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Oliver Jakob on the development of women's football and the success story of SCR Altach

As part of our focus on women in football, we recently interviewed Oliver Jakob, who currently works for Austrian Women's Bundesliga club SCR Altach.


zone14: Perhaps you could start by briefly introducing yourself and how you got into women’s football.

I'm Oliver Jakob, I'm 23 years old. I started working at Altach around four years ago. At the time, I didn't really have any connection to women's football apart from a few players I knew who went to school with me. 

In the winter of 2020, the project opened up that the FFC Vorderland women's team would be integrated into Altach and play in the Bundesliga.

I've been working full-time at Altach for a few months now and now focus my work here for the women's team.

Day to day work

zone14: What does a typical day in your life look like?

I don't think it's a typical day. The day usually starts at half past eight in the morning and goes on until 8.9 in the evening if there is training. You have lots of conversations with coaches and players, but also with many officials, player support staff, etc. Nevertheless, my working day is very varied and I see myself more in the role of first point of contact and mediator for many different topics. There is no such thing as a standard working day because many things happen spontaneously, it is very varied and very exciting.

How has women's football changed?

zone14: In your opinion, how has women's football in general changed over the last few years?

I know the development of women's football through Eileen Campbell, who I also played with in my youth. In the early days, it was quite amateurish, if I may say so. When she played for FFC Vorderland, you couldn't immediately tell that it was the highest women's league in Austria.

I can simply say that a lot has happened in the last 3 years. The arrival of a new league sponsor has also given the whole issue more impetus.

We in Altach in particular have set out to show how it should be done. With top training conditions, an excellent infrastructure and communication, we can score points and create an attractive atmosphere for every player. In addition, all games are played in the stadium. These things are important and have extreme added value. Of course, foreign players recognise this and we currently have 6 or 7 players who have already played in Germany.

If we see that big names such as Rapid and Salzburg are now also joining the academy leagues, then you push each other and create development in the area.

More could certainly have been made of the hype surrounding EURO 2017. In my opinion, the association overslept this somewhat because it may have lacked the resources.

In general, the last 3 years have been good and ok, but I think that there will certainly be further developments in the women's sector.

Resources and structure at SCR Altach

zone14: What do you do on a day-to-day basis differently to Rapid Vienna, for example, who only started with their women's setup this year? Do you use the same infrastructure as the men or do you divide it up? And what about the financial resources and resource distribution?

In terms of infrastructure, we have a professional campus where the men from each team are based. This is also where the weight rooms, physio rooms, etc. are located. But the women, the first team, also have their own cabins. The additional rooms, such as the video analysis room, weights room and physio room, are shared and used equally among the professional men’s and women's teams then of course the second teams as well.

The resources are distributed equally everywhere. We make sure that the training conditions are right. The games are played in the stadium, which means you no longer have to worry about the game being canceled in bad weather, which gives you more planning security.

But of course it's very important to make sure that the games aren't cut on top of each other or anything else. But it actually works quite well. And yes, that's how it developed three years ago. 

Of course it's an extreme step at the beginning. Then there's also a lot of talk about, yes, what do the women have to do now, why are they there and so on. But that also takes a bit of time to put everything into place.

And I would say that the first women’s home game for us had a very, very big impact on the entire club. A lot of people said, wow, that's really cool, they play good football, it's fun to watch. And that's how the whole thing developed.

If we come back to sponsorship or financial matters, the women's team is actually completely self-supporting. There is a small amount that is contributed by the men's company, but the rest is completely financed by sponsors, with our own main sponsor, and withmany of our own jersey sponsors. Our two sales staff are extremely supportive and push the whole thing every year.

We managed to get the LED sponsorship boards up and running for all women's matches this summer, selling them to around 20 different partners. That shows that women's football is extremely attractive in Vorarlberg, that companies are willing to invest money in it, but also that the day-to-day conditions are extremely good for taking the whole thing forward.

