The first woman to be part of Middlesbrough Football Club’s senior executive team, Helena Bowman, tells We are Middlesbrough how she's gearing up for her first full season in the role
More than 30,000 people flocked to the Riverside Stadium on a sun-drenched June evening to watch international indie icons The Killers put on an unforgettable show.
Middlesbrough FC was hosting and its new head of business operations and community barely got chance to catch her breath.
In just six hours Helena Bowman answered a staggering 150 phone calls. She was on speed dial for logistical decisions big and small.
From WiFi issues affecting card transactions to the moment the band’s guitarist unexpectedly arrived at main reception requesting extra hospitality seats for members of his family, there was a lot happening behind the scenes.
It was, Helena admits, a slight step into the unknown but the adrenaline was flowing on a huge night for Middlesbrough.
“Managing and reacting to everything was extremely challenging and we learnt a lot but it was really exciting as an experience,” she says.
The gig itself, Helena reflects, was “absolutely amazing”.
“The proudest thing for me was that we put the event on for the town and Teesside.
“If we weren’t hosting it, it wouldn’t have happened in our area. We would have all been going to Leeds or Newcastle.”
Pointing towards the North Stand from a Riverside executive box, she adds: “Seeing Brandon Flowers on that stage was unbelievable.
“The overwhelming feeling that we’ve done this for Middlesbrough and Teesside was brilliant.”
Helena started her new role full time in February after five years leading MFC Foundation.
Her new position involves wide-ranging topics including, in her own words, “the functioning of the stadium, health and safety, grounds, facilities, hospitality, catering, HR, strategies and leadership”.
The heads of the individual departments are “excellent and very experienced people who we are extremely lucky to have working for the club”, Helena says.
Having spent 16 years at the foundation, Helena is “immensely proud” of the work it does and hopes she can help bring the club ever closer to the community it serves in her new role.
She says: “The club is the most well-known brand in the area. There’s absolutely a need to use that brand for good in the community. The foundation does that excellently and there’s a bigger role for the club in that too. We can bring the two even closer together to make more of an impact.
“Through the foundation, the club has the ability to help raise aspirations and change lives. I’m really proud of the work the staff and trustees deliver at the foundation. What they do is brilliant.”
The foundation came to the fore during the Covid pandemic when it did “absolutely essential” work for the people of Teesside.
“We had to use it as an opportunity to support the community,” Helena says.
“We were delivering 1,000 hot meals per day at one stage. It was really important for the club and foundation to do our bit. We worked with other organisations to help reach people that others couldn’t.”
Helena Bowman Picture © Tom Banks 2022
The foundation is looked up to by its peers and has a huge reach across Teesside.
“We won community club of the year three times out of the last six years for the North East and Yorkshire,” Helena says.
“That kind of thing really gets you noticed. As a result, you go to the House of Commons to receive the award. For Middlesbrough to be up there, consistently, for community work, is really important. A lot of other clubs come to the foundation to learn and it helps that the club is community-orientated, led by a local owner.”
Helena’s new day-to-day role sees her working closer with owner and chairman Steve Gibson and chief executive Neil Bausor.
She’s proud to be a woman working at a high level in professional football and hopes her own success can inspire future generations.
“We have a lot of female staff and a higher than average number of female season ticket holders,” she says.
“Generally, it’s still a male-dominated industry but that doesn’t faze me. In my opinion you use the fact that you are female for good and to be a role model for others.
“I grew up as a huge football fan and I never thought there was a massive barrier, as a female, to working in the sport, but it’s really important that we publicise the opportunity to the next generation of girls
“I would like to think that people think ‘Helena has done it, so we can too’.”
Helena Bowman. Picture © Tom Banks 2022
Helena is speaking to We Are Middlesbrough the day after Boro’s fixtures for the 2022-23 season were released.
Her eyes were drawn to the festive period first and the “brilliant news” that Boro are home once again on Boxing Day. Like most fans, Helena also glanced down the list for the Tees-Wear derbies with Sunderland.
There is, she says, a genuine buzz inside the club at the moment.
“We believe in Chris Wilder as someone who can make a real difference. I’m really looking forward to the season.”
Away from the club, Helena winds down by playing netball twice a week, spending time at the gym and with her family and friends.
She is also a non-executive director of the North Riding Football Association and chairs Borderlands, an Arts Council-funded programme led by Teesside University.
The county FA role involves increasing engagement and improving football for younger people, while Borderlands aims to bring communities together through creative arts.
In short, there aren’t many hours in the week Helena doesn’t dedicate to driving the area forward.
“I’m very protective of the area,” Helena, originally from Durham, says.
“I’m an adopted Teessider who started working here 16 years ago and put roots down after 12 months.
“I feel like an ambassador for the area. I hate anyone talking it down.
“This is a brilliant football club that can absolutely influence people in a positive way. That spirit and that community feeling runs right through the club and foundation.”
The club is continuing to look for opportunities for future concerts and events at the stadium and as the new football season approaches, Helena is looking forward to settling further in to her new role and has a clear focus on what she wants to achieve.
“I want the staff to feel like they’re doing the best job they possibly can and enjoy it at the same time,” she says.
“For me it’s all about what else can we do to make sure the football club is at the heart of the community and continues to make a difference for our town and its people.”
To find out more about the work of MFC Foundation visit www.mfcfoundation.co.uk
We are words by Andrew Glover
We are pictures by Tom Banks