The Football Debate breaks the barriers with England Women’s Technical Director Kay Cossington, releasing an exclusive interview from St George’s Park telling the story of the Lionesses and the unstoppable momentum of women’s football in England.
Wembley is the home of English football, but St George’s Park is where the magic happens.
Entering the facility, you can smell freshly cut grass and hear the distant humming of lawnmowers, as groundsmen perfect none other than 13 pitches at SGP.
Stepping into the hotel you see records, match-worn shirts, gleaming silverware and prestigious plaques that weave together the storied legacy that the England national teams have created.
It is evident that St George’s Park is somewhere greatness has found its rightful home. They belong here, as English football recognises the significance of the crucial meetings, the countless training sessions, and the ground-breaking discussions that the facility has held.
As you walk through the hotel and into the hidden endings of the complex, the path of inspiration persisted, with captivating photography and mesmerising artwork on the walls acting as a constant reminder to what English football has achieved.
One photo showed the Lionesses lifting the European Championship trophy, just a four hour drive down the road in Wembley Stadium. The Lionesses journey looks like it is only just beginning, but they have come so far.
“I remember when this site was a mud-bath” reveals Kay Cossington, the England Women’s Technical Director.
“We were standing here, with our hi-vis jackets and hardhats on, looking at what this place could become.
“It wasn’t long ago we had a few thousand people watching our games, now we are selling out stadiums.
“That’s a massive legacy that our national team have contributed to, but we are still building on this, and there is more work to do.”
Kay Cossington has been the beating heart of all England women’s football for years, and a huge name behind the scenes in the youth academies, in decisions such as the hiring of Sarina Wiegman and of course, the European Championships success.
She has put her life into the women’s game, working at numerous clubs before landing a role at the FA, where she has worked for 18 years. You could predict the longevity in her job too, as every cleaner, worker, player and groundsman greet her with a smile as she walks through the complex.
“Football was my sport, I loved playing football.
“I had a dad and two older brothers who were mad about football and passionate West Ham fans.
“I ended up playing for West Ham at 14 and debuting for the senior team too.
“It was never a career though; it was a hobby for me.
“We had hand me downs of the men’s kit and we were never really involved.
“I did PE at GCSE, I could pick dance and netball, but was never allowed to pick football.
“I never thought that football would be a career for me, but I just loved playing.”
It was this passion which drives forward women’s football. With no set career, certain goals or even any belief, women still played the beautiful game because of their love for it, carving their own success stories from the blank canvas of women’s football in the UK.
“My first taste of coaching was at West Ham; we were left without a manager midway through a season and the girls were saying ‘who’s going to take the warm up?’
“From that point on, on that dog-and-duck playing field in Barking, I fell in love with coaching.
“I remember thinking ‘I like the feeling of developing, helping, coaching, teaching and delivering, it was even better than my dream of becoming a PE teacher – a career I could’ve fulfilled (with the lack of opportunities in women’s football.)
“I absolutely hated my A-Levels, I only picked them as it was a route into university so I could get my teaching degree,
“I thought, I don’t want to do this anymore… I thought that was what I had to do, get a good job to afford a house and get on with life – but it just wasn’t right for me.
“I left college halfway through my A Levels and took a job at the NatWest tower in London. I was doing my coaching badges alongside this full-time job, I was then offered a job at Millwall Football Club, within the community department. I stayed there for 6 years as the Head of Coach Development and the Women’s Technical Director.
“I was so proud to work for Millwall, they have so much history in the women’s game, even if my family did give me a lot of stick as West Ham fans!
“I grew up and learnt a lot about myself at Millwall, I started to understand the power of football and what it can do for society. I worked in two of the toughest boroughs in London, met some incredible people and feel that we truly contributed to transforming lives through football.”
Reality struck. Glimmers of hope emerged of a career in the women’s game, a dream imaging of football combined with the love of developing, helping, coaching, teaching, and delivering.
“Peoples love and passion for football can change lives, and fast-forward, I’ve worked at the FA for 18 years now.” Cossington smiles.
Three years ago, Kay Cossington’s role at the FA changed, which shows an evolution of the women’s game: “In 2020, this place (St. George’s Park) only had one technical director, who managed men’s, women’s, and para football.
“In 2021, we decided to do a lot of pushing to separate the technical divisions, we needed two technical directors, who had specific expertise and leadership for the men and women’s games.
“The FA is such an amazing organisation in so many ways, but some of its ways have been entrenched in history for hundreds of years, and we needed to change things.
“I’ve got so much respect for the management and senior board here, because they recognised that we could do things differently and appointed me as the Women’s Technical Director.
“For me personally, the title changes in my role seemed like such a massive statement, and I feel so privileged to be leading our game in England, at heart I am still a football fan!
“I still have that buzz, that passion, that drive, and I love seeing the teams on the training pitches.
“There are some magical conversations that happen here, about kids as young as 14-15, the potential they have and future England teams that they may play in.
“I have a responsibility to keep this history alive, you look at the walls here, there is our first ever women’s captain in Sheila Parker all the way through to our players of today.
“There is a responsibility to do things more than playing football – results are a driver, but we have to stay grounded, show courage and use our platform and position to achieve a higher purpose.
“As the Women’s Technical Director, I am responsible for all of England’s women’s teams, from the U15’s up to the seniors.
“I am responsible for our talent system, and the club youth academy system. No two days look the same and my weekly routine is different every week.
The European Champions are now all over the TV, advertising boards, bus stops and phone screens – but Kay Cossington has worked with many of these women when nobody knew their name, before their footballing careers changed their lives.
“I feel really old, I have worked with a lot of the senior team since they have been 11, 12, 13 years old.
“Winning the Euros was once a dream, now it’s a reality. Why not let every young girl dream of things this big?
“The Euros were so important for us as a team and for the nation because it allowed us to grow in participation, coaches, number of fans, broadcasts, partnerships, and sponsors – they are all now so interested in the women’s game: that’s why winning trophies is so important.
“The other thing for us is that we truly believe that football and women’s football can help change society, we can give a voice and a platform to girls and women to empower them to believe that anything is possible.
“Already we have seen rapid growth in girls wanting to play football, but also women wanting to play.
“From a participation level, the growth is huge. The FA Barclays Women’s Super League (WSL) is growing at an incredible rate.
“That’s a massive legacy that our national team have contributed to, but we are still building on this.”
When asked about Sarina Wiegman, Cossington’s face lit up. Having met and worked with each other at FIFA as coach developers, they were destined for greatness at the FA: “Sarina is somebody I have a lot of time for. She’s a wonderful human being.
“We share the same passion and vision for the game, and although we have been brought up in different countries, we have so many similarities.
“After our first meal together we just hit it off. I felt like I’d known her for years, we bounced off each other really well and we had a really efficient working relationship.
“Nobody gives you anything in women’s football. You must work hard for what you have. Sarina and I don’t speak the same first language and come from different culture, but we both understand women’s football.”
Despite agonising defeat to Spain in the final one month ago today, the Lionesses continued to grow the game back home, despite the 9-hour time difference in Australia and New Zealand.
Success doesn’t only come in the form of trophies for Kay Cossington, who has been one of the key figures behind the inspirational growth and the unstoppable surge women’s football in England.
Her story herself conveys a true likeness of every single woman who loves football, let alone those that pull on the historic England shirt, and it is the power of people that pushed women’s football way higher than ever expected.
There have been plenty of tough and low moments, but you could never ask the question, “What would you have done if your career wasn’t football?” – it was always going to be football.