The pool of accomplished individuals connected to non-league most definitely doesn’t start and end with those on the pitch or in the dugout. Among those who can claim with some justification to have provided the game with extra professionalism and expertise is Charlotte Richardson.
Over the past four seasons, she has led the marketing and communications at Margate, though that is actually just one corner of her ongoing endeavours. A presenter and commentator, Charlotte’s footballing CV also includes time in the professional game, as she headed up the marketing at Gillingham – something made all the more special as a childhood Gills fan.
In this conversation, we learn a lot more about one of the multi-faceted supporting voices of non-league…
Firstly Charlotte, it seems like you’re involved in a number of things – Margate, Eighth Wonder, radio – can you sum up everything you’ve currently got going on? Is there one ‘day job’ out of those, or freelance across everything?
I am fortunate that I get to do a variety of things I love on a daily basis. My ‘9-5’ job is marketing manager for a company called Aspen Waite, a complete business growth service, who actually have strong roots within the world of non-league football, as sponsors of The Back of The Net Show (BOTN) and close ties with Heybridge Swifts FC. They have their own radio station, Aspen Waite Radio, which was created during lockdown. The station director and I had worked together on BOTN covering the Isthmian League play-off finals, creating podcasts and more, so he recruited me initially as a presenter for the station and my role has grown since. It’s a great station, an incredible company, and I truly love my work.
Outside of that, I set up CRConsultancy in 2016. In that capacity, I’ve been able to work with a wide range of football clubs and leagues, but also lots of other sports and grassroots organisations. My radio work is on a freelance basis and working for the BBC is a dream come true for me. During lockdown, I have really appreciated the way radio can connect people together, so there’s nothing I love more than trying to do that with listeners when I’m covering games.
Eighth Wonder is a programme I founded around the same time I set up my business and it is something I dedicate time to outside of my work. I’m passionate about helping get more women and girls into football; not just playing the game but contributing to it through the various roles available. Whether that’s administration, coaching, finance or media and marketing. I am so proud of what the programme has achieved, from supporting over 50 14–20-year-old girls through the Development Days we run, to putting 30 women through their Level One coaching qualification, and our more recent International Women’s Day series. I’m looking forward to the things we have to come too, especially as we ease out of lockdown and try to help the game find its feet again as quickly as possible.
In terms of first getting into football growing up, you’ve mentioned supporting Gillingham. Which team/era are we talking, for you first watching them? Andy Hessenthaler, Carl Asaba etc.? Were you at Wembley in 99 and/or 2000 (for the Division Two play-off finals)?
I managed to persuade my dad to take me to Priestfield Stadium when I was six years old and that was it – I was hooked! I loved the atmosphere, the experience spending time with him, and we watched as many games together as we could. I vividly remember both trips to Wembley. The heartbreak of ‘99 – my dad had to take me for pizza after to try to console me – and then the triumph of 2000 was incredible. Football is magic because of those highs and lows. Players like Bob Taylor, Iffy Onuora and Andy Hessenthaler were my heroes. When I became Gillingham FC’s marketing manager at 23 years old, it was a ‘pinch me’ moment. Every football fan dreams of playing for their team – which I technically got to do for the staff side! – but the second-best thing is to work for them. My chapter at Priestfield Stadium was fulfilling and I proudly look back on my work there.
With regard to non-league, how did that first start, in terms of even just watching it, but also to then become involved with it work-wise?
My first experience of non-league came through my role as marketing and communications officer at the Kent FA. Working for a local county FA opened my eyes to all levels of the game; from grassroots to professional, each step of the pyramid and so on. Part of my role was to deliver 20 County Cup final competitions, which we hosted across the county, so by the time I left the organisation, I don’t think there was a non-league ground in Kent I hadn’t visited or worked at! In terms of working for a non-league club, Margate was my starting point. I was asked to join the club at the start of the 2017/18 season and have been involved ever since. It’s been an eye-opening and enjoyable experience and certainly taught me a lot about the non-league game.
You’ve talked previously about getting a clear sense of wanting to work in sport when you were at secondary school. I know that sport media as a career back then, mid-2000s, wasn’t presented as this really accessible thing to try and get into – certainly not at my school! It’s changed so much now, where it’s everywhere around us. So did it feel like you were one of a very select few people at your school who identified going down that route?
To answer honestly, it wasn’t something my school identified at all. That’s not to suggest any criticism of them, but as you highlight in your question, a career in sports media – least of all for a young woman – was not common or particularly shared. The penny only dropped for me that women even worked in football when I was 16 and Jacqui Oatley became the first female commentator to appear on Match of the Day. That’s why visibility is so integral to getting more girls and women working in the game and in media more specifically; you need to see it to be it. As soon as I realised working in football was a thing and I could possibly do it, it became a dream. To then move into commentary (first in 2016) and do my first game solo for the BBC (Bromley v Woking this January) was a moment I will never forget; it’s a moment I dreamed of. My pathway hasn’t been the most traditional but I am very grateful for every step I have taken.
For young women and men wanting to pursue careers in the media, options and support are far greater now. There are courses, qualifications and degrees available to help equip and empower people, which is fantastic. I think there are also lots more role models sharing advice and tips now, too. I have even been back to my old school and university to do talks with pupils and students to showcase a career in marketing and media to them, so the improvements that have been made in a short space of time is fantastic. It will only get better, too!
