Will women’s football ever be coming home?

There I am, nervously sat sweating outside the interview room alongside 10 other candidates for a prestigious legal scholarship. The gender ratio was 8 males to 2 females. As the silence among us grew ever more uncomfortable, a conversation began between a couple of the male interviewees about the Champion’s League final that had only taken place a few days earlier.

Praise be to the heavens I thought to myself, this is something I can get on board with.

The lads started discussing the foul against Mo Salah by Sergio Ramos, and whether it was deliberate or not.

Man 1: That Ramos is dirty, he did it on purpose if you ask me.

Man 2: Nah mate come on, they just fell awkwardly there was nothing either of them could do about that.

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I spotted that there was a clear stalemate, and someone needed to take matters into their own hands to sway the debate. I turned to them and said:

I personally think it was deliberate. If you look at the stats around Ramos and the cards he receives, its more likely that he played for the tactical foul. Despite how dirty he appears to be, I would probably still have him in my fantasy team.

**silence**

Both of them looked at me and blinked, almost astounded and offended that I waded into their football discussions.

You like football? They asked.

Yes I love it actually.

Then came the barrage of questions:

What team do you support? Did you watch all of the champions league games? What’s the name of the manager of Spurs? What position are you in the league table? You ever seen a live game?

Alright boys calm down, I thought we were discussing the Champion’s League tackle against Mo Salah. Didn’t realise this had become an exercise in proving my authenticity and knowledge of the beautiful game?

And therein lies the problem surrounding gendered assumptions of football fandom and the All Boys Football Club.

It is assumed that men can rely on football to form relationships and it’s part of social etiquette. Football becomes a medium through which men can form their identities. Women can’t infiltrate without first proving that they have something to bring to the party that isn’t all about which football player they ‘fancy the most.’ On this topic, I surveyed some female fans who had this to say:

‘This quiz on your football knowledge to prove your authenticity is never extended to men when a conversation strikes up about football. Makes me feel like I need to get a United tattoo and walk around with a MOTD magazine attached to my hand just to avoid the questioning.’

So why is this?

Well, it all starts with a bit of history of how women were excluded from football. After the first world war, women’s football drew big crowds before the sport was banned by the FA. The FA is not an organisation that is known for its enlightened thinking, but their justification was that football simply ‘wasn’t suited’ to women, and the money raised at women’s football matches wasn’t all going to charity so they had to step in. Yes, that’s right. Women weren’t allowed to earn money playing football, all proceeds had to go to charity. Whilst this is not me criticising the philanthropic endeavors and positive impact donations have, this demonstrates how the early 20th century FA thought that professional football as a viable career opportunity for women was preposterous. This ban lasted 50 years.

Has the FA moved forward? Obviously not. Naturally, the impacts of this are still being felt today, both in terms of female employment and wages, advertisement for big competitions, and on social norms. Anyone remember this old chestnut of a tweet from the FA following our Lionesses third place finish at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup?

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Name a more blatant example of patriarchal expectations and the domestication of female athletes – I’ll wait.

But these gendered expectations, and subsequent limitations, don’t only hurt women. So foundational is football to social situations that any lack of interest on behalf of some men is often considered ‘unusual’: non-masculine, feminine or queer.

When constructing this blog I asked some of my male friends what football means to them in social surroundings. One of my pals had this to say:

It’s a go to whenever there is an awkward silence. I’ve used it at assessment centres as well as when I am introduced to a new group of friends. You can always bond over the football, so long as you keep your personal allegiances out the frame!

Another friend, who is a skiing fanatic said:

I often find myself left out of large male circles on my team at work. When I tell them I like skiing and I don’t follow the Premier League so much, I find that a social barrier is instantly created and I am isolated from conversation.

Whilst these examples are anecdotal, they serve as interesting sociological testimonies that, when coupled with the specific standard of masculinity that dominates the history of football and its fandom, paint a pretty grim picture. This isn’t a men vs women debate, this is unfair gender assumptions v humanity.

After a summer of unbelievable Men’s FIFA World Cup highs and the impact it has had on unifying a Brexit Britain, we hope here at the Sweat Threat that the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup will have an equally positive reception. Will it represent a turning point in appreciation for women’s involvement in football, especially now it is being televised on the main BBC channels? Will the pubs be packed to the rafters, with The Lightning Seeds classic turning punters’ faces purple as they sing along? And, more importantly, will those sports fans (of any gender) who don’t particularly care for football, get to continue living their lives without fear of societal excommunication?

Our fingers are crossed.

Come on Lionesses, bring it home.

 

Ellie Martin

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