Belfast Telegraph

Ulster woman in Sunderland hot seat

By Robert Jones

Margaret Byrne is the Northern Ireland woman fast becoming one of the most influential figures in the man's world of British football.

Margaret's story is a remarkable one with the latest chapter set to involve the appointment of the new Sunderland manager, potentially giving the Stadium of Light a distinct Ulster feel should Martin O'Neill be handed the job.

As Sunderland's chief executive, Byrne will play a key role in bringing in the replacement for Steve Bruce, who was sacked on Wednesday.

That's in the short term. In the years ahead the clever and insightful 31-year-old from Dromintee, just outside Newry, will have a major say on how the English game is run.

That's because last month Margaret was voted on to the FA Council ahead of Liverpool's managing director Ian Ayre.

The FA Council, which consists of elected representatives from the Premier League, Football League, County FAs and the non-executive board of The Football Association, decide the major policies of the governing body of English football. It's a prestigious and hugely important position to hold.

Not bad for the County Armagh lady, who sees herself as a country girl at heart.

Growing up, she never imagined her life would see her as a lone female voice in male dominated boardrooms, but it's under

stood she more than holds her own, bringing a clear, analytical mind and astute ideas to the table.

Miss Byrne began her career in law, after gaining a place at London's highly regarded BBP Law School. It was a lot different to home.

She recalls: “There was this massive difference in culture I was trying to get my head around. London felt like such a big city and I was a country girl.”

Margaret had intended returning to Northern Ireland after qualifying as a solicitor, but landed a training contract with top London firm Galbraith Branley, where she spent two years, working mainly on criminal cases, which incidentally are also a fascination of O'Neill's.

Five years ago the job of company secretary at Sunderland came up and Miss Byrne was successful in her application.

“It was a big change from what I was used to, everything was new and football is a very fast-changing environment,” she says.

Byrne, though, it seems is clearly keeping up with the pace having joined the Sunderland board and become legal director in 2009 before being promoted to the post of chief executive earlier this year. She also sits on the Premier League Legal Advisory Group.

While her own career continues to flourish, this legal eagle is determined that Sunderland will soar too.

“We want to be in Europe, that’s where we want to be, and that’s where we should be. We want to be as successful as possible,” says Byrne who was recently short-listed for the UK’s solicitor of the year award.

The Ulster woman's ambition to take Sunderland far is evident. O'Neill or whoever gets the manager's role at the Stadium of Light will have a big job on their hands.

Belfast Telegraph


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