Although football is the world’s most popular sport, women in the game are still fighting to be seen as equal to their male counterparts on and off the field. Little attention is given to the women’s teams of big clubs such as Chelsea and Arsenal, with games not often on TV or well publicised, while the men’s players earn millions for doing the same job. Although it is true that there is more money in the men’s game, more fans, and more competition, it’s worth asking why the women’s game can’t reach the same level, and what obstacles are stopping us from getting there. In the 2015 World Cup, women weren’t even given an equal playing surface – their matches were played on synthetic turf, while men always play on the best grass available. Players from multiple teams came together to file a lawsuit claiming sexual discrimination, yet turf was still used for the highest level of the women’s game. This is an example of blatant sexism – men would never be expected to play the World Cup on a fake surface. But with the women’s game growing more and more in recent years, change seems to be on the horizon. I spoke to three members of Goldsmiths women’s football team to talk about their experiences as women in the game, and how more women and girls can be encouraged to pursue the sport.
The 2015 World Cup, where women had to settle for artificial turf. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
“I started playing football when I was a tiny baby, probably because my brothers both played football and I copied everything they did, but I loved it,” says Caitlin. “I got to about 14 and other things seemed more important. Women’s football wasn’t given as much push as men’s football, and a lot of us stopped. I found it again when I came to uni because I missed it and realised it was one of my favourite things to do.” Lauren and Jen both recount a similar story to Caitlin – playing as a kid and loving it, but stopping around the age of secondary school.
“The football stopped after 12 or 13 just because for me, it was seen as this aggressive, unfeminine sport. At that age, all I cared about was what everyone else thought of me. I still loved sports, but the sports I played were what other girls in my peer group played, which was hockey and netball,” says Lauren, who didn’t return to football until uni – “I watch football every weekend and completely forgot how much I love to play it”. Jen says that 80 percent of the girls she plays with have a similar story of playing when they were younger, but that the sport soon becomes unavailable. “It’s not in the girls curriculum, which is something that I feel I want to personally make a change towards, because that’s where I feel it ends for almost all girls who drop out of the sport. I just felt like there was this image that went with playing football as a teenage girl, where people would call you a lesbian and just take the piss out of you generally and call you a tomboy with such a derogatory tone to it, when there’s obviously no shame in playing sports as a girl.”
We all agree that we’ve felt a pressure to prove to men that we’re a fan of the game – something that men don’t have to prove to each other. “I remember being in school and sometimes playing football with the boys and I felt like if I wasn’t amazing then I shouldn’t be there. You can’t go and be rubbish if you’re a girl,” says Caitlin. “As a girl, you don’t in general go to the park and kick about with your girl friends. You do that if your ‘one of the guys’, whