Sitting down with the father of Chelsea Women star Erin Cuthbert, Dad Steve spoke of Erin’s rise to the pinnacle of women’s football. From late nights at training, homework done in the car to representing her country at the World Cup, Erin’s rise comes as much due to sacrifice as it does talent and hard work. Here is the story of Erin Cuthbert, Chelsea’s fiery, tenacious and talented number twenty-two.
Enoch Eicher (EE): Hi Steve. So, to start off who does Erin get her footballing skills from: you or her mum?
Steve Cuthbert (SC): I would probably say me! But my style was all grit and determination and not a lot of skill. I loved playing football as a kid for primary school, secondary school, the Boys Brigade, local amateur teams, or wherever I could get a game. My grandad played for Northern Ireland and my mum’s family had a lot of footballers. So, Erin has football heritage in her blood.
EE: There’s definitely been a lot of development in the women’s game in recent years. How have you seen the women’s game change personally since Erin began playing football?
SC: There genuinely was no aspiration to play professionally when Erin started playing football. She played in the local boys teams, but it was the boys who were allowed to dream of the big time. She just loved to play football all day every day. The biggest change I’ve seen now is the visibility of the game. When Erin was growing, the Women’s FA Cup Final on BBC2 once a year was the extent of the coverage. In Scotland, even the international team got no airtime - you had to go to the game as there was no media coverage whatsoever, even in the written press. Now games are on BT Sport and on apps such as The FA Player and various YouTube channels. Social media is awash with news stories about womens football and national newspapers have got dedicated sections devoted to women’s football. In Scotland there has been an explosion of participation leading to more teams at all levels, better organised leagues, and a much more professional approach at the top level. This has all happened in the space of the last 10 years.
EE: What differences do you see between the evolution of women’s football in England and women’s football in Scotland?
SC: It is a matter of scale. While Scotland has made great strides, the development in England has been driven by the increased size of the market. This has led to a more marketable product being consumer ready at an earlier stage. This has been largely driven by the support and backing of large Premier League clubs such as Arsenal followed later by Manchester City then Chelsea and more recently by Manchester United. The financial support allows clubs to attract world-class players, develop the necessary structures and offer the support network required to compete at the highest level. This in turn leads to a desirable product initially attracting attention from BT Sport and,more recently, the Sky deal for next season. Scotland is playing catch up in terms of the support and backing that the top clubs in England receive and are on a much earlier point on this curve, with a smaller audience and hence a reduced commercial attractiveness. While BBC Alba have done great at improving the exposure of the game in Scotland, a deal similar to the Sky deal in England is some way off. The product simply has to improve throughout the league and not comprise of just a few teams – a position England were in a number of years ago.
EE: Did you ever consider trying to dissuade Erin from pursuing a professional career because of the ceiling that women’s sports have historically had? I’m sure she didn’t get everything handed to her on a plate, so what were her struggles? What sacrifices had to be made by Erin, yourself and your wife?
SC: I always encouraged Erin to pursue her football as I started to see encouraging signs of change in the women’s football landscape, especially in England. I always knew she would have to leave Scotland if she wanted to make football her career and accepted this early on.
For Erin the only thing she ever wanted to do was play football. I was happy that she had found something she was passionate about. I don’t think I could have stopped her even if I wanted to as she was so driven and determined. I must stress that while I supported her, the drive and ambition to make it came from her. She was the one ready for training every night when I came home from work. It was not easy, training nights started off twice a week with her local boys club with games on Saturday or Sunday and developed to 4 nights a week travelling up to Glasgow with games at the weekend. I became an unpaid taxi driver but loved my time in the car just chatting away. Looking back, it must have been tough for Erin as she often came home from training after 11 o’clock at night only to get up for school the next day and do it all over again. She did this for many years and never missed a session even during her exams. Homework and exam revision was often done in the car. Of course, it was not just me that supported Erin. My wife did a great job making sure Erin’s kit was washed, cleaned and she had everything she needed every day. And her Papa was always buying her new boots!
EE: As Chelsea have signed multiple new attackers such as Kerr and Harder, are you okay with Erin getting less playing time? Would you want her to transfer to a similar top tier club where Erin would get significantly more playing time, or do you have faith in Emma and in her woman-management skills – for the overall success of the team?
SC: Every parent wants to see their kid play, but that is totally out of my control. It is up to Erin to keep her drive and focus and impress the manager. She is happy at Chelsea and if she were ever to leave that would be a decision solely for Erin. Erin is all about the team. You can see that in the way she celebrates her teammates’ goals. It’s a team game and Erin knows different formations and tactics are required for different games.
EE: On your Twitter profile, it mentions that you are a Chelsea FCW scout. Could you tell us a bit about your job?
SC: I have always been interested in watching young footballers, and can still be found on my days off down at the local park watching games. I have coached and managed in both voluntary and paid roles, but my real enjoyment has always been player identification. As the game becomes more professional, the need for an effective scouting network becomes more important. I am just happy to do something I really enjoy and have a passion for, while helping Chelsea at the same time.
EE: Going back a few years to when Erin signed for Chelsea, how did that make you feel as a parent?
SC: When Erin signed for Chelsea, I was very happy for her. In a sense my wife and I were going to lose Erin, so it was bittersweet. But this was something she had worked towards for many years. ”Proud” may be the wrong word to use. This was simply a recognition of all the hard work she had done over the previous 10 years. I am proud, however, of her achieving a degree as I know it has been very difficult balancing her football with her academic studies. She always seems to have a deadline to meet and this requires many sacrifices in terms of her social life and her ability to simply relax and switch off.
EE: Back in 2019, Erin talked about how her failures in the WSL, her losses in 3 semifinals, coupled with Scotland crashing out of the World Cup, made her feel hesitant about coming back to play. As her parent, what did you do or say at that time to keep her motivated and get her back to her best?
SC: Erin is a very passionate player and she plays the game to win. When Scotland were eliminated from the World Cup, I probably underestimated the impact it had on Erin. It is probably true to say that she was devastated after the Argentina game and I probably moved on much quicker than she did. I never doubted she would come back better and stronger. She just needed time to get over the World Cup. Erin is a strong character and I knew she would pick herself up in her own time. Motivation comes from within and once she got back to preseason with the Chelsea team she re-focused and found her love for the game again.
EE: What are your views on women footballers asking for equal pay alongside what male footballers are earning?
SC: I don’t think we are close to being in a position to pay women the same as male footballers purely down to the size of the market and level of coverage in both games. I don’t even think women footballers are asking for the same pay, but what they are asking for is the same respect for the job that they do and that they get suitably recompensed for their efforts. They train as often as the men, are equally dedicated to their job and deserve recognition for the product that they produce. Pay will naturally grow incrementally as club finances increase. Equal pay at this point is simply not a sustainable business model, but I support equality in the game as I know Erin dedicates her life to the game every bit as much as any male player.
EE: Thank you Steve! It was a pleasure talking with you.
Interview written and conducted by Enoch Eicher (@enoch_eicher)
Edited by Dan Hill (@idanknow05)
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