AGENT OF CHANGE: Rachel Anderson was the only female Fifa-licensed agent in the world when in 1997 she was denied entry to the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) awards dinner because she was a woman. She took the PFA to the High Court and won. Now in her 50s, having represented players such as Don Hutchison, and negotiated the record transfer of Julian Hicks from West Ham to Liverpool in 1993, she works for various Premier League clubs negotiating deals for young players.
As a little girl I used to tell my family I was going shopping then head off to watch West Ham United or Southend United instead. My father and brothers thought rugby was ‘the gentleman’s game’ so football was like my secret vice. I worked in journalism for a while, but my family owned image rights to Paramount and Universal so I also worked in marketing and merchandising: if you wanted Superman or Bugs Bunny on a T-shirt you would come to us.
I was very fit and active so I trained to become an aerobics teacher at the Royal Society of Arts. I was reading a newspaper – the proper way, back to front – in the changing room and noticed another woman doing the same. So I started a conversation about the West Ham player Julian Dicks – a wonderful and very tenacious player who was always getting booked. ‘He could be the best aid. She agreed and walked off. A friend came out of the shower and said, ‘Oh, you’ve met Kay, Julian Dicks’s wife?’ I felt awful so the next week I apologised. But she still agreed with me.
When our husbands and boyfriends came along to watch us get our certificates, Julian said, ‘If you’re so clever, why don’t you look after me?’ I thought, I’ve looked after Superman, how hard can it be? So he became my first client. The media weren’t being fair to Julian back then. They would ask him to pose with two hammers [celebrating the West Ham crest] then Photoshop one out so it made him look aggressive. I had business cards made up with his name on them and my number. When the journalists called, the poor devils got me. But they started behaving with respect.
After I negotiated Julian’s transfer from West Ham to Liverpool – which at £3 million was a record for a defender back in 1993 – people started taking me seriously. He took a lot of stick for having this silly soft tart as his agent, but I soon had 50 players – it was like spinning plates. I looked after transfers and contracts but also sponsorships and media relations. God, it was hard. The problem was I tried to deal with football like I dealt with any other business. I couldn’t understand why the chairman of a club didn’t immediately respond to my phone call. I am very tenacious. My mother would chain herself to things for Greenpeace and told me never to be scared of anybody. She advised me to imagine them naked or on the loo, so I took that attitude into boardrooms.
At first I made a conscious effort not to wear trouser suits – I didn’t want to be one of the boys – or to pour tea in meetings: people would just presume I was the secretary. So we’d often sit there gasping for a drink. But I liked what a woman could bring to the table. Women have learnt over generations that they can’t be confrontational because guys are always bigger than them, so we tend to find the middle ground a little bit quicker. One chief executive told me that women should be barefoot and pregnant. I said I’d take my shoes off but that’s all. But that was so silly that it was laughable. Fortunately he wanted the player in question so he had to sit down with me and eat humble pie.
When I was denied entry to the PFA dinner in 1997 I was shocked. The man who spoke to me was Brendon Batson [then deputy chief executive of the PFA], who as one of the first black players had surely encountered discrimination, so that was unforgivable of him. But he was following their rules. I contacted Tony Blair and he advised me that the quickest solution would be to take them to court. I tried to settle with the PFA but they were resolute. We fought and won. I like to think that changed the fortunes for women in football but not many people know about it.
Football could throw up unexpected challenges. I can remember photographs of Don Hutchison playing strip poker appearing in a newspaper. He was a generous man who looked after his unemployed friends and one of them betrayed him. He got the nickname ‘Budweiser’ because of the beer label covering his modesty. I tried to keep perspective and said, ‘At least it wasn’t a smaller bottle like Sol.’
I believe agents have a very important role to play. It’s hard for players to negotiate their own deal – it’s like arguing with your future partner. It’s much better for managers and players to work through mediators. What is wrong is when agents are paid a lot for not very much or when agents put themselves first. I’ve had players call me up because their agent has refused to allow a deal to go through because their fee isn’t high enough. That’s shocking but it wouldn’t happen to licensed agents as they would be reported. I now represent clubs instead of players. They were fed up crossing swords with me in the boardroom so they asked me to work for them instead. Clubs give me a shopping list and I try to find suitable players, which involves a lot of meetings and flights out of London City airport. And I still have West Ham season tickets. It’s just not possible to be a fair-weather West Ham fan – we don’t win enough games.
Culled From The Telegraph Newspaper