Having been busy attending to her guests in her role as president of newly promoted Leganes and feeling distracted by the stage fright induced by the club’s Primera Division debut, Victoria Pavon did not even notice until she took her seat that the 12,000-capacity Estadio Municipal de Butarque was filled to the brim.
“I was on the verge of bursting into tears,” she told FIFA.com with a beaming smile. The result of that match in August 2016 – an exciting 0-0 draw with Atletico Madrid – proved to be the icing on the cake on a historic day for the outfit from the outskirts of the Spanish capital.
The reason for such a display of emotion? Pavon was able to remember the tough times, during which the modest Pepineros meandered through the semi-professional scene and at times came close to ceasing to exist altogether. It was precisely at one of those difficult moments, in December 2009, that she and her family arrived at the club, where she became the only female president operating at the third level of Spanish football, which features no fewer than 80 clubs.
“I ended up in the post by chance, really. My family had become shareholders; one thing led to another, and they encouraged me to take on the role of president,” she said naturally, a word that she regularly uses to explain how she became the exception to the rule: a woman in charge of a men’s football club. In fact, this season, with the addition of Leganes to the top flight, there will be three female presidents overseeing Liga clubs.
“If I’d started at, say, Real Madrid, it would probably have caused more of a stir,” she said. “But we got to where we are gradually. In the Spanish third division, there was very little push-back. That’s why everything seemed so natural to me.
“Women have achieved great things everywhere. They’ve become queens and presidents of countries, and held senior positions in multinational businesses. There are thousands of companies that are more important than a football club. It’s no big deal, really. I’d be almost ashamed to say, ‘Look at what we’ve achieved!’” she added modestly.
A matter of time
The Leganes President is not short of things to say on the topic of women in football, however. “It’s been a men’s world for many years, and that’s not going to change overnight. It’s a world in which women have mainly played secondary roles. It didn’t interest us all that much, but now things are changing. Women share their free time with men, and football has begun to take up part of that free time. You see more women on football pitches than ever before,” she explained.
And she is convinced that it is only a matter of time until women begin to assume roles that have been previously dominated by men. “The majority of coaches, for example, are former players, and one of the problems is that, until now, there haven’t been that many female players who have been able to make a living out of football. And that’s why we’ve still got a long way to go. But women’s football is booming, and the girls playing right now will become the agents and scouts of the future. For years, that essential knowledge and training has been lacking, but women are certainly more than capable.”
In this maiden top-flight season, Pavon has already visited Estadio Santiago Bernabeu and Camp Nou, and lunched with her Madrid and Barcelona counterparts. “What gets talked about in the directors’ box is a bit of a myth,” she said with a smile, clearly keen to dispel any misconceptions. “We’re all normal people; we’re not stars. We talk about all kinds of things, but not about business, and I’ve never been made to feel like a fish out of water. You’re just another person, and they treat you normally.”
In fact, Pavon has never felt out of place, although she did feel more closely watched when she was starting out. “I do remember at the beginning that there were a lot of male presidents who came here and didn’t devote any time to their teams, but nobody questioned them, and perhaps they kept more of an eye on what I was doing,” she said. “They always say that when you’re a woman, you have to prove that that you’re not just there for decoration. And you have to work that little bit harder.”
Consequently, aside from her sporting feats, she tends to view her greatest achievement as normalising something that used to be big news. “Two seasons ago, when we got promoted to the second division, it just so happened that another club, Llagostera, was also run by a woman. Before we played them, the media went a bit crazy, with radio coverage and constant interviews. But this year, when we played Valencia, who also have a female president, there was hardly any fuss made at all. It was seen as a normal occurrence, rather than a huge event,” she concluded with another broad smile.