Jayne Ludlow MBE | ‘People still question if International Women’s Day is necessary.’

Jayne Ludlow

For Jayne Ludlow, recently appointed Head of Sport at the University of South Wales, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the great work that is being done in the name of equality.

“Unfortunately, people still question if International Women’s Day is necessary,” she said.

“Society is changing for the better and maybe in the future we will agree that it’s unnecessary. But right now, we still need to highlight the people who are doing great things for women, and we must continue to challenge the status quo.”

No stranger to working in a male-dominated environment, Jayne has 61 caps for playing football for Wales before she retired and pursued a career in coaching. She was Academy Director for Arsenal and then Director of Football at Reading before returning to Wales to take charge of the national team leading them to their highest world ranking.

“The last 20 to 30 years has been a rollercoaster for women’s football. Unfortunately, you could say it's one of the industries that is late to the party in many ways in terms of inclusivity,” she said.

“That said, I've relished the opportunity to pave the way for the players who have come after me. I am one of a generation of female players who have had a positive impact on the game. Emma Hayes, my coach at Arsenal when we won the Champions League, has done an immense amount for females in the sport. She is going to manage the United States women’s national team and is probably the most respected female coach on the planet.

“Similarly, Alex Scott was my teammate for 13 years at Arsenal. She was a really competitive young individual who would not take no for an answer. Her driven personality was always going to get her far and it’s lovely to see what she has achieved.”

Jayne has been influenced by many strong women in her life even from a very young age. It was her mother that contacted Football Association Wales and found Jayne a team to play for. It was there, at Tongwynlais Ladies, she made friends who changed her life.

“There were a group of older players who looked after me,” she said.

“But I remember that I saw true female leadership in our Captain at Barry Town, Wendy Reilly. She was amazing and highly emotionally intelligent. Witnessing her leadership, when I was age 15 to 17, was a huge influence on me. I’m not sure if she realises how influential she was to me and other people in the sport.”

“Even before that, when I was 12, and I was told I couldn’t play any longer because of the age banding and being a girl, Carol Haskins at Treherbert Boy’s Club, did her upmost to keep me playing. There were not many opportunities for women to play football in Wales, but Carol and her husband saw my passion and helped me so much.”

Jayne has fond memories of growing up in the South Wales valleys with the support of these family, friends, and mentors.

“People often think it must have been tough growing up in the valleys but actually it was the opposite. I loved it. I didn’t know any different, and we were very happy in our little world.

“We made the most of what we had. I enjoyed the scenery, the environment, and the community. In hindsight, it all helped me become the athlete that I became. There wasn’t that much to do when I was a teenager, I kept myself really fit and that was my hobby. I was either running or playing sports.

“I loved school too because I just love learning new things. I think sport gave me confidence too.”

Jayne admits that she didn’t need to think about gender equality when she was young.

“I had a dream of something that, at that point in time, was unheard of. I was asked…What do you mean you want to be a footballer?”

“I think my parents shielded me, to some extent, from certain aspects of society back then, and I was probably oblivious to it. I just liked playing football with the boys, running up the mountain, and doing things that maybe a lot of girls didn’t. I didn’t really need to consider how being a girl affected me. I’d never thought that way,” she explained.

“When I was playing as a youngster, I wasn’t treated differently. I think it was my late teen years when I was trying to find opportunities and saw that, actually, my male friends had more doors open up for them.

“I realised I had a different path to follow and I had to try and figure this out and I did. I ended up travelling around the world trying to figure it out. I landed in a place that changed my life in lots of ways, personally and professionally, which was playing for Arsenal.”

“We had the best time and were well looked after. We were in the men’s training ground. I used to have lunch every day with Thierry Henry and ‘The Invincibles’. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t professional. We weren’t earning their money. We were given jobs in the club and had everything we needed. We were treated as much as a professional as we could have been at that time. It was very different to what other female footballers had. I count myself very lucky.”

This camaraderie is something that Jayne had searched for in her work life and carried this with her in her career.

“I build teams. It’s what I enjoy. I just love being around people who knit together well,” she said.

“It was a huge honour to take on the national team role. It was a huge amount of work, but I look back fondly and know we changed things for the better. There's still a lot of work to do there and people are working hard to do that.

“But I have appreciated every opportunity I have been given. This new role at USW is no different. I feel proud to come back to my community, to share my knowledge and to keep learning. The trophies and the MBE are lovely but not necessarily something I think about every day. Inclusivity is a driver for me. I just want people to look out for one another and do the right thing, regardless of their background.”