© The Guardian
In his role as Board of Directors’ lead for equality, diversity and inclusion at Charlton Athletic, Paul Elliott uses his deep passion for EDI to make a true difference in the world of football.
Regarded as a trailblazer throughout his whole career, Paul has a trusted voice in the football community, something which he uses to create positive change for the future. We spoke with him to find out more…
How did your career in football begin?
Football for me started very local, with Charlton Athletic, they were my first club. I supported them for many years and grew up close by.
I had trials at various clubs, but Charlton was the one who, when I was 16 years old, took a chance on me. I got a scholarship and within six months I was in the first team at a young age.
I’m very emotionally attached to South London, so it was like a dream come true.
You’ve gone full circle, to begin playing there and now to work on the board at the club, how does that feel?
It’s wonderful! I’ve been lucky enough to have a decent career and play for some big clubs, but Charlton has always been the team that’s in my DNA. I loved playing for Celtic, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Pisa in Italy, but when you’re emotionally aligned to something it’s different.
I care about every facet of the club. We’re under some really good ownership at the moment and they’re doing a great job. Everything is embedded by equality, diversity, inclusion and the whole community structure. I feel such a buzz to be a part of the football club.
Do you have any highlights from your playing career?
Honestly, I was just happy to have made it, because so many don’t make it.
Being able to play abroad in Italy was fantastic, against Diego Maradona, Marco van Basten, Alessandro Costacurta, these are some great players and that was an amazing experience. Also playing in Scotland with Celtic, it was so rewarding.
I wanted to play football since being a child, so I would have done it for nothing. After my playing career I’ve still been prominent in the game with the work that I’ve done, whether that be at the FA, UEFA or my role at Charlton Athletic.
You’re now the Board of Directors’ lead for equality diversity and inclusion and mental health at Charlton Athletic, what does that role entail?
It’s interesting, I’m an independent non-executive director, so I work closely with all the directors and sit on the board. It’s about all areas of the club: the business, the commercial, the social and the community side.
I’ve worked on bigger levels at the English FA, but this is exclusively about Charlton and its development, and I really enjoy getting to go to the club a few days a week.
There’s some really good players to mentor and I like to support them so they can see there’s somebody who is a central part of the club who has also played the game as well. It never feels like work, I’m so lucky.
You’re passionate about equality and diversity, why is this important in both wider football and your club?
Charlton historically is a low socioeconomic area and diversity is the key there. We played Stevenage a few weeks ago and we had seven players who were black, they are all very talented and live within a 10-mile radius of the club.
It’s important that we look at the social and human side of diversity, but there’s an economic side and that’s where EDI really sits. That’s a key component of the Charlton Community Trust, they deliver work in community schools nearby and go to around 250 schools a week.
EDI is embedded in the DNA of the club, and we see that on and off the pitch.
Why did you decide to complete the UEFA MIP programme?
A friend of mine, Piara Powar, suggested it to me. I thought it might give me a wider skill set.
I loved that course. I love the concept of it, every sort of eight weeks having a week in Germany, a week in Amsterdam, a week in Paris, we even went to New York for 10 days.
The travelling was great, but the subject matter all around the business and governance of football made it a brilliant course. You also meet some great people, we’re always in communication and it’s brilliant.
I’ll say to every ex-player, both male and female, when they come out of the game, take a couple of months off and then go and do the UEFA MIP, because it gives you such an insight into the whole global game.
It’s a must for every person. You get invaluable experience and skills in other areas of the game.
Do you think the programme aided you with skills for after your playing career?
Definitely, people can see you’ve taken the time to study, and that discipline is very important. I finished school and went straight into football, so you learn to adopt a new skillset.
You learn to think differently, write differently and behave differently. You will get pathways to employment because the doors will open more often for you, knowing that you’ve taken the time to study.
Do you have any further goals for the future?
I am really enjoying the moment, the here and now. I look at myself and the role I’ve got with the English FA, I’m special advisor to the chair and the CEO, I represent the FA on two committees with UEFA, that’s human rights and football and corporate social responsibility, and I’ve always wanted a club project.
Now I’ve got the best club with the best project and opportunities. So, to be honest, I’m living my dream, I’m engaging in it and I’m having great fun.
I always wanted to try and make a difference, using the power of football to unite people and break down social barriers, particularly around anti-racism and anti-discrimination.
People are listening, and Charlton is the best model for that. I’m loving it.
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