Leeds United Women's Julie Lewis delighted by 'unrecognisable' interest growth on Women’s Football Weekend
A keen ambassador for women’s football, Leeds United Women general manager Julie Lewis is committed to elevating the Whites’ players as the sport continues to grow.
Since joining the team then known as Leeds Ladies as a teenager, Lewis has dedicated much of her life to playing, coaching, and working in football, and brought decades of experience in development to her role as general manager when she rejoined the club four years ago.
Lewis, who grew up in Osmondthorpe, played a key role in the Football Association’s early efforts to progress women’s football by working as regional director for the north of England, where she was pleased to play a “small part” in the enormous strides taken by the sport in recent years.
In three weeks’ time, the FA Cup final will take place at Wembley on the 100th anniversary of the FA’s ban on women’s football. This weekend, the third annual Women’s Football Weekend will celebrate and promote the women’s game by staggering Women’s Super League kick-offs so all six fixtures can be watched without clashes.
On the eve of the celebration, Lewis shared her unique insight into the progress of the sport.
“It’s just out there now, isn’t it?” Lewis said. “It’s on TV, it’s on social media. The profile of the game is unrecognisable from when I was first involved, and that’s fantastic.
“Year on year, the interest from girls and women increased. I went from having five leagues in my region when I first started as regional director, to having 16 leagues nine years later.
“It was always on the rise, but it needed that investment in time and finance. It’s great that it is continuing to grow.”
In her role as the Whites’ general manager, Lewis works alongside a dedicated committee to ensure players have everything that they need to thrive as footballers.
“When I was a player,” she said, “I remember getting in my car in my kit, driving to Preston, playing, driving back and going back to work at the sports centre. We didn’t have a physio, we had some blue spray, some red spray and a sponge – that was it.
“I’m constantly conscious of the fact that most of our players are in full-time education or working full-time.
“We try and help them as much as we can, so all they’ve got to think about on a Sunday is playing football – turning up, wearing that shirt, and enjoying it. That’s the key.”
The team benefit from a wealth of resources including strength and conditioning coaches, physios and performance analysis as well as guidance on diet and nutrition.
There’s an emphasis too, on protecting wellbeing as the team’s profile is raised, with the club’s safeguarding officer advising players on handling social media.
“We’re trying as hard as we can to give players as many tools as possible to assist them in making that next step up the league system,” Lewis said.
It’s an exciting time for Leeds United Women, who are ambitious to climb the women’s pyramid in their long-term push for WSL status.
“We’re confident we will get there,” Lewis added. “We’ve still got a way to go, but we have come a long way.
“I feel incredibly lucky to be involved in the club and I enjoy every minute of it.
“Mostly – except when we lose. Well, I’m a player. Always a player and a coach.”
“Before my knee got this bad, I used to have a little bit of a kick around with the girls and I’m dying to get back to that.
“I can’t not kick a football if I’m at the side of the pitch. I’ve tried, but I can’t help myself!
“I don’t have any regrets at all about being involved in sport, and definitely not in football.
“I’d do it all again – a bit of knee pain is worth it.”