The most striking evidence of English football's glamour status can
be found in the perhaps unlikely setting of Portman Road, home of
Ipswich Town Football Club.
It comes in the form of blonde Australian communications director Alesha
Goodenham, who greets burly national football hacks with a very
luvvie-esque peck on each cheek. Goodenham is the first woman to become
an executive director of a Premiership club.
Interviewed by PRWeek at Portman Road an hour before an important league
match against Liverpool, Goodenham is a whirl of energy and
Watching her sweep through the media room dispensing the aforementioned
kisses, it is easy to believe her later claim of an 'excellent'
relationship with the press.
'I am incredibly fortunate to see my press contacts every week. You talk
through ideas with them, you become friends ... in a way, they are
extensions of colleagues,' she says.
The view is backed up by Sun football correspondent Charlie Wyett: 'It's
fair to say that Ipswich are one of the best, if not the best, team to
deal with in the Premiership. Alesha has had an enormous part to play in
the improvement of the club's attitude towards the press as well as
developing some of the best media facilities in the Premiership.'
Five years after becoming Ipswich's first press officer, Goodenham finds
her players are in demand. With the season's end just weeks away, they
continue to frustrate big city rivals, such as Liverpool, by threatening
to edge them out of a top three finish - and the resulting lucrative
place in the next European Champions League.
Goodenham appears to have effortlessly outmanoveured Liverpool manager
Gerard Houllier, who had berated Ipswich for refusing to reschedule the
fixture. 'There is no war of words, but no-one should complain about
being successful,' she says sweetly.
It is a very different sort of problem to those encountered when a
recruitment agency referred the London-based press officer at
Inter-Continental Hotels for an interview in Ipswich. 'They wouldn't
tell me what the company was and I thought 'right, this is really
dodgy',' Goodenham remembers.
Asked at that interview what she knew about football, she acted the
proud Ocker and responded: 'Well you kick a netball around don't
Her Australian enthusiasm shone through however and she got the job. It
did not take long to persuade chairman David Sheepshanks of the role PR
could play and a job initially combined with admin work was swiftly made
full-time. She now runs a communications department encompassing
activities such as community work. A year ago she was elevated to the
board. 'My title is director of communications. It sounds so grand
doesn't it?,' she laughs.
Sheepshanks is clearly her number one fan, bursting into her office to
declare: 'You're interviewing the Wizard of Oz.'
Asked what she thinks of PR and management generally in British sport -
with the World Cup bid and Wembley fiascos in mind - Goodenham seems
loathe to criticise her adopted country.
She claims that 'many other football clubs', Leicester City in
particular, are 'superb' in their press relations. Frustratingly, she
declines to name those she is less impressed by.
On a recent Australian holiday she was struck by the positive,
unsensational tone of sports coverage in her native land: 'You often get
the sensational stories in English football and not the good stories and
there are a lot of good stories.'
Leaning forward, genuinely excited, she speaks of a 'mini world cup' the
club is organising around Ipswich's housing estates. 'The power of
football is phenomenal in this country and sometimes I wonder if true
credit is given to the game for the good work that it does.'
The Aussie netballer is well and truly smitten with the game played by
the club employees she regards as her '22 sons'.
'What amazes me in this country is that I am not in competition with any
other club even though we are in the same market. Once you belong to a
club you can't get it out of your blood. The sport is unique - when it
comes to the national team you all unite but when it comes to club
football, the passion blows my mind,' she says.
She dismisses comparisons with the hitherto most high-profile woman in
the game, Karen Brady, who emerged from the soft porn empire of
Birmingham City owner David Sullivan to run the club as chief executive,
marrying a player on the way.
'I think she (Brady) has done a superb job but each person will go about
their career in their own way.
I am not the champion of women in football. I have a great job that I
One suspects that a few male football journalists rather hope that she
will continue to enjoy it for some time.
2000: Director of comms, Ipswich Town FC
1996: PRO/administrator, Ipswich Town FC
1994: Sales and PRO, Park Lane Inter-Continental Hotel.