Big interview: Katy Feeney on being a principal, mum of four and a footballer’s wife

GRAEME COUSINS chats to Katy Feeney about being a NI school principal, a mum of four and a footballer’s wife

Monday, 14th June 2021, 9:00 am
Banbridge High School principal Katy Feeney
Banbridge High School principal Katy Feeney

Juggling life as a school principal and mother of four is made slightly easier for Katy Feeney by the fact her husband Warren is focused on football on the other side of Europe.

The 42-year-old from England was installed in February as the new head of Banbridge High School while Warren, a former Northern Ireland international, is shaking things up in the top Bulgarian football division as manager of FC Pirin Blagoevgrad.

Katy said: “I don’t have the social life that comes with him being here which means I can prioritise my time because there really aren’t enough hours in the day.

Katy and Warren met when the striker was playing for Bournemouth

“If I’m going to do something I like to do it properly and fully, and I like to go back on it and do it again.

“I enjoy it – I don’t think anything of getting four hours sleep at night because I enjoy the work that I do.

“That’s my life. I’ve chosen to have four children. They’re always busy – they’re here, there and everywhere. That’s just the way it is.

“Warren being home can sometimes be more trouble than it’s worth. There’s never a dull moment.”

The Feeney family - Warren and Katy with Lucy, George, Darcy and Holly

Of being a footballer’s wife Katy commented: “I don’t think I’ve ever been a WAG because Warren is high maintenance.

“I don’t have a chance to sip cocktails and go shopping because I’ve always been mopping up and brushing up after him.

“For me, there are a lot of footballers wives and girlfriends who potentially get a reputation of not necessarily pursuing a career, but that was never ever going to be for me.

“Especially with four children, especially if you’re not a multimillionaire, football is a hard career. Once it’s finished it’s finished and you’ve got to re-advocate, re-adjust.

Northern Ireland strike partners Warren Feeney and David Healy celebrate a goal against Iceland in a Euro 2008 qualifier . PHOTO MARK PEARCE/PACEMAKER

“Warren did that quite well but there were times when he was out of a job and I feel really grateful my job and my profession can support my family alone.

“For as much as I do like all the nice things in life, I’m more than prepared to earn them for myself.

“Football is definitely not the world that it’s portrayed, especially lower down the leagues.”

Katy first met Warren when he was playing for Bournemouth: “It was my first year teaching in London, my sister Jilly was going out with another Bournemouth player – Stephen Purches. He’s now their assistant manager.

George Feeney could be a chip off the old block

“I went out with my sister and that’s how I met Warren. I went out for her 21st birthday and got a lot more than I bargained for.”

In 2002 Katy left London and moved to her hometown of Bournemouth to be with Warren.

She has been in the teaching profession nearly 20 years.

Katy commented: “I’ve had four children in between all that and followed Warren around the country. It’s within the last 10 to 12 years when I’ve got my career back on track.”

Together they have four children - Lucy is 16, Darcy is 14, George is 13, Holly is 11

At the minute they all go to school in Belfast, but in September their youngest, Holly, will be joining Katy as a pupil at Banbridge High School.

The family moved to Northern Ireland in 2019 when Warren became manager of Ards, but by the end of the year he was off on his travels again.

Katy said: “For the first time in a long time we were all going to live together and then Warren then got the call from the Bulgarian team, they wanted to take him.

“The kids were settled so I’m afraid Warren was going to have to go on his own.

“Unfortunately with Covid it’s meant we’ve hardly been able to get there and he’s hardly been able to get home.

“We went over for five weeks last summer holidays, we’ve been over the February before that for half term and October half term as well. It’s really nice, the children all came with us.”

Reflecting on her family’s situation Katy said: “I very much doubt we’re destined to all be in the same place at the same time.

“Even when we were young and we had the kids we were also resigned to the fact that my career was really important to me, Warren’s was really important to him, and somehow we had to make it work for both of us.

“I certainly have no intention leaving, we’re settled, we’re very happy here.

“I’m new to this school, there’s lots to do, it’s an exciting challenge for me.”

Of Warren’s latest football adventure in Bulgaria, Katy said: “I’m just so glad he’s able to go and help build the club. They’ve done really well, got promoted to the top league.

“I’m so proud, it’s a good message for me to share with my students and my kids, that if you want something you have to make sacrifices for it.”

Katy said that when she was starting out her teaching journey she took every opportunity she could to get the experience necessary to lead a school.

She said: “Coming here and going to Newry High was exactly what I needed. The step from English education to Northern Irish would maybe have been too much if I hadn’t had that period as vice principal, allowing me to understand the system.

“There are an abundance of strengths at Banbridge High School to build on which I am extremely thankful for. It’s planning for the next three to five years, what do we want to do better.

