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There’s something special about standing in the tunnel at Hunter Stadium on match day.

From the smell of freshly painted line markings through to the waft of pre-game deep heat and the cheer of the Knights faithful, the inner sanctum of the stadium is a diverse place.

Just ask Wendy Carmichael, the Newcastle Knights General Manager of Community Support.  

In her role working with a vast array of people in the local community, Carmichael regularly takes guests down to the tunnel on match day to appreciate all the behind-the-scenes action. 

"It's great because you're right down there at grass level, you can see the pitch and smell it," Carmichael enthuses.

"The players are also all around and doing what they have to do to prepare to achieve incredible feats of sport.

"But then you look in the crowd and there are so many different ages, sizes, races and creeds.

"Yet they are all there for that one singular purpose and there is nothing better than just standing down there and soaking all of that up.

"Because then you think, 'this is why I do what I do every day'.

"We have a club here who wants to service its community and why wouldn’t you.”

Flash back almost 20 years when Carmichael first arrived in Australia from Scotland and working for the Knights was the furthest thing from her mind.   

After completing a Joint Honours degree in Economics and Business Law at University in Glasgow, she moved to Newcastle to rejoin her family who had migrated three years earlier and to follow her dreams of working for a not-for-profit charity organisation. 

At this point, Carmichael didn't even know what rugby league was let alone have aspirations of working in the sports field.

That said though, growing up as a passionate Glasgow Rangers football fan she still had an appreciation for how sport can bring people together.

“We're sporting people," she says frankly.  

"I mean, you don't live in Glasgow in Scotland and not attend sporting matches.

“Yeah it’s football and not rugby league, but it’s the same thing in terms of passion.

"We’ve got a hybrid family where you’ve got splits between Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers.

"My step father is Celtic and my brother is Rangers, so if I was honest I was probably more Rangers.

"So we do like major sporting events and attending them."

Carmichael may have been raised a football tragic, but her family still went out of their way to immerse themselves in the locals love for league. 

From attending games to joining up as members, they quickly discovered how much the Knights mean to the entire Hunter region.   

"It’s about understanding where you live," she says.

"So we were in Newcastle to find common ground. To understand the community we were living in.

"What drives and inspires the community and how to do we become part of that.

"It's why my family became members of the club for years.

"My first experiences of rugby league was coming to Australia, going to Knights games and watching State of Origin.

"I guess because it was such a habitual part of life in NSW and Queensland.

"When I was young and here in the pubs, it was those games that were on.

"It was mid 90s and so basically rugby league was everything to everyone."

Carmichael was well and truly a Novocastrian, but her first job in Australia was two hours down in the road in Sydney.         

Based at the CSIRO facilities in Epping, she worked for a joint Australian and British funded scientific research facility as a head of administration. 

The role also involved plenty of travel to a second facility, the Siding Spring Observatory in Coonabarabran in North West NSW.

"My job there was all the business functions of the facility, a lot of asset management when you are dealing with expensive scientific equipment," she explains.

"It was an interesting place to work with a lot of very clever people.

"It was inspiring as well, because all I’ve ever wanted is to work with people who push me to be the best that I could be.

"They were also very willing to share their expertise."

Carmichael was with the CSIRO in Sydney for three years, but found it difficult with her family in Newcastle.

She travelled a round trip over almost five hours via the train every day and admits it became tiresome. 

“They were long days, but I loved the work," she recalls.

“After about a year I got to work Monday’s at home, which was good.

“That definitely kept me there longer."

During this time, Carmichael still kept eyes open for jobs in Newcastle.

After months of looking, she eventually found an opportunity advertised in the local paper for a Breast Cancer research group who were looking for a business manager.

The research group had a national and international reach and were focused on treatment and prevention strategies for women who have breast cancer.

Carmichael started as business manager with 10 full-time employees and left three years ago as the CEO with 60 employees and a turnover of $20 million from multiple funding streams.

"It was again another great experience and really good to be a part of an organisation that was clearly in a major growth period," she says.

"There were major changes to that research group in the time I was there.

"Working with a board and seeing those achievements over time was really satisfying." 

Carmichael was with the Breast Cancer research group for 14 years, before being approached by the Hunter Sports Group to oversee the Group's community and charity support activities.

For Carmichael it was finally a chance to work with the sporting team she first fell in love with upon arrival in Australia back in the early 90s.    

“My initial reaction to the offer from the Knights was, ‘yes I probably am keen’," she grins.

“I’m always looking for something different to do.

“I didn’t have any experience in the sporting field at all, but have always been aware of how important the Newcastle Knights are to this region and the kind of passion it evokes in people."

In the ensuing two years, Carmichael has played a leading role at the Knights in a number of community initiatives. 

She is currently involved in setting up a foundation for injured player Alex McKinnon, while she also has a hands on role in the organisation of the 'Rise for Alex' round of the Telstra Premiership in Round 19.

Carmichael says it's programs like these that proves a rugby league club is about so much more than results on the weekend.     

"Of course it’s a business that has sponsors and money involved, but they are owned by those who support them," she says.

"You are public property and people’s hopes, dreams and aspirations are all bound up in your brand and what you do week-in and week-out.

"So it’s not that different to working for charity, where people have a passion for breast cancer.

"The core of the organisation is something other than profit.

"Because for so many people, just 20 minutes of a players time at an event lasts 20 years afterwards.

"That’s the feedback that we get when we take players out. It might only be an hour of your time, but we’ll be talking about it for days or weeks later."


Carmichael's story of achievement is a particularly fitting one given it's the NRL's annual Women in League Round. 

She says her personal tale is proof that other women can also play a crucial role in the sporting world.   

"Women in sport is extremely important," she stresses.

"In the past there has definitely been a glass ceiling to women involved in sports admin and they were pigeonholed into female roles.

"That still exits, but I think the game is attracting a lot smarter interested women.

"Because they see that there are opportunities there from the junior league to within a professional organisation like the Knights and everything in between.

"I would encourage other women to look at sport and rugby league, because it’s a really dynamic environment with a cross-section of people.

“I certainly didn’t choose this path, but I don’t regret where I’ve ended up at all.”