Leeds United hoping to catch on to coat-tails of game’s growth as Women’s Football Weekend continues

A keen ambassador for women’s football, Leeds United Women general manager Julie Lewis is committed to elevating the Whites’ players as the sport continues to grow.

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Since joining the team then known as Leeds Ladies as a teenager, Lewis has dedicated much of her life to playing, coaching and working in football, and brought decades of experience in development to her role as general manager when she rejoined the club four years ago.

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Lewis, who grew up in Osmondthorpe, played a key role in the Football Association’s early efforts to progress women’s football by working as regional director for the north of England, where she was pleased to play a “small part” in the enormous strides taken by the sport in recent years.

Laura Bartrup: Celebrates a goal for Leeds United Women with team-mate Hannah Freibach. (Picture: James Hardisty)

In three weeks’ time, the FA Cup final will take place at Wembley on the 100th anniversary of the FA’s ban on women’s football. This weekend, the third annual Women’s Football Weekend will celebrate and promote the women’s game by staggering Women’s Super League kick-offs so all six fixtures can be watched without clashes.

On the eve of the celebration, Lewis shared her unique insight into the progress of the sport.

“It’s just out there now, isn’t it?” said Lewis. “It’s on TV, it’s on social media. The profile of the game is unrecognisable from when I was first involved, and that’s fantastic.

“Year on year, the interest from girls and women increased. I went from having five leagues in my region when I first started as regional director, to having 16 leagues nine years later.

Leeds United's Rebecca Hunt, chases after Chester Le Street, Anna Winter during a game at Tadcaster Albion (Picture: James Hardisty)

“It was always on the rise, but it needed that investment in time and finance. It’s great that it is continuing to grow.”

In her role as the Whites’ general manager, Lewis works alongside a dedicated committee to ensure players have everything they need to thrive as footballers.

“When I was a player,” she said, “I remember getting in my car in my kit, driving to Preston, playing, driving back and going back to work at the sports centre. We didn’t have a physio, we had some blue spray, some red spray and a sponge – that was it.

“I’m constantly conscious of the fact that most of our players are in full-time education or working full-time.

Leeds United's Laura Bartup, (centre) celebrates scoring a goal, with teammates Jodie Hunter, left, and right Hannah Freibach. (Picture: James Hardisty)

“We try and help them as much as we can, so all they’ve got to think about on a Sunday is playing football – turning up, wearing that shirt, and enjoying it. That’s the key.”

The team benefit from a wealth of resources including strength and conditioning coaches, physios and performance analysis as well as guidance on diet and nutrition.

There’s an emphasis too, on protecting wellbeing as the team’s profile is raised, with the club’s safeguarding officer advising players on handling social media.

“We’re trying as hard as we can to give players as many tools as possible to assist them in making that next step up the league system,” said Lewis.

It is an exciting time for Leeds United Women, who are ambitious to climb the women’s pyramid in their long-term push for WSL status.