Whilst coverage of women’s football has increased in recent years, what often goes unnoticed are the hundreds of women who play a vital role in the day-to-day functions of professional and grassroots clubs and organisations.

In a brand new feature series, Kick It Out will be speaking to women who work within football – in a number of roles including coaching, club executives, photographers, administrators, matchday staff and more – to celebrate and gain an insight into their contributions to the professional game.

The feature will discuss their experiences of the game, how they reached where they are today and any challenges they may have faced along the way.

In the second of a two-part interview, Cindi Chatha, Inclusion Football Development Officer at Essex County Football Association, discussed her family’s acceptance of her love for football, living with an unseen disability and making the workforce in football more diverse.

As a Sikh, Cindi explained the initial barriers she faced playing football were “more family-orientated than external”. Banned from playing football as a young child by her father, it took some years for her family’s attitude to soften.

“I think my parents are a lot better with it and are more relaxed, particularly since I developed my auto-immune disease,” she said. “I’m quite stubborn, I know my own mind and I know what I want – I’ve always been like that – so nothing like that would stop me.”

“I used to play with my cousins so my dad wouldn’t know about it and that was quite annoying because as a kid if you’ve done well, you want to tell your family about it. But I’ve learned to just get on with it.”

Cindi has found football to be a welcoming environment, but she explained that she did find some difficulty in establishing her credibility amongst people with preconceived notions of whether women should be working in the industry.

“In a previous role, I was delivering a football session and because I was known as CJ, parents didn’t know I was a woman. Once they found out, some of them took their kids out of the session because they didn’t think they’d gain anything. That was one of the only issues, but I think it was just perception and a lack of knowledge.”

Cindi remains determined not to let anything hold her back and she doesn’t believe her disability has prevented her from succeeding in her role.

“There are certain things I can’t do because they’re too physical and sometimes working long days takes its toll, but I don’t think my disability has stopped me in any way,” she explained. “My disability is unseen, so people outside the office and people who I meet for the first time probably won’t know, but for me that’s fine.

“I’m quite strong-willed and I know what I want to achieve, so I push myself to the limit, but I don’t think any of my protected characteristics impede from what I want to do. I think that’s the case for the majority of people.”

Some employers are unaware of the provisions outlined in the Equality Act 2010, which state that they must make what are called ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure disabled employees aren’t seriously disadvantaged when doing their jobs.

Essex County FA, however, are mindful of their responsibilities and Cindi praised the association for their flexibility in allowing her to adapt her work schedule to fit her health needs.

“The staff and management at Essex County FA have been extremely kind, letting me have time off for hospital visits or letting me go home early if I’m feeling tired. Elsewhere it’s not always been the case, so coming to Essex FA, I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the support of the CEO, Development Managers and other staff.”

Cindi hoped stories like hers would encourage more disabled people and more women to pursue a career in the football, but she believes the media needed to play its part to raise awareness of those already working in the game.

“I think it’s down to press coverage because it’s very male-orientated, which is why people think there is a lack of women involved in football, when there are plenty,” she said. “If you have better coverage of local people in the game who have protected characteristics, then there will be more role models for the younger generation of women, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic and disabled people.”

She finished by paying tribute to the persistent efforts of Kick It Out in attempting to eradicate discrimination from the game.

“Kick It Out is known for inclusion, equality and tackling any form of discrimination – it has a high-profile presence. Everyone knows who they are and what they do, so I think it’s important that it continues its work and it’s there for anyone who needs it.”