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First lady of Turf Moor Sonya Kilby bows out
WHEN you think of women in football high profile figures such as Karren Brady, the first female managing director of a Premier League club, and Match of the Day host Gabby Logan spring to mind.
But when it comes to Burnley FC, Sonya Kilby is the undisputed first lady of Turf Moor.
Until January 1999 she had only been an occasional spectator as a child with her father.
But the Clarets became the Kilby family’s baby when husband Barry became the majority shareholder, and subsequently chairman, over 13 years ago, and Sonya was bitten by the Burnley bug.
She has lived through the good times (two promotions and a season in the Premier League) and the bad times (loss of millions of pounds worth of promised revenue following the collapse of ITV Digital, manager Owen Coyle quitting and relegation back to the Championship).
On Saturday she experienced something for the last time - a home game as Mrs Chairman.
Barry is to step down from his role at the club later this month to focus all of his energies on his health.
The 63-year-old was diagnosed with cancer in November last year.
Although he intends to remain on the board of directors, Sonya accepts their future in football will be different.
But it is thanks to her that women are treated much better at Turf Moor than they were when Barry first took charge.
“It was men only in the boardroom, the ladies were tucked away in a room the size of a cupboard,” she recalled.
“We were given one bottle of wine that was kept in a locked-up sideboard, and our cut of meat always had to be a cheaper cut than the one the men got.
“Very early on, when Barry was away on business, I came to a match with our son Tom, who was about four at the time.
“At the end Frank Teasdale said, ‘We’ll go now. I’ll turn the lights off and you get the Hoover’.”
Former chairman Teasdale was only joking, but such was the attitude towards women in that era, Sonya took him seriously.
But it was not long before she broke down those social barriers.
“I have this brash persona and people think ‘Sonya wears the trousers’. If only they knew! I might be louder than Barry but I know my place,” she revealed.
“But we said ‘listen, we’re going to spend so much time here, I’m not going to be sat in a room away from you. If we can’t sit together and can’t have a meal together it seems pretty pointless’.”
Sonya was soon to have a role in behind-the-scenes business, as in 2002 she was involved in a covert operation which led to one of the club’s most high profile signings, former England striker Paul Gascoigne.
“We’ve had some brilliant moments when we were signing Gazza and he came undercover one night to our house in a blacked out Mercedes,” she revealed.
“I couldn’t even tell the kids what was happening,” she said.
Over the last 13 and a half years, Sonya has proved herself a very good host at Turf Moor too since breaking boardroom ranks.
“We always come into the boardroom after a match and have a few drinks with friends or visiting directors, and we usually let the bar staff go because things are talked about that maybe you want to be kept private,” she said.
“On those occasions I would manage the bar.
“I don’t feel I will have the right to do that and run this room (the boardroom) as I have been.
“That will stop and it will be odd.”
Burnley have yet to announce a successor for Barry. Sonya is adamant there is no temptation to take the reins.
“No, I have enough to do at home looking after Barry and Tom,” she said.
“It’s been great to be Barry’s prop, but I think we’re ready for a change.”