HOW BIRMINGHAM CITY could do with Lungi Macebo in the dug-out. The club’s chief operating officer (COO) is down-to-earth, candid and has a clear view on things.
The club languish mid-table in the fiercely competitive Championship with very little hope of returning to the halcyon days any time soon.
But Lungi, quite simply, is a winner. That fact was borne out when she collected the adminis- tration award at the prestigious Football Black List celebration just prior to Christmas.
Lungi’s role as the Midlands club’s COO sees her support the board of directors and senior management.
Her efficiency in planning, organising and working collaboratively to influence, design and deliver initiatives are essential to the accomplishment of Birmingham City.
She is also a board member for Women in Football and was previously head of HR at Charlton Athletic before her move to the second city.
Arsenal fan Lungi told the Voice of Sport: “I never dreamt that I would be working in football.
“Nothing has shocked me just yet. Football clubs are sometimes stuck with tradition and I hate that. I feel that sometimes that tradition is used as an excuse but I understand it. I’ve had to drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
“There were a lot of things I expected, like our brilliant academy. It is forward-thinking in terms of performance management.
“Succession planning is clear, as are the objectives.
“My first remit was to put some direction and structure into the club at senior management level – objectives for the season, three and five years, in terms of the board’s vision.
“The club want to get to the Premier League. My question is how are we going to get there and what does that look like?
“We now have departmental objectives, something we’ve not had before.
“Things have been ticking along in terms of our communication. Internal communications is an age-old challenge within clubs. My focus and passion lies within people and development.”
In post since February 2019, Lungi’s South African father injected her with the football bug.
Her early recollection is of supporting the Orlando Pirates in her native country. Having arrived in England, she badgered her father to take her to Highbury as a teenager before making her way to the Gunners’ new home, Emirates Stadium, the best part of a decade ago.
So just how has she been received by football, still sadly a bastion of so-called male domi- nance?
“The simple answer to that is overall there have been no incidents to speak of that I can recall, but I haven’t always been made to feel welcome,” Lungi confessed.
“They are very much isolated incidents by people that don’t know me but they do stick out. They’ve not told me why I’ve not been made to feel welcome. “At Charlton I was completely accepted even if it meant that people had to come round to it. Here I feel accepted. I like going to other grounds. I did that for a number of years.
“I do stick out. Going to a game for a black woman is rare. I would give my name at reception in terms of picking tickets up. It was often assumed that you were a player’s partner, not as a black woman representing a club (Charlton at the time) and heading to the boardroom.
“People can’t help themselves. There’s never been any- thing direct in terms of racism, but people are surprised. “People are intrigued, I feel. Football people, dare I say it, are quite simplistic in terms of get- ting a conversation going. But nothing has put me off.”
Lungi positively illuminates when talking about City’s women’s team, clearly something she feels passionate about.
She admitted: “The team has come a long way. They are treated the same way as the men are and that is a big step. We lost a lot of players in the close season and had to bring some in.
“We have the backing from the board and owners, but it is tough because our budget, compared to others, is small. It’s where we are at the moment and we just have to compete.”
Take in any game at City’s famous St Andrews ground and you’ll see a distinct lack of diver- sity, bearing in mind the club’s catchment area.
There’s a high percentage of black and Asians just minutes from the ground, but they refuse to attend, like so many others around the country.
“Our fan base is 98 per cent white working class, so no, it doesn’t reflect our catchment area,” Lungi admitted. “The English Football League have taken the lead in trying to change things.
“Our workforce is quite di- verse, but on the football side things are different. The coaching team at the academy is very diverse. If a white man is intimidated by coming here, what chance do other people stand?
“If I’m completely honest, we don’t have a real strategy in terms of getting a more diverse crowd. We need to work on the current supporters that we have. How welcoming are we to families, women, etc, before we move on to minorities?”
Even before the Football Black List recognition, Lungi had been something of a role model – a role with which she is not entirely comfortable.
“There is a lot of pressure associated with being termed a role model. As long as my employer is happy with me, that’s what counts for me. I don’t really want to draw attention to myself.
“Privately, I’m happy to speak to people and guide them where I can. Do I have all the answers? No,” she said.
“I’m constantly asking the question; how can we open more doors for people?
“Maybe we need to focus a little less on the senior roles and help people get their foot in the door.
“The senior roles can some- times be about who you know and that is awful. It doesn’t serve the game well.”