Um noch einmal auf das Thema Sponsoring und Finanzen zurückzukommen: Das Frauenteam ist eigentlich komplett selbsttragend. Es gibt einen kleinen Betrag, der von der Unterstützung der Männer beigesteuert wird, aber der Rest wird komplett von Sponsoren finanziert, mit unserem eigenen Hauptsponsor und mit vielen unserer eigenen Trikotsponsoren. Unsere beiden Vertriebsmitarbeiter unterstützen uns sehr und pushen die ganze Sache jedes Jahr.

Wir haben es geschafft, in diesem Sommer die LED-Sponsorentafeln für alle Frauenspiele aufzustellen und sie an rund 20 verschiedene Partner zu verkaufen. Das zeigt, dass der Frauenfußball in Vorarlberg sehr attraktiv ist, dass die Unternehmen bereit sind, Geld zu investieren, aber auch, dass die Rahmenbedingungen sehr gut sind, um das Ganze voranzutreiben.

Success at SCR Altach

zone14: And success comes with this support?

Yes, that comes in passing.

Of course, several factors play a role here. It has often been said that when the men have not been so successful, the sports director should change positions and he can do it much better. But to be honest, it's just simply a lot easier for women.

Let me tell you, we brought Charlotte Voll from Paris Saint-Germain to us two years ago. In the men's game, it's unthinkable that a player like that would come here. But, she can get playing time, she wants to play, and secondly, the whole situation with the infrastructure.

We had our teething problems in the first year, we were in sixth place, we were under a lot of pressure because a lot of people had high expectations for players who were just starting out and a lot of people said that they were professional players and now they had to a high level. In the end it didn't work out with the coach and we had to change coaches in the winter. But since then, things have actually developed steadily.

Last year, we finished third with the same number of points as SK Sturm Graz, which was quite remarkable, but we didn't achieve anything in the end. Our goal was really not to slip into the European positions. In the end, you have to say that it’s part of our development, because we made progress, we won against SK Sturm, reached the cup final and gained a lot of experience.

As we've already said, there are a lot of steps in quick succession, which are often too fast and you skip things. Now it's the stabilization phase, where the whole thing comes together, when you take care of issues off the pitch, such as the administrative side, the coaching team, and just spend more time to make everything more professional all round. In the end, that will also have a beneficial effect on the team.

The next step already came in the summer with player sales for the first time, where it was shown that there is actually money to be made through selling players. There are clubs that pay transfer fees; Charlotte Voll was sold to Leverkusen in the summer and in January Eileen Campbell was sold to Freiburg. That also shows women’s football can also bring in money if you simply back the right people.

We've also managed to add two extra professionals in the summer, so we've gone from 8 professional players to 10. It'll just keep increasing, but you'll never be able to say that you're going from 0 professionals to 20, because it's extremely difficult for every club when you have to take those steps. It's also about the fact that there are a lot of deserving players in the team who might say, I can't do that, I can't accept professional status because my job outside of football is too important, for example.

It's also about finding a transition that simply works well. I also believe that if you put energy into it for a while, then the first successes will probably not be monetary and financial investments, but once it settles down and is successful, then I also believe that you can generate good income, even in women's football, not just in men's football. Certainly when I look at it that way, in England I think they sold a player for 500,000 and so on.

This is now happening gradually, it's progressing a bit, but in the end I also have to say that if you make transfer income this year, that is simply 10% of our total budgeted expenses, that's a nice amount and where I say, yes, I'll gladly take it. If I can manage to cover 10% of the expenditure every year simply through transfer income, it's very, very nice, but in the end it's also the goal that we say, we have to sell our players every year, because in the end we also want to be successful, we want to perform as well as possible internationally and then that's where we're heading. But it's just extremely remarkable to see how I can continuously improve the whole thing and how it then progresses.

No one is saying that success isn't fun, but I put a lot of work into it and a lot of difficult conversations, where it's just right to have them, but yes, it's a great task, but it hasn't been easy for the last three years. However, now all of us who were involved can be proud that we are now in the position we are in.

Differences between men's and women's football

zone14: What do you mean by differences, i.e. that the managers see it differently? Is it the club management or the coaches who have a different approach, because you can imagine that a coach who is now training a women's team has to behave a little differently than with an all-male group.

