It can be a wee bit of an odd experience going to matches while being female. Guys will shout and swear at every cunt on the park, then turn and apologise to me – or weirder, to my dad – as if I wasn’t also getting stuck in. Stewards conducting searches will look away awkwardly and gesture you through – their training obviously doesn’t equip them for the presence of those women types. Men will try to help me through the crush of the crowd – a nice thought which I appreciate, but which isn’t needed. Sometimes I feel like saying to these well intentioned men that even though I’m only 5 foot 3, I’ve got a low centre of gravity and a pair of Big Fucking Boots so watch me go.
This general surprise at knowing someone female likes football extends off the park. The first time I asked for a shift swap to go to a game, my boss was genuinely taken aback. Without a word of a lie, he said “but you’re a girl!” Just recently a friend on hearing that my wee brother has never shown interest in the beautiful game laughed, “I’m not saying your dad failed, but he could have done better.”
A generation ago, when my mum was a regular through the turnstiles she heard a lot of the same. Her female pal once said “I thought only hairies went to the football, but now I know you go I guess that isn’t true”. She’s seen it improve a lot but the fact remains that a woman going to matches is still sometimes seen as a curiosity. Comments like those aren’t a big deal of course. They’re annoying maybe, but nothing to sob into your pillow over. However the effect they have is to reinforce the idea that football isn’t something that girls should be into. “It’s not a problem that you go to matches, but it is weird, isn’t it?”.
Even when the apparent weirdness isn’t seen as a bad thing per se our motivations for liking football are often still scrutinised. Liverpool supporter and Jürgen Klopp enthusiast Amy once received this lovely remark while talking about football with a guy: “Wow I am so amazed you know players and can talk about them! Your boyfriend must be so lucky”. As she puts it: “No guy is worth the permanent state of Anxiety that comes with supporting Liverpool”. Believe me, girls don’t like football because of guys unless that guy’s Lionel Messi. Don’t patronise us.
Rarely have I ever been made to feel unwelcome watching my team, but sometimes it’ll strike me that I can count the women in my section on both hands. Knowing how much enjoyment I’ve had while watching football, I can’t help but feel for the girls who might’ve had the same fun if it wasn’t for the belief that it wasn’t something for them. In saying that though there have been a few times I have felt uncomfortable and that does have an impact. I’ve been pelted with coins by a set of opposing fans before, which really wasn’t too bad because if you’re lucky you can collect enough to buy a Bovril. What was worse was the verbal abuse that came along with it directed at a woman in our group. The torrent of jeers she got over much of the match forced her to move sections to get away.
Plus I don’t think a lot of guys realise quite how intimidating it can be to walk in overwhelmingly male crowds, especially when it’s dark, muddy and wet out and you’re using isolated short cuts to get to stadiums. Add in drink and you’ve got a perfect storm. I’ve always been totally fine, but it’s difficult to shake off that unease and stop feeling so conspicuous. In my experience, feeling on edge has been thankfully rare, but you can’t blame girls from being apprehensive about going to games knowing that they’re still seen to be something to be commented on, occasionally to those extremes.
Morgan, a Hibs fan with an impressive collection of old school SPL stickers, agrees; “Football is for everyone, so I do find it really weird when some people treat you as though you’re deviating from some sort of standard by enjoying the sport. “You don’t look like a football fan” is possibly the strangest thing a person has said to me.”
At the end of the day though, I can’t really complain about the idiosyncrasies that come along with going to matches as a woman. Being an “anomaly” has its perks after all – it’s the only place where I never have to queue for the toilets!
[Louise Wylie – @WomanPendulum]