Claire Rafferty on playing a key role in Chelsea's meteoric rise to Champions

CLAIRE RAFFERTY had a glittering playing career, winning medals and immortalising herself as a Chelsea and England legend along the way.

After huge success with the Blues and the national side, she's gone on to become a director at her former club, as well as Lewes FC.

The ex-midfielder's career began at Milwall Lionesses when she was just 14-years-old, where she was a first-team regular.

Chelsea snapped her up in 2007, and she spent just over a decade with them, winning three FA Cup trophies and their first WSL in her time there.

She would win a bronze medal with England at the 2015 World Cup, helping them reach the semi-finals.

Rafferty spoke fondly of her this trophy-laden period of her time with club and country, revealing that they were the "highlights of my playing career."

When asked about her stand-out career moment, she said: "It has to have been the 2014/15 season, where we won the league, and the FA Cup for the first time as a club.

"And that season also, with England, we won the Bronze medal at the World Cup.

"So there was a lot of parties that year, I remember that, which was fun!"


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Rafferty brought the curtain down on her playing days in 2019 while playing for West Ham after leaving the Blues the season before.

Her presence at the club is still felt today as she re-joined as commercial director when departing from West Ham.

She also became non-executive director at Lewes FC, the first club to pay both men and women equally.

PLAYER TO DIRECTOR

But the transition into a director hasn't been easy, after spending so many years on the pitch, Rafferty struggled adjusting to her new role.

At times, she missed the training environment and found it difficult to even watch games.

Playing football was an outlet that she no longer had, and feels that the sport is a helped with serious issues such as mental health.

She said: "I struggled leaving the team behind almost, I missed the training environment.

"I actually struggled to watch the games sometimes, it was hard because I just wanted to be out there.

"And it's an outlet isn't it, football and sport, in general we speak about what a fantastic vehicle it is for the mental health side of things.

"So I think personally I did struggle a little bit with the transition of it."

However, after a few months she adapted the her new role at the club and embraced learning the business side of things.

Reflecting on her difficult start, she said: "I've kind of gotten over that now, in the first few months I struggled to watch them because I had abit of FOMO I think."

Learning the business hasn't been easy starting from scratch, but Rafferty says she's happy to able to help the club in different ways.

Coming from being a player, the business aspect of the game was a whole new realm for her which she had to learn from scratch.

Rafferty added: "Still being involved, still being able to help on the commercial side of things really allowed me to maintain my focus.

"It's not been easy, it's been a learning curve, because I had to learn from scratch around how football as a business is run.

"But it's been a fantastic opportunity. And it's nice cheering them on knowing I can help in different ways now."

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EQUALITY AT LEWES FC

Alongside the new role at Chelsea, Lewes FC also approached Rafferty for the Non-Executive Director role at the club in 2019.

This surprised her and she said she was "taken a-back" by their approach, but pratically "bit their hand off" for the opportunity.

What attracted her to the role was the clubs' pioneering role in champion women's equality and diversity in the football.

She said: "I was so priviliged when they asked me, I was quite taken a-back.

"I bit their hand off at the opportunity at actually.

"The reason why they approached me is because they wanted to have more diversity on their board.

"They wanted the voice of an ex-player and I was keen to help them out."

Rafferty was playing the game when women weren't getting paid at all, so being at a team where the pay for both genders is equal has given her a sense of pride.

Although there's a long way to go, she thinks other clubs will follow suit in the future and she hopes to use her voice as an influence to do so.

She added: "At the start of my career I didn't get paid at all.

"And they're (Lewes FC) are the first ones fighting the cause and sticking their head out on the line to do so."

CHELSEA'S GROWTH

Chelsea have been on a meteoric rise in recent years and have asserted their dominance in the WSL.

Rafferty reckons that when she and her team-mates won the double in the 2014/15 season, it ushered in a new era at the club.

She said: "I think that was the start of a new era at Chelsea Women's Football Club.

"And it was also Emma Hayes first trophies with the club, and if you look at it now it's a lot fuller.

"And that for me was important, and really fantastic to be involved in that first ever trophy win."



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Despite the Blues domestic dominance, the Champions League has eluded them thus far.

In both 2018 and 2019, they reached the semi-finals, but Rafferty thinks that this season they can go one step further and lift the coveted prize.

She feels this is the best squad they've ever had physically and mentally, and with the help of the jittery form of their main rivals they can achieve the amazing feat.

Rafferty added: "Now is the best time ever, this is the best squad Chelsea have ever had.

"It's probably the best time to play the likes of Lyon and Wolfsburg based on the form Chelsea have been in, and also the momentum they've picked up.

"And there's a few little cracks forming in some of these top teams, I think.

"But that's just my opinion, I don't want to speak to soon incase anything happens!"

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