It is something completely different.

They are like two different sports. At the end of the day, the same thing is taught on the pitch, but the surroundings are completely different. I say the women are extremely, extremely appreciative.

It starts with two small things, when you put bananas in their changing room that are left over from the school in the morning, you get five thank-you notes, “so nice of you”, etc. Whereas with the men these things are just taken for granted. 

But also with the bigger things, like, I don't know, some recovery stockings that we've bought, or a cold pool, they're just so appreciative, because maybe they haven't known it to be like that in recent years, because they've had to buy a lot themselves, they've had to make sure that everything runs well. But in the end, it starts at the very top. If you have people for us who set the tone and say we want this and it's important that we have the same opportunities, then it works well.

But coming back to the coach, there are two different jobs between men and women. With the women, I have to be extremely empathetic. I don't think it would work at all if you went into the dressing room after a game and grilled the team because the next day there would be eight players saying what did I do and blah, blah, blah. They often take it very personally, but that's just the way it is and you have to accept it. 

As a man, you might see the motivating factor and think, wow, he's pushed me now, he's pissed me off, I certainly don't want him to be ashamed of me or anything else. But women interpret completely different things into it. You just have to approach things in a completely different way. Not in a negative way or anything, but simply conveying the whole thing a little differently. I'm saying it won't work if you go into the dressing room or get the team together on the pitch in front of the coach. You can't always be loud and that's clearly exhausting, but you have to be objective.

How can women's football develop further?

zone14: We're doing the campaign so that the visibility of the media presence benefits the women and girls a little and gives them a stage to present themselves, so to speak. What do you think, you mentioned before that something will happen in the next few years?

What do you think should be done to push women's football in particular even further? 

I think the most important thing would be to make an extreme effort with young talent. Simply that there are a lot more girls in the next generation, because in the end the top is defined by the width. The more width there is, the more top players there are.

The better top athletes there are. I simply believe that it will be extremely important to have more junior teams. We have now started an U14 team ourselves. We are also adding an U16 team in the summer, which is also extremely important. I say 100 probably still works, that the mixed teams play, but sooner or later the point will come again that you start an U12 or an U10. I say that handball is a bit of a role model in terms of behavior, because they actually start with an all-girls team from U10 onwards.

There are U10s, U12s, U14s, U16s and U18s. And at some point, the goal has to be for the big clubs to cover all of this and for the smaller clubs to try and somehow bundle it all together. Perhaps with joint teams, or together with clubs in the neighborhood or something for example. 

The goal is that more girls simply get into the sport. That is certainly an important point, as the quality of the players will simply increase, but there will also automatically be more leagues, more clubs playing and more interest from others. That makes the product even more interesting.

And the other issue is simply that there is certainly still a lot to be done in terms of professionalization in the league. Important steps have now been taken that are a good start, but much, much more still needs to happen. And when that happens, then we'll get to the point where we say, okay, the first division will become even more professional, the second division will become more professional and so on.

How can we get more girls playing football?

zone14: I can see that there are a lot of girls in the village, but they don't play football. How can you make that a bit more visible to get the girls into sport or football?

Yes, it starts at the schools. As a club, you probably have to go into the school, start other activities, maybe organize a school tournament for girls, where every class in the village is obliged to take part, so that the girls learn to play football, maybe do one or two training sessions at school beforehand. You play the tournament, and then you can already see which girls are interested. Also as a club you probably have to be a bit present and can take out a lot of calls.

That brings us back to handball. Every year they organize a handball tournament at the primary school, where all the girls and boys play in separate teams.

They all get a bag with an apple in it, a drink and a flyer with all the information on it, where you can go, where the training is, because the children always go home and say, ”Mum, we played handball or football today, it was so cool, it was so much fun!”

The most important point is certainly that you have to be extremely present in the schools, because you can draw the children out so well, but also do a lot of advertising, a lot of presence in the media, with campaigns and so on and then you can really achieve a lot.

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