I really, really, really like football. I have done as long as I can remember. So many memories from my teen years revolve around the sport-whether getting up at ungodly hours of the morning to watch Match of the Day (I had a mug that played the theme song and everything! It broke after about two weeks and I would occasionally wake up to the jaunty refrain echoing off the walls of the house as it malfunctioned), playing in my school’s team (I was defence, because it’s impossible to get anything past my ego), or heading down to the pub to watch the World Cup with my usually uninterested friends caught up in the excitement of the tournament, it’s always been part of my life. I’m sure there are a bunch of people rolling their eyes right now because, yes, football is pointless and stupid and everyone is overpaid and at the end of the day it essentially means nothing. But it entertains me, and I like pottering around on a Saturday afternoon listening to whatever matches BBC have deemed acceptable to broadcast this week.
But in the last couple of months or so, I’ve had the growing feeling that I’m not….welcome in the football world. I’m not the first to say this, and I won’t be the last, but sometimes I just want to enjoy my football in peace. And by that, I mean without having to justify or prove my interest in it.
I put off writing this article for ages and ages, because there are surely far more important things to concern myself with than whether or not some bloke at the pub thinks I’m only there because I’m trying to impress my boyfriend. But then, twice in two days at university this week, a couple of my tutors made offhand comments about women not being interested in sports. And that’s certainly not the most offensive assumption that I’ve heard about my gender, but it’s still sexism and is still worth talking about, especially when it’s so alright to crack wise about it even in apparently neutral positions of authority.
I could easily list a hundred instances where someone has challenged my interest in football, but you’ve heard them all before: chatting to a guy in the smoking area during half-time and having him ask what team my boyfriend supported, and being surprised when I replied “the same team as me”; having a bloke demand to know the scores of the last three matches my team played in to “prove” I followed the sport; being told, through jokes and quips and outright statements, that women who like sports are an anomaly who are either faking it to impress a guy or unable to possibly comprehend the passion that “real” fans (read: men) have for it. I spoke to my boyfriend-who is just as big an anorak about football as I am- if he’d had similar responses when he’d mentioned his love of the sport, and the answer was a firm no.
And that is, of course, not to mention the actually game itself- fans making sexist jokes about the inclusion of women in the Fifa 16 game, Manchester United fans screaming abuse at a female doctor earlier this year, Andy Grey and Richard Keys joking about how a senior lineswoman would need to offside rule explained to her, etc, etc, ad finitum. Women are not welcomed to the sport the way men are, and that’s just stupid.
I’m sure there are a few football fans reading this and thinking “I don’t care/am happy to see anyone get into football, regardless of gender!”. And you’re golden- this isn’t aimed at you. But, to all those people who hear that a woman likes or is involved with football and feel the need to interrogate her or get her to justify her interest, stop. Stop it. Stop it forever. We’re starting to sea the tide turn-very slowly- on women involved in football, whether that’s on the pitch or in the stands, and every time you demand a woman prove her love for the sport based on whatever arbitrary standards you’ve come up with, you’re pushing in the wrong direction. All I want is to be able to enjoy the sport I love in peace. And if one more person tries, unasked, to explain to offside rule to me, I won’t be responsible for my actions.