Emma Hayes speaks slowly, measuredly, but hums with ambition. At Chelsea’s Cobham training ground, in the office that she has expanded from one desk and chair to a bespoke women’s team training complex over the last eight years, the WSL’s longest-serving manager gestures to the surrounding ring of full-sized pitches while Millie Bright, her centre half, brings tea for the assembled press. This is Hayes’ kingdom: so used is she to the increasing media attention that she barely notices the TV cameras, filming the club for a fly-on-the-wall documentary, circling over her shoulder.
At 43, Hayes is as ambitious as ever. Ticket prices? Raise them. “The product is too cheap, league wide. We charge £9 – far too cheap. It doesn’t have to be ridiculous money, but we’ve got to value it. It’s a quality product.”
Kingsmeadow, the 4,850-capacity ground that Chelsea Women have shared with Wimbledon since 2017? Expand it. The salary cap? Remove it. “I struggle with putting these limitations on things. ‘Don’t play in big stadiums.’ ‘Don’t pay women too much.’ Why? We should be aiming for the f*****g top of the sky for everybody involved in the game. Don’t limit it.”
Referees? Make them full-time. “They’re paid £120 a game. Stop having a go at them. We need to put money, as clubs, into our officials. If this is where we’re going, why are we half-a****g it? They are scrutinised so much I just hope we don’t drive them out of the game in this temporary period.