Women and Football: How hard can it be?

It's difficult to love football being a girl, as Beth Crow has found out over the years to her frustration.

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Photograph: Gustave Deghilage

I really like football. Like, really, really like football. Why is that a problem? Because I also happen to be a girl, and sometimes that can be pretty challenging.

My love affair with the beautiful game began aged around nine or ten. Brimming with jealousy that my dad was taking my brother to matches, rather than me, I joined my primary school football team (as the only girl) – and was promptly put in goal. Looking back, I realise this was definitely not down to my stunning goalkeeping skills. At primary school, the ‘not-so-great’ kid gets to go in goal. Or the girl.

I sprained my groin in the first week, and my brief flirtation as a player ended there. But I still wanted to know more. Come 2003, Manchester City were creeping back into top flight football, with a new stadium to boot. I remember my first game, at the then City of Manchester Stadium, like it was yesterday. Aston Villa, we won 6-2.

I was a blessed good luck charm; we always won when I was there. It meant I got a decent pick of games, from a shared season ticket with my brother – who I’m still not sure could explain the offside rule. That being said, when my dad brought me along to City-QPR on May 19th 2012 – a fellow fan, who we knew through years of sitting together at matches, loudly asked ‘what the f*** have your brought her for?!’. Clearly it was my brother, the male, who should have been witnessing history being made.

I remember once sitting in a pub quiz declaring that the answer was ‘definitely Mascherano’, but I was cut short. A girl couldn’t possibly know! A former work colleague of mine had this great calendar with a new football trivia question every day. At least then, I was asked the questions. Although suspiciously they stopped coming my way when I was the only person who knew that Harry Redknapp’s managerial career began at Bournemouth. Coincidence, I think not.

I appreciate that being able to name all 92 Football League teams amongst other various useless bits of trivia, does not a football fanatic make. Whilst the ‘women don’t understand the offside rule’ line is hilarious, what’s even more laughable is the explanation of the offside rule for women. It’s something about shopping with friends, shoes and purses. Now, I like shopping, shoes and football – but that explanation makes absolutely no sense to me. Nor does the need to bring it down to a simplistic ‘female level’.

I very clearly remember the 2009 edition of Football Manager. The option to be a female manager was introduced, which was great for equality and all that. What was less great though, was that in every press conference, you’d be asked about the plight of being a woman in such a male-oriented industry. It’s such a shame there wasn’t an option to respond with ‘are you leading Norwich City to Champions League glory? Didn’t think so.’ Which funnily enough is also a story that nobody wants to hear from a girl.

On a more serious note of calling out sexism within the game, we only have to look back at the terrible loss to football commentary that was Andy Gray. Sacked for saying ‘can you believe that? A female linesman? Women don’t know the offside rule’ into an accidentally switched on microphone. A case of bad timing? It’s tricky to believe that such derogatory comments would be passed about Sian Massey’s male counterparts. I attended a game last season where Massey was officiating, and the buzz of my surrounding fans was more focussed on her presence than the actual game itself. It wasn’t rude or offensive, but it was enough to take away from what was actually going on; what we, the fans, were actually there for.

Recently, Chelsea medic Eva Carneiro came under fire from manager Jose Mourinho for ‘unnecessarily’ attending to the injured Hazard. Whether she was subject to the Special One’s criticism in a professional capacity or due to her gender is unknown, but it wouldn’t be the first time that it was for the latter. Subjected to horrific chants from so-called ‘fans’ at the Chelsea-Manchester United match last season, it would be easy, and not totally out of the question to suggest that it was because of the latter.

I can’t kick a ball to save my life, but experience from friends who can shows the difficulties for female players. One, a teacher, took an FA coaching course. One of two women participating, she was advised by the course leaders that they would ‘go easy on her’. Coaching the girls’ team at school is no easier. The boys miss lessons to go to matches. The girls had to withdraw from a schools’ cup, as it wasn’t deemed a suitable use of their time.

At elite or amateur player level, at national commentary or having a pint in the pub, oppression to women in football is an ever-present issue, that isn’t being red carded any time soon. That being said, if anyone fancies a friendly game of FIFA or watching City (hopefully) do a Newcastle and putting six past their opponents at the weekend, you know where to find me!