Fashionista Julie Anne Quay goes from New York fashion shows to the EFL! She unexpectedly becomes a part-owner at Barnsley and aims to take the team to the Premier League following an extensive transformation.

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Every six weeks New York fashionista Julie Anne Quay leaves her home in Manhattan and her company – which has worked with the likes of Khloe Kardashian and Justin Bieber – to head to a Premier Inn in South Yorkshire.

The Australia-raised businesswoman founded global music, pop culture and fashion brand VFILES and is a leading name in the catwalk world. She is also director and minority owner of Barnsley Football Club.

‘I love it at the Premier Inn!’ she tells Mail Sport from a corporate box at Oakwell before waxing lyrical about the northern town that has become her second home. 

‘New York is New York and I love it, but there’s plenty going on here let me tell you! I was in Starbucks this morning and there were kids dressed in full goth. I was like: “whoa, guys, you look amazing”. And they’re like: “Who is this weirdo talking to me?” Trust me – it’s not so different!’

American fashionista Julie Anne Quay is a director and minority owner at Barnsley

American fashionista Julie Anne Quay is a director and minority owner at Barnsley

Quay is determined to restore stability at the club and secure Championship promotion

Quay is determined to restore stability at the club and secure Championship promotion

Quay and her husband made the unlikely leap, joining a small group of investors in the club in 2017. Both originally from Melbourne, they shared a love of football (their daughter represented Australia at youth level). 

‘We’re massive fans of the game. We did all the research. We love brands. When I became a director I researched Barnsley further and found this incredible history. It’s an unscripted drama of 137 years and that show is still running. Barnsley won the FA Cup in 1912 – I think only 44 clubs can say that. It’s a huge achievement’

Initially, the pair took a back seat, watching games via subscriptions from across the Atlantic. But when Barnsley finished bottom of the Championship in 2022, just 12 months after losing a play-off final that would have propelled them to the Premier League, they decided to act.

‘We had no role,’ Quay says. ‘Zero. We’d make phone calls and ask what was going on to be told “everything is fine”. We were like: “No, it’s not!” At the beginning you take a minority investment and you let the club run and you enjoy it. But all of a sudden it was going to absolute s*** and you just can’t sit back anymore.’

What has been described as a ‘boardroom coup’ followed, with deeply unpopular chairmen Paul Conway and Chien Lee retaining a stake but leaving the scene of the crime. Quay remains restricted in what she can say legally, but she was added to a new board along with fellow investor and chairman Neerav Parekh.

Barnsley finished rock bottom of the second tier in 2022, spurring Quay on to step in

Barnsley finished rock bottom of the second tier in 2022, spurring Quay on to step in

Quay and the board opted for a makeover after Barnsley were booted out of the FA Cup

Quay and the board opted for a makeover after Barnsley were booted out of the FA Cup

It has been a bumpy ride. While last season they made the League One play-off final, only to suffer a heartbreaking loss to neighbours Sheffield Wednesday, in November Barnsley were booted out of the FA Cup for fielding an ineligible player. Quay and the board decided it was time for a makeover.

‘I can’t even put into words how upset we were about that,’ she says. ‘So avoidable. Like, just silly errors. I was like “this cannot happen”. This is the FA Cup, the most prestigious football tournament in the world. Enough.’

A wide-ranging restructuring took place. Jon Flatman, who worked on the rugby league world cup, was installed as chief executive. Ann Hough arrived as head of football operations and club secretary following more than 30 years at nearby Huddersfield Town. Fresh appointments have bolstered the PR and HR departments. 

‘Let’s put some adults in the building,’ Quay adds. ‘You can’t lead without leaders, smart people who are connected by the right intention.’

So what is the intention for a club that in 1997-98 had one, memorable dance in the Premier League and which currently looks set for another shot at the League One play-offs? 

Barnsley had one memorable Premier League dance but is set for another play-off shot

Barnsley had one memorable Premier League dance but is set for another play-off shot

Quay believes that a unified club from top to bottom will guarantee success on the pitch

Quay believes that a unified club from top to bottom will guarantee success on the pitch

‘This has always been a club of possibilities and opportunity,’ Quay says. ‘Let’s take those. It’s little things like this tablecloth (she points to the table) – you know it has been pressed and the room is set up, it’s ready to go. It wasn’t always like that here. If everyone’s pulling in the same direction, the team will be successful on the pitch.

‘We have got to get back to the Championship and make a run for the Premier League every now and then but we also have to be solid and stable.’

To get there may well be expensive. The board have already injected around £10m in a relatively short space of time. Quay and her husband, who hold a stake of around 10 per cent, are clearly not in this for a rapid return on investment. 

‘There’s two ways you can look at it, right?’ she says. ‘One is I’ll invest, I’ll sit tight and then I’ll sell. But the other is where you invest in projects that give back to you personally and professionally. The club gives you gives back so much more. 

‘It’s something you can’t put a price on. Being an investor in Barnsley Football Club is very much being part of a community. And so that has immense personal and emotional value to our family.’

Quay aims to cast the net wider and attract supporters from beyond Barnsley's boundaries

Quay aims to cast the net wider and attract supporters from beyond Barnsley’s boundaries

In her ‘other’ life Quay provides a platform for fashion designers to showcase their skills and tell their stories. They appear to be skills she will need here.

‘Football cannot just be viewed as buying and selling players,’ she says. ‘It needs to be more than just that. You see the Wrexham content, huge revenue drivers that in football are non-traditional, right? It’s your storytelling, your content, your retail, your merchandising.’

It is a contested marketplace. Barnsley are surrounded by the two Sheffield clubs to the south and Leeds United to the north, with Rotherham and Doncaster around the corner. Manchester is close enough to impact. 

Quay says the aim is to cast the net wider. To attract supporters from beyond the Barnsley boundaries. ‘You want people to follow your club because of what you stand for,’ she explains. ‘Not just because you’re born in the local hospital. 

‘We owe it to those people to be successful but we also have to build an audience around the world. You do that through your storytelling and we have great stories to tell here.’ From Premier Inn to Premier League would make a great title.

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