Bev Latham

January's Women's Watch

Bev Latham - Welfare Officer for the East Kent Youth League and Woodnesborough Football Club.

Each month, the Kent FA is showcasing the work of women who are having a positive impact on football in the county.

This month, friend of Kent FA Faye Hackwell spoke to Bev Latham about her experiences as an award-winning Welfare Officer.

“Don’t live your football through your child’s football.”

That’s the message Bev Latham aspires to spread to parents throughout the football community in Kent.

As Welfare Officer for the East Kent Youth League and Woodnesborough Football Club near Sandwich, Bev has experienced both the best and worst of behaviours on the pitch and sidelines of games across the county.

She is passionate about working to ensure football revolves around what she says it should all be about - fun and enjoyment in a safe environment.

Bev’s first experience of football was in unusual circumstances as an 11-year old in school.

She recalls: “I was sent to play football because when I played rounders, I used to hit the ball out of the school boundary, so, as a punishment, I was sent to play football with the boys and I really enjoyed myself and I just stayed playing football.”

Bev stopped playing when she reached secondary school age and it wasn’t until her daughter started playing for Woodnesborough that she returned to the game as a “mum on the sidelines” before moving into coaching 14 years ago.

That led to her becoming Woodnesborough’s fixtures secretary, then Assistant Welfare Officer and eventually club Welfare Officer five years ago.

The East Kent Youth League then invited her onto the league’s board as Welfare Officer in 2020 – a position she held as the country emerged from Covid-19 lockdowns.

“I just found it so surprising when, coming out of Covid, there was so much aggression from the spectators - it was like a release thing I think. And our biggest problem that I find, being a Welfare Officer, is not the children - it’s the spectators.”

To address the nationwide issue of unconstructive shouting from the sidelines, the FA introduced Silent Support Weekends - the first of which Bev felt didn’t work, because some children struggled to play without practical contributions from their coaches and referees.

She fed this back to the Kent FA and, at the next one, officials and coaches were allowed to speak.

Bev Latham

“That weekend, I went to four or five different matches, just talking to the children to try to introduce myself, and I asked them ‘what did you think about it?’ and they said they enjoyed the fact that their parents weren’t shouting at them and that they could just hear the referee and the manager.

“I had a little boy come up to me and he said ‘Bev, I really liked that one because my dad didn’t shout at me’ and that sums it all up.”

Although she can’t get to every game happening in the East Kent Youth League, Bev attends as many as she can to build relationships and become a familiar and trusted face, while also signing up to any Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses she comes across to broaden her knowledge and experience.

She has come across some challenging situations through her role, including supporting teams dealing with bereavements and working with clubs to stamp out negative issues and behaviours among coaches, players and supporters.

Bev doesn’t shy away from approaching anyone she feels is behaving or speaking inappropriately at matches, including one recent experience at a festival when she addressed a coach.

“The way he was speaking to the children was totally inappropriate, so I went over to him and I said to him ‘do you realise how you’re talking to those children and what example you’re setting them?’

“He turned round and said ‘my children know me’ - well, they were coming off the pitch crying and he did actually calm it down because I stood next to him.

“And that’s the role of the safeguarding officer - to make people accountable for their own actions, to make people think about what they’re doing and what they’re saying and how that affects the children.”

If Bev observes anything that could require further action, she reports it to the Kent FA’s Safeguarding and Welfare Team - such as repeat offending, matters that breach the FA Disciplinary Regulations, circumstances where a child could be at risk of harm and incidents involving statutory agencies like police or social services.

And the biggest challenge Bev feels welfare officers face is educating parents and spectators to set a good example.

“From the grassroots stage when they first join, it’s about teaching the parents ‘don’t live your football through your child’s football’.

“Let your child be your child, let your child be the player he or she wants to be and stop being competitive.

“If children see good behaviour, they will replicate good behaviour and if children see parents saying ‘get stuck in’ or ‘fight one another’ then that’s what they’re going to learn.

“It’s not the Premier League, it’s grassroots - it’s good exercise, it’s a community, it’s teamwork, they should enjoy it.

“The experience of a coach or a spectator shouting at them just shouldn’t happen.”

Last summer, Bev was crowned Welfare Hero of the Year at the Kent FA Grassroots Workforce Awards - an award she received for her dedication to welfare and willingness to broaden her knowledge.

She also joined the Kent FA’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Group to bring her experience and knowledge from welfare and the youth game to a committee that aims to ensure EDI is taken into consideration across the association’s plans.

As a new and developing arm of the Kent FA, being a part of the EDI work is one of the things Bev is most excited about for the future, while she is also keen to see more welfare officer roles being created across the adult game and clubs giving welfare officers a key role in decision-making.

Bev feels she still has many years left in football ahead of her, as a part of what she describes as an “incredible and inspiring” team at the Kent FA.

“You cannot beat the pleasure of seeing a grassroots player on the pitch enjoying themselves and knowing you’ve had a part in it - that’s the fulfilment I get each week.

“I find football very rewarding. I put the hours into it, but I do get a lot out of it as well.”