We caught up with Leeds United’s Business & Community Director Debra Ware to find out what it’s really like to work in football
Having worked at Elland Road for eight years now, can you tell us about how you ended up working at Leeds United?
I’d worked in a lot of different fields, from being a Sales Manager at a carpet fitting company to working at BBC Television in London. I got into football when I had an interview at Chelsea Football Club for a new role for someone to set up the conference and events department there. To cut a long story short, I got the job and was there for fourteen years!
I was involved in everything from setting up the tours of the ground to the interior design of the new Millennium Suites at Chelsea. We were the first football club to get a wedding licence when the law changed, we used to do over 200 weddings a season and I’m still in touch with some of the brides now. The events department went from just starting out to being a multi million pound business and I got to experience every aspect of that side of the football club.
When Ken Bates sold the club to Roman Abramovich and bought Leeds, I chose not to follow Ken Bates because we didn’t want to leave London. I turned down the job at Leeds three times and he said he wouldn’t ask me again, but he flew me out to Monaco on a Sunday and I ended up giving in my notice in the next day! I took two suitcases and my son and we moved to Leeds, and the rest is history.
The week I moved up here, I made contacts and they’re still friends to this day. Leeds is so different to London, it’s so friendly and it’s one of the most sophisticated cities I’ve ever been to. Out of the likes of Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Newcastle, I believe that Leeds has the most going for it. The community feel, even for a city, is fantastic.
When you left Chelsea and came to Leeds, what were the main differences you noticed?
At Chelsea, I found that I could go into one of the corporate areas and five minutes before kick off, I could talk to guests about events coming up and they’d be really interested. At Leeds United, I went in to one of the boxes about half an hour before kick off and said ‘Hi, my name’s Debra and we’re putting on a boxing evening here soon…’ and they turned round and went ‘come and talk to me when it’s not match day’. I learnt a lesson very quickly that we take our football much more seriously in Leeds, and I absolutely love it. I learnt that up here these people live, breathe and arrange their life around Leeds United. I still can’t believe the strength of this club and the power that it has over the city. But it should have a lot more power, and those days are going to come.
So much has happened, on and off the pitch, since you first started working at Leeds United eight years ago. What’s your best memory?
One of my best memories was watching us go back up to the Championship against Bristol Rovers on the last day of the season. Another one was the first time I ever listened to ‘Marching On Together’ being sung.
Meeting some of the legends and getting to know them personally has been remarkable too, the likes of Norman Hunter, Peter Lorimer, Eddie Gray and Howard Wilkinson; they’re all fantastic people.
You must have met so many incredible characters through football, including those you’ve just mentioned. Is there anyone else who stands out?
One of the best people I’ve ever met was Pelé, he came to the 1997 FA Cup and we all had a do at the Waldorf Astoria. We also did a boxing evening with Mike Tyson and he was a very, very nice man and that’s all I can say about him!
I’ve also met heroes when we’ve done the army boxing evenings for charity. There’s people who have have lost limbs fighting for this country that come up to present awards and there’s not a dry eye in the house; those are the true inspirations.
Do you think you could try and sum up for us what it’s really like working behind the scenes at a football club?
You might be stressed and you might be tired, but you will never be bored.
Also very few people do articles about women working behind the scenes in football. They call the women who are left at home ‘football widows’ but if I went out with someone who wasn’t into football, they’re the one who is left at home! Holidays and everything are always put aside because football comes first. There’s so many women behind the scenes in football that keep the cogs turning.