. Spurs were playing Manchester United and if I remember correctly, Spurs scored in the first minute.


Yes, it was Christian Eriksen (I missed the goal as I was still making my way to my seat…)

Yes, it was Christian Eriksen. It was so strange because you could obviously hear there had been a goal because there were 80,000+ people in the stadium. I think I was on a phone call at the time! It was just surreal because everyone in the stadium was cheering, completely unaware we were in the offices underneath their seats, registering players and talking to club secretaries.

Separately to that, in my volunteer role as a Team Liaison Officer at the FA, I have been able to support several teams, including the U16 Czech Republic team, the U20 Portugal team and the U17 Portugal team for the European Championships. Portugal’s Team Manager spotted me and asked if I had been appointed a team, which I hadn’t, so he just said, “Okay, you’re with us.” It was great to be picked out but unfortunately, they were unexpectedly knocked out in the group stages having been favourites for the competition! Still, being a part of the team bubble, even as a semi-outsider, was a great experience, as was living at St George’s Park for nine days. The strange thing was, a lot of the players within the team, were being linked with big clubs in England so to see them playing rather than seeing their name on a player registration form, was brilliant too. To be able to feel like you are a part of a team bubble is fantastic though and is definitely a highlight for me, especially as I didn’t realise this type of role existed at the FA.


And the two questions we like to ask all of our interviewees…

What advice would you give to those who are hoping to pursue a career in the industry?

Well, if I use my own experience and also look at some of the best people I have seen recruited, it’s to get yourself out there, especially if you want to work within the media and marketing departments. The people I have been on a recruitment panel for at their interview, were volunteering in the National League or freelancing in the evening and weekends to gain that edge and additional experience. They just really got themselves out there and made a real effort to gain experience and knowledge so that if they were coming out of university, they had significant practical experience to support their educational background.

For me, having been given the initial internship at West Ham, I continue to push myself to progress in the industry. The industry is so competitive, especially at entry level so you have to get yourself out there, get your foot in the door and push yourself to develop.


And now, having had experience working in both a football club and a football organisation, has it helped you to determine where you would like to work in the industry? Where do you see your career in the future?

I think my experience within a club has probably been on the periphery of the real intensity that takes place so I am intrigued to experience a more pressured role. Working in football is definitely something I want to continue though and I have no intention of looking elsewhere. As I said earlier, the administration and governance side of the game is a real interest and at the moment, I am enjoying my role. I would like to continue with working in the women’s game; helping to continue to professionalise the rules, regulations and registrations. I have a ‘to do’ list of things I want to achieve in my role at the FA but maybe one day, I will look at working at a club again.


I know I said that was my last question but given you’ve mentioned women’s football a couple of times, I want to ask you about it. Unfortunately, it’s not as high-profile as the men’s game, although some great work has been done to quite rightly increase the profile. With that said, I am interested to know what you would say to those who currently don’t follow women’s football.

I think there are two factors here, one from a personal viewpoint and the other for the greater good of the game. For me, my sister always played football and she really enjoyed it but it tailed off for her and I think a part of that was because there wasn’t a motivation from anyone to assist her development, so I have always wanted to help the women’s and girl’s side of the game. I was lucky that the FA professionalised the WSL and Championship when I joined so I was able to be a part of that process and in particular, assist those clubs where the process was completely new to them.

I would be wrong if I didn’t admit that from a professional point of view, working with the WSL has also opened doors for me; I have been able to work directly with senior people. I haven’t been able to do that in the men’s game; those doors aren’t open to me. To be able to be a part of conversations around rule changes and club matters in the WSL, have been great and not only have I been able to assist in developing the game, it has also offered me insight and experience to assist my personal development. I wouldn’t have been able to be in those types of conversations and calls in men’s football, or just go and knock on a director’s door like I can with my work in women’s football.


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.