Belfast mother finding her footie feet as first female chair of Rosario Football Club
Busy Belfast mother-of-four, Ciara Boyes makes multitasking look easy – the businesswoman, history student and one-time would-be Irish News journalist tells Gail Bell how she is finding her new role as chairwoman of one of the north's biggest amateur soccer clubs
WHEN Belfast mother-of-four Ciara Boyes tentatively put her hand up to help with her children's football club a few years ago, she envisaged some undemanding sort of activity on the sidelines, maybe something to do with rotas, making the tea – that type of thing. Easy.
What she definitely didn't expect was to find herself sitting in the boardroom and making history as the first female chair of Rosario Football Club on the Ormeau Road.
Elected at annual meeting in June, the volunteer mum-turned-chairwoman has since settled smoothly into the role, allowing her business know-how, organisational skills and pleasant, no-nonsense 'let's get things done' approach guide her efforts in redeveloping the Ulidia base and steering the club – where current Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill played at U16 level – into its second century.
With a background in business development and property sales and a "passion" for cross-community youth football, she seemed like the ideal choice, but the new chairwoman was, nonetheless, slightly "daunted" at taking the top post at a time of massive restructuring and unprecedented growth.
There are now nine new committees and a full-on schedule featuring mini soccer, girls football, a junior section and senior – in which two teams compete in the Northern Amateur Football League. Luckily, the multitasking 36-year-old is not easily fazed.
While looking after her four children, Tiernan (9), Callum (7), Emelia (5) and toddler, Alex (2), the south Belfast mum also works part-time as a business advisor and also finds time to fit in study for her history degree through the Open University.
Yet, despite the whole family being a bit 'footie mad', including husband James – who works in construction management – Boyes has never felt the urge to kick a ball herself.
"My two eldest sons play and my daughter is playing in her first football match this weekend, but I've never played myself," she admits. "I wouldn't have the knowledge to send teams out or check abilities, for instance; I leave that to the experts. I'm happier being on the sidelines and I'm a firm believer in sticking to what you're good at..."
Chief among her strengths is communication, encouraging, 'badgering' – call it what you will; whatever gets other people motivated to stick their hand up in a crowded room during an appeal for help.
"Good communication is really important in this role, as people are more likely to volunteer when they know exactly what is happening and what they need to do," she says. "The volunteers at Rosario are second to none – we now have 150 – coaches, referees, tea makers, kit washers and unpaid taxi drivers who are all vital for a club which is on target to hit 1,000 members this year."
Understandably, female participation is something high on her priority list and one of her first goals is to build further on 'girl engagement' at the club which this year is fielding four girls teams and regularly attracts around 70 young females on to the pitches for training.
Equality is something the new chairwoman wears easily on her sleeve, not only when it comes to growing the numbers of girls, but also the number of different ethnic groups at the club which currently has 29 teams, making it one of the biggest amateur clubs in Northern Ireland. It is also one of oldest, with records showing football was played on the Ormeau Road and the Ulidia ground for around 130 years.
Her zeal, she believes, has its roots in time spent in the Middle East as well as a lifelong interest in politics – she was involved with the Liberal Democrats' appeals panel for young people while living in England. It may also be due – in part – to work experience spent with the Irish News some time in the distant past when a young wannabe crusading journalist.
"I still have a front page story and also a 'page three' from work experience with the paper, of which I was very proud at the time," she recalls. "I was nearly a journalist, but ended up in the property sector instead.
"After working in Belfast, I spent three years in Qatar as a property consultant and taught English in the evening. It really opened my eyes to inequality for the first time and is one of the reasons I feel so strongly about it today.
"At Rosario we have six different nationalities on our books and many Syrian families. Cultural awareness is something I want to push more through workshops and fun days, as the ultimate aim is to create a community hub, with the football spilling over into wider events on wellbeing and nutrition. I want us to integrate more into the community, while having players from all over the city."
Also on the 'to do' list are ambitious plans for redevelopment of the grounds themselves – it is hoped to transform one pitch into a 3G –all weather one – and, further down the line, rejuvenation of the surrounding area, including running track and club house.
"First, though, is the upcoming fundraising centenary ball to be held at Belfast City Hall on October 21 which will be a huge event for everyone," Boyes adds. "It will be a time to reflect on Rosario's fantastic history – while keeping one eye firmly on the future."