You also worked with Gillingham Ladies (now Gillingham Women), was that an all-encompassing role you took on with them? Would there be a few unofficial, extra tasks you ended up doing? Maybe not quite driving the team bus on an away trip…
I think if you ask anyone involved in football, whether in a paid or voluntary capacity, all roles become encompassing; you are part of the team and want to do and give all you can. When it comes to Gillingham Ladies FC in particular, when I started my voluntary role as media manager, I was shocked and appalled at the disparity of media coverage. It became my mission to give the players the platform they deserved. I wanted to do everything I could to introduce professionalism into operations, and the strides we made, both on and off the pitch, were really rewarding. As the club began to professionalise, we had to grow and adapt, and in turn, my role did, too. I effectively became a general manager; I would look after player signings and registrations, co-ordinate training and events, support the coaching staff, travel home and away. I didn’t quite drive the coach but I do have fond memories on the road, and all those unofficial tasks give you an appreciation of exactly what is required to run a side. I think it would come as a surprise to some just how much goes into putting a game of football on. No day is ever the same, that’s for sure!
Has doing all these things in football ever meant missing out on other social stuff that’s been difficult to say no to?
No matter your role in football, I think anyone who works in it full-time would agree that striking a balance is really hard. It’s far from a complaint, as you know what you sign up for, but it’s a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job. Hours can be unsociable, you can spend lots of time travelling alone, but as far as I am concerned, it has always been worth it. You do have to sacrifice things; you’ll often miss out on social things if not altogether, you’ll always be late to the party! My family and friends are really understanding; they get that the football world is quite unique and support me, which makes me incredibly lucky. Similarly, I’m fortunate that through my work, I have been able to meet lots of amazing people; people who I love working with and people who become friends. Some of the people I spend my time with away from football are the ones I have met through the game and count as my closest friends.
In your time at Margate, what have you been happiest/proudest of? And have there been any frustrations, or what would you love to see greater progress with?
There are lots of things I’m proud of from working at Margate FC. The obvious one to mention would be the partnership with The Libertines. Launching that and building campaigns, promoting the kits and co-ordinating with partners was unique and made me feel like I was making a valuable contribution to the club. That being said, pre-COVID, my role on match day was a lot more hands-on and I was responsible for running several initiatives and schemes to offer young people in particular special days out at Hartsdown Park. Getting an email or message from someone who has left a match day happier as a result of something you’ve organised is where the buzz comes for me. Leaving the ground after a busy, full-on match-day when everything you’ve done in the week means it all went well is again really fulfilling. It’s even better when you get three points!
Working in football, one of the skills you do learn quite quickly is how to deal with any frustrations; you simply work through them. Circumstances are always a bit out of your control, so quite simply, as long as you work hard, the progress will come.
On that Libertines sponsorship/link-up, where did that all come from?
The partnership came about as there was a bit of a buzz with news that the band were looking at investing in a property in the area. Fast-forward and The Albion Rooms is an amazing hotel and studio space that The Libertines are a part of right by the seafront. The band loves football, the club loves being a part of its local community, and there were a few connections between people which meant when the club approached the band, the sponsorship was agreed pretty quickly. Since then, the band and their team have been really supportive; they’ve come down to games and the collaboration has grown from strength to strength.
You mentioned it briefly earlier, how has your personal part in a match day had to change in the past year? In the relatively few months of an actual season we’ve had for Isthmian clubs in that time.
My personal part in a match day has totally changed over the past year. Whereas previously I would be running all about Hartsdown Park co-ordinating different things before, during and after the 90 minutes, when supporters weren’t allowed in grounds, that wasn’t required any more. My role always revolved around supporter engagement, so in turn, the focus then became ‘how can we connect supporters to the club when we can’t have them physically with us?’ Gate TV had been set up before sharing highlights and interviews but it came to the forefront as our platform to provide free matchday streaming for fans. I helped support that and then led the coverage with commentary and interviews. I had the best view in the house, albeit battling the conditions of the scaffolded gantry, but it was really fun and more valuable experience for me from a media perspective.
Has there been a most challenging/nervy experience in your football work that stands out?
There have been plenty of challenging and nervy experiences, probably too many to list, but to pick one of the most recent, it would have to be doing my first solo full commentary for the BBC. A full 90 minutes by yourself, doing the tech for the first time, was daunting, and when you’re so keen to do well, do the game justice and repay the faith people have put in you, it is certainly nervy. As with most experiences, though, when the whistle blows, it’s time for business and you immerse yourself in the action. In a perverse way, I think not having supporters in the ground has sharpened that focus for me when it comes to commentary. I know how privileged I am to be sat in the stands commentating. So, I’ll do all the homework I can, prepare the best I can so my listener at home feels they are in the ground with me.
And a most brilliant/surreal one?
Trying to pick one brilliant moment is really hard, as I have been so lucky to have enjoyed many in a variety of different roles and capacities. I suppose I have to go back to doing that first matchday commentary by myself. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but a few weeks later, I did have a bit of a moment. I thought of the 16-year-old me, who saw Jacqui Oatley do it for the first time and thought ‘wow, could I do that?’ I wanted to do that but I don’t think I ever felt it would actually ever happen. It did, and I am incredibly grateful to those people who helped make it happen.
You can follow Charlotte on Twitter: @CharlotteR_22
Questions by @chris_brookes