“Even when you are the best of the best you still need to be outwards facing, you still need to be driving for more improvements. I’m never, ever satisfied – if there’s one single student that isn’t getting quite the right deal then I want to carry on and make that right for them.

“We’re in a difficult situation like all schools across the UK with financial restrictions. It is a challenge, it is about priotirising the needs of every single student.

“Some of the jobs the children in school now are going to be doing in five or 10 years don’t even exist. It’s about giving students the best possible outcomes and the best possible opportunities, but also teaching them that manners and kindness go a hell of a long way in the world.”

‘I’ll help mop the floors if that’s what’s needed’

Katy took up her role as principal of Banbridge High when the school was empty due to lockdown.

She said it wasn’t an entirely bad situation in terms of getting starting: “My first day was Monday, February 15 – it was half term. The week after that the children were all off still and we were remote learning.

“The good thing with that meant that I had three or four weeks of just staff in school so I was able to go round and meet them and develop relationships with them and then plan and navigate a way for when year 12 to year 14 returned on March 22. After Easter the whole school came back.

“For as much as they weren’t all here it was nice in the respect I did get that time with staff which I definitely wouldn’t have had in a normal context.”

She said pastoral care and safeguarding pupils was of huge importance to her: “My door is always open. I can do all the figures and the finance and the curriculum planning when I get home, when I’m here I want to be able to support the students, and equally staff.

“Everybody comes to work to do their very best and I think teaching, especially in the last two years with Covid – it’s not an easy job.

“For me, my biggest priority when I’m here is to foster those relationships and support the staff and the students to the very best of my ability.

“If that means helping the caretaker mop the floor, covering a lesson, sorting out a child that’s cut their knee then I’m more than happy to muck in.”

‘Windsor welcome made me feel like part of the NI family’

Katy said she already felt at home in Northern Ireland before she moved to the Province.

She said: “Over the years whenever Warren was back for a match at Windsor Park, we would come over.

“I think George was six days old the first time I brought him with me.

“There’s something really special about the people over here, they are really welcoming and they are really friendly. I think that’s why I felt so at home when we moved here.

“I felt that throughout the whole time Warren played for Northern Ireland. I’d still be in touch with Grant McCann’s wife, Steven Davis’ wife as well. They’re really lovely, family people.

“When we moved here I already felt like a token Northern Irish person.”

She added: “I don’t think the Green and White Army would ever be anything but that extra man.

“Northern Irish players for the last 15 to 20 years have been saying the same thing, that those fans really make a difference.

“I can’t wait to safely get back to packed stadiums.”

George could become fourth generation to answer country’s call

If Warren’s son George goes on the play for Northern Ireland he will be the fourth generation from the Feeney family to do so.

Although he’s also eligible to play for Wales or England, Katy said her son, who goes to Ashfield Boys School, has firmly pledged his allegiance to the Green and White Army.

Katy said: “He’s at Glentoran, he played for Exeter City before we moved here. He’s got the potential to follow in his dad’s footsteps.

“If he does play for Northern Ireland he’ll be the fourth generation Northern Irish footballer from the Feeney family.”

George was born in Wales and grew up in England, but Katy doesn’t expect a three way tug of war.

She said: “If you ask George he’d always say Northern Ireland. He has all his dad’s shirts and caps, all of Warren’s dad’s caps (Warren Feeney Snr) and all his granddad’s caps (Jim Feeney) in his bedroom.”

When Katy taught at Ivybridge Community College in Devon she managed its sporting academies: “We had a football academy in association with Plymouth Argyle and Exeter City, we had a rugby academy with Exeter Chiefs and we developed a netball academy.

“We had elite sports children coming right through our school and accessing additional training and then curriculum that would allow them to have that sporting qualification so they could go on to the next level.”

Having seen the benefits of offering pupils the necessary qualifications to pursue a career in sport, Katy is establishing a soccer academy at her new school with the help of Glasgow Rangers FC.

She said: “They’re going to be running three B Techs, three A-level equivalents, as a package.

“Not everyone is going to make it as a professional footballer unfortunately but there are fantastic jobs within football, within sport, that they can work towards, the majority that you need a degree towards. Things like marketing, sports science, physiotherapy. This package will give them what they need to go on to degree courses.

“Rangers are riding on the crest of great success. Another good friend of Warren’s would be Steven Davis. We’re looking forward to forging those links.”

Asked if she was a football fan, Katy said: “Oh yes, always. Every single club that Warren has played for we’ve been a fan when he’s there. You build relationships with players and backroom staff and fans ultimately. You look up how that team’s got on.

“Bournemouth would be close to my heart because Stephen has been there most of his career. We always look out for them.

“We’ve still got an apartment in Bournemouth. Not that we ever get a chance to go back but at least it’s there.”

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