A late submission to football chat…
I first decided football wasn’t for me sometime in the late 1980s when, with a Dons-supporting boyfriend at Pittodre, the opposition substituted a black player. The racism shocked and sickened me. That these ordinary folk in the stand beside me had brought a banana with them to express their feelings about this chap horrified me. What was going on in their heads? It was them that should have been in a zoo. What were they teaching the sons (for it was mostly boys) they brought with them to the game. My soon-to-be-ex boyfriend thought the flying fruit and the monkey grunts were funny.
30 years on, we have coloured players in most teams, homosexuals too and, now, a women’s world cup on the actual telly. Job done? Give ourselves a pat on the back, then.
Not quite. This is, clearly, a very long game.
To illustrate: One of the football lores is that women don’t understand the offside rule. One day, keen to bust the myth, I learned it. Did that turn me into a new breed of super soccer supporter? Of course not, it turned me into a woman who had learned a fairly simple thing to prove a point, in the pub a couple of times.
Since that horrible day in Aberdeen and a couple of recitations about players being in line with each other, my football conversations had been limited to the ‘your shin pads will be where you took them off’ and ‘hurry up or we’ll be late for training’ variety.
But recently, I’ve had several conversations about the Beautiful Game, all of which have left me gasping with frustration. Here are some points I need to make:
Of course, you are allowed to watch it and decide that ‘women’s football is shit’. However, objective judgement of the quality of the play is not, alone, sexist, but not giving it context is.
Expecting something that looks the same as men’s football is naive. It’s like saying: ‘well, you’ve got the vote and equal pay legislation, what are you still making a fuss about? If there’s any equality left, it’s probably because you didn’t try hard enough or you’re not good enough.’
Why? Men’s football has been developed, celebrated and invested in for more than a hundred years. Women’s hasn’t. This means that there is a huge pool of boys who see footballers as heroes, who play at school, in the street, in the park, whose dads play, who get taken to games, who get to follow a clear pathway from children’s clubs (yes, I know girls are allowed), through youth development and into the professional sport. Women don’t.
Yes, the young women – the country’s elite – are professionals (earning typically in a year what the men earn in a week) so this is their job. But it’s not just about them and their (adequate for an ordinary job but not for people at the top of the game and dealing with sexism and other shades of bullshit, and certainly not enough to retire on so they need to think of the future too) salaries. They are the very beginning of a change, not its happy ending.
Let’s look at society. Obviously, these days no one is stopping girls from playing football alongside the boys. At least I don’t think so. It’s not a problem, because by the time they’re about 10 the girls have mostly stopped playing football. I don’t know why, but I doubt they woke up at puberty having suddenly lost their love for football. There is a bigger, more complicated thing going on. Admittedly not one that can be solved on the football pitch alone, but it’s part of the picture.
How about that idea that women just don’t have the passion for the sport. Sure they watch but, I was told, look, male football fans are the only true in-for-life, more-than-just-a-game fans, evidenced by the heartbreak, the tears, the real emotions. There’s truth here – men’s emotions about football are deep. Why wouldn’t they be? For many, it’s the only acceptable place for them to show their feelings. Man-up, macho types don’t let themselves cry anywhere else, so how much bottled up other stuff is released at the final whistle?
If you watched the women’s football and found it wanting, I’ve got some questions for you:
- Do you understand why? Do you care?
- Are you only interested in the skills on this pitch now, or does the future matter?
- Do you really want equality or was it just lip service?