Burnley FC Women: First ever business manager says chairman Alan Pace's dream for the club convinced her to join
"There's a lot of people who pay lip service to women's football....not Alan, he's 1000% behind it."
It was six weeks after the takeover when Clarets chairman Alan Pace announced that Burnley FC Women, who had been operating under the charitable arm of the club, would be moving in-house.
Burnley FC Women is "very important to us" he stated, promising major investment aimed at securing FA Women’s Championship football within four years.
Talk around a proposed women's academy, of aspirations for full-time professional status, may have been lost in the noise surrounding the ushering in of an exciting new era for the men's team.
But they haven't been forgotten by Alan Pace.
A fact demonstrated by the recent appointment of Lola Ogunbote as Burnley FC Women's first business lead, a role that will oversee all aspects of the club, including personnel, budgets, and day-to-day operations
Lola joins the Clarets while serving as the executive director of Goals for Girls, a US Non-Profit that unites girls through football to lead community change.
A qualified FA coach, she previously worked in China as the director of football at Beijing Royal School and was an international community coach for Arsenal FC in Australia, South Africa, and Mozambique.
As soon as she heard the chairman's plan for Burnley FC Women though, there was only one place she wanted to be.
"My background wasn't necessarily in football, I was a lawyer before. I decided to quit my job to pursue coaching, so I coached, travelled, and then the opportunity came to join Burnley.
"I've known the chairman, and he explained his plan for the women's team, what he wanted to do and that seemed very exciting.
"His emphasis and his dreams for the women's team is actually what convinced me to come. There's a lot of people who pay lip service to women's football, but with the conversations I had with him I was convinced that he was dedicated to making it happen and that was the turning point for me.
"I knew from top down there was a priority to get this women's team up-and-running. He's at some of our games, which when you think of other chairmen – not to call them out – but the priority, is it really there? For him, I know for a fact that it is...and that's good for us, it's good for the team, it's good for morale; to know that we have the backing of management.
"So that can only do good things with us going forward."
Under the guidance of manager Matt Bee, Burnley FC Women have enjoyed resounding success on the pitch in recent years.
Unprecedented back-to-back promotions catapulted them into the FA Women’s National League Northern Premier Division, the third tier of women’s football, while regional and FA Cup runs have brought added excitement to league progression.
Lola wants to build on these successes by spearheading a dedicated management team behind the scenes that allows Bee and his staff to focus on footballing matters.
"This is the first time it's going to have that real structure. So for us, it's making sure that we're complementing what's happening on the pitch behind the scenes; making sure we're organised financially, strategically, recruitment-wise – there's so much going on off the pitch it requires someone to be in place to spearhead that, and that's my job, to make sure it's a one-stop approach.
"I'm in communication with comms, with media, with EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion), with finance, just to make sure we're doing everything we can to make on the pitch what it needs to be, and to take all that pressure off pitch by making sure everything is structured and coordinated.
"That's going to take time. That not something that's going to happen overnight, but I think with this appointment it's the beginning of something that's going to grow and hopefully create longevity, which is what we want.
"Our aspiration is to be competing at the top flight of women's football. Everyone can say they have the ambition, but we need to back that. There is a clear strategic plan for us to be competing in the top flight within a set period of time."
In July, the club announced it had agreed a exclusive partnership with TikTok to livestream every home match of Burnley FC Women’s 2021/22 season as part of a UK-first, multi-year deal.
The social media giant also became the team's shirt sleeve partner, and Lola said finding innovative ways like this to showcase the club to a wider audience was an important part of the strategy.
"It's not the usual partnership, and that's credit to our sponsorship team; thinking about new ways, innovative ways to get the message about the women's team out to a wider audience.
"We know in 2021, young people are attached to their mobile phones; it's all about social media and streaming. And that's another way to bring in a new type of audience to watch our games.
"I think the last time I checked, we've had over 150,000 views That's a real crucial way of us getting the word out about who we are.
"We want to encourage people to come down and watch our games, but if we have people watching from the US, from South Africa, from India, from Australia – we're all here for it, and that's what TikTok has done. It's created a platform for us to reach people in different regions of the world."
Promoting the club globally, and attracting the country's best players, will not be done at the expense of the club's homegrown community ethos.
Lola wants young girls in Burnley to see the Burnley shirt and believe they can wear it while playing for their hometown team at the highest level.
"Homegrown talent is something that we want to encourage. It's not just a case of cherry-picking people from here and there, but that people in Burnley, who feel an affinity to this club, know that there's an opportunity for them to be directly involved.
"And that's what I want to create with the women's team; that a young girl who lives in Burnley can look at her local club and say, 'One day I want to play for that club'.
"If we can get that right then I think that's success as far as I'm concerned."