Natalie Barlow brings UEFA football honours to South Africa

Most people think that football is a male dominated sport. However, Natalie Barlow of Cape Town City Football Club has turned that idea firmly on its head. She recently became the first South African and the first female in Africa to be given the opportunity to do the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Football Management programme.

Not only is this a proud moment for South African sport, but Natalie has also become an inspirational role model for local female sports enthusiast. We are privileged to have Natalie answer some of our questions below.

Natalie please give us a brief introduction of yourself for the readers who don’t know who you are?

I am originally from Bloemfontein, a town where I learnt all about how “hard work pays off”. I believe that I am a woman who doesn’t sit and wait around for opportunities to fall into my lap. I work hard for what I want no matter how difficult it may be. I believe in working towards continuous growth in everything I apply myself to, which has been one of the reasons I have fitted in so well at Cape Town City Football Club.

Tell us where your passion for sports derived from and how it got you to where you are now?

Growing up around a family who love sport especially football, and in a community where it is a norm to support teams from the city, is where my passion derived from. It is evident to this day when you look at the way people from Bloemfontein support the Cheetahs and BFN Celtic. It taught me that one’s passion for sport or a team in particular can help you figure out which avenues you want to explore in life.

The UEFA Football Management programme started on 30 August 2019 and was meant to end on 30 May this year. How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect your learning experience?

Studying during lockdown was not as easy as one would think. We all faced so many different challenges during lockdown, juggling work, protocols and new challenges which the virus brought into football. In my case, I used most of my time focusing on my assignments, doing research on football, which is related to my work anyway, so I basically managed to kill two birds with one stone.

With our last seminar we were focusing a lot on the Euro 2020 cancelation, the challenges, how everyone had to adapt and come up with new plans and a new strategy. This was a very interesting seminar as most of us had to change and adapt to the so called new normal.

The lockdown also gave me more time to interact online with other participants and share some ideas on what they were currently focused on in other leagues around the world when there was no football.

What was the highlight of the UEFA Football Management programme for you and why?

Besides the academic side of this programme, I would say the highlight for me was definitely all the participants, UEFA Academy staff and the speakers at our seminars. I have enjoyed the warmth, generosity and acceptance of these professionals in our cohort.  I got to know some really amazing people in the world of football, and I learnt a lot on how they operate at their different organizations.

Will your qualifications be applied in South Africa or is it aimed at the international football level?

The UEFA Certificate in Football Management programme is the must-have programme for people working in football on the European stage. It’s also a great way for us in the industry who want to gain a comprehensive understanding of how the game is managed at the highest level.

This programme helped giving me a better understanding of the challenges football clubs and associations face at both a strategic and operational level in the ever-evolving landscape of world football. It made me understand the importance of using high-level management tools and how it can benefit my work and the organisation.

I am now able to critically evaluate my performance and improve the quality of my daily work, as well as share key knowledge with my colleagues and all other stakeholders as the programme covered a broad spectrum of the management of a football club and association.  This programme has created a standard for football administration that will, over time, raise the bar as more people will experience the programme.

Being certified as the first South African woman with UEFA Football Management training skills, what are your future plans going forward and how will it benefit the up and coming woman sports enthusiast?

Football is changing both on and off the pitch and I believe that it is important for the voices of women in football to be heard. The development for female leaders within football is hugely important for the future of the game and the UEFA Certificate in Football Management has provided me, as a female administrator, with the skills and techniques to undertake a senior position more efficiently and with greater confidence.

I hope that I can inspire many young females out there to step up and break boundaries in the South African football industry.

How will the pandemic affect football in general going forward into the ‘new normal’?

We’ve already seen how much change the pandemic has caused in our daily lives. It has robbed our supporters from watching live football inside the stadiums and has also taken away the atmosphere it creates for our players on matchday.

But, given the different circumstances it is hardly surprising that this unprecedented challenge is being met in different ways and at different speeds.

What is your advice for the youth interested in playing football as a career?

It’s important to work hard and to follow their dreams. We have seen so many players who only break through at a later age, so I would advise them not to give up when things don’t go their way.

If football is your passion and you have the talent to go with it, some other key elements are equally important: maintaining a high work ethic in training, having a good attitude towards teammates and coaches, following a healthy diet and learning to adapt to different environments.

Thank you so much Natalie, and we here at Mzanzihealth wish you all the best for the future!

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