“It has been great to see how the women’s game has developed in recent years.
"And as Wolves Women and Wolves RTC (Regional Talent Club) continue to grow, I think the opportunities for female players to get involved in football are only going to increase. In five years or so time, I think there could be a real quality and core of female players out there all wanting to be the next Wolves Women players.”
The words of Steve Cullis, confident in the knowledge that the improvement within the Wolves Women set-up over recent years, and greater involvement with the club, is only going to continue to move in one direction over the future – from strength to strength.
And Cullis is certainly in a good position to comment.
He first joined Wolves Foundation as an apprentice almost 20 years ago, having initially enjoyed a two-week work placement whilst a 14-year old pupil at Deansfield High School, now called St Matthias.
He has progressed through the club’s official charity to the extent that for the last nine years he has worked within the Women and Girls’ side of Wolves’ operation, including two years spent as first team manager, and most recently as Player Development Manager.
After almost two decades, and with the Women’s set-up now so much stronger, Cullis has decided to leave his position in search of new experiences and a new challenge working with West Midlands Police.
It has been an extremely tough decision, but is one he makes purely to try and broaden his horizons in a completely different industry, albeit one in which he will harness and develop the skills built up during an invaluable time whilst employed with the Foundation.
“The main thing I am taking away is that I arrived into what was then Football in the Community as boy, and I leave Wolves Foundation as a man,” he says.
Cullis could never have known the eventual longevity of his association with Wolves’ official charity when first checking in on work experience all those years ago.
As a Wolves fan, he was just delighted to be sampling a taste of life within the club, but at the time harboured no real aspirations to be a football coach.
That soon changed.
Cullis followed up on the work experience by offering to volunteer, learning his trade by supporting staff in weekend and holiday coaching sessions, which led, all the way back in 2003, to becoming one of the charity’s first ever apprentices on the YTS programme.
Although acknowledging the need for a “kick up the backside” in the second year of his training, Cullis was quickly developing a taste for coaching and a taste for leadership, spotting the opportunity to step in at just 17 and run the two-hour ‘Saturday Club’ after one of the senior coaches moved to a new job in America.
“I put myself in the position of managing this weekly session of two hours of activities for young people that set me up for understanding a different side to the business,” he recalls.
“I discovered it wasn’t just about the balls, the cones and putting on sessions out there on the grass, but there were also the managerial and operational aspects behind it.
“As it turned out, having put myself forward to take on those sessions, the club then decided they didn’t need to employ anybody else, and I was able to step up and do that job permanently with all the associated additional responsibilities.
“If it hadn’t been for me taking that little bit of leadership and offering to step up in the short term to take those sessions, I’m not sure I would have made the progress I did to get to where I am now.”
Cullis’s journey then developed pretty much in tandem with the charity as it progressed from Football in the Community, to Wolves Community Trust, and, as it is now, Wolves Foundation.
He went on to manage the Advanced Centre elite programme, then the Futsal delivery, and then, as part of qualifying for his UEFA ‘B’ license, started coaching the girls Under-11s squad.
From there he progressed to the girls Under-13s, then took a leap to the reserve team and soon, when the club parted company with the first team manager, found himself at the helm within the senior ranks.
For someone whose grandad’s cousin was none other than the legend that is Stan Cullis, the most successful manager in Wolves’ history, perhaps it was written in the stars!
“Coaching adults for the first time with the reserve team was a real learning curve, and then becoming first team manager meant my journey had gone full circle, from starting at the bottom of the pyramid with the Under-11s, all the way to the very top,” Cullis explains.
“At the same time I made some internal changes to how we delivered the overall programme to try and create a better pathway and transitional route for our younger female players.
“After two seasons as first team manager I then took over as women and girls technical director which saw me moving away from the coaching aspect to manage the whole operational side of the women’s football programme.
“That was around five years ago, and, for me, I am proud of how we have managed to take the programme from where it was then into now being much closer as a part of the football club and receiving the elite platform that it deserves.”
That is why it feels for Cullis like the right time to make his own personal change, but one in which he will certainly be drawing on many years of experiences from his time with the Foundation.
“There have been ups and downs at the Foundation, as with any job and particularly in football, but what it has given me are experiences and opportunities which have shaped me as a person,” he says.
“And that is what I am going to take into my new career in the Police.
“I have learned about building relationships with people, dealing with conflict, showing empathy – probably qualities which I didn’t even realise I was developing but looking back they were really important and will hopefully make me a good Police Officer moving forward.
“These are things that you can’t necessarily learn on a training course or put on a CV – it is the hands’ on experience which has been fantastic for me over the last 20 years.
“I have only ever worked for one organisation with one lot of experiences and I am looking forward to moving to a different organisation and seeing what they have to offer.
“I will obviously miss the Foundation, and especially the people, who are what have really ‘made’ the job for me, people who are not just colleagues but also friends.
“What I can say without any doubt is that within the Foundation there are some really, really good people, and the amount of progress that has been made over the last five years or so has been phenomenal.
“When I first arrived to Football in the Community, it was pretty much just football coaching, but now there is such an extraordinary range of projects being delivered, and when you think of Feed Our Pack for example, it is going to have such a major impact on the people in the city.
“So yes I will certainly miss the people and the Foundation because it has been such a big part of my life for so long.
“I have no doubt I will probably cry on my last day, thinking about all the memories and saying goodbye, but they will be happy tears to reflect hopefully that I have made a difference and tried to support everyone during my time here.
“The Foundation is brilliant and is only going to go one way and that will be driven by the people involved who are so good at what they do and care so much about the city, their environment and, most importantly, the participants.”
And that takes us back to the Cullis quote at the very start of this article, looking ahead to a bright future for Wolves Women to build upon the progress made in recent years.
“When it comes to the women and girls set-up, I always wanted to leave the programme in a better place than when I started and I feel like I have achieved that,” he concludes.
“In my own head I am content that I have given the best I have for the players, the staff and the programme - everything is in place and it is now the right time for me to move onto my next challenge.
“I think there are so many more people now involved in the women’s game, people are giving so much time and effort to try and push elite female football so it becomes the very best it can be.
“And there is more of a demand around the sport at all levels now – the stigma that was once there is rapidly diminishing and that is credit to the FA in terms of the opportunities and the platform that they have provided.
“These are exciting times, and I am really looking forward to looking in from the outside and seeing how the programme for Wolves Women and girls continues to develop in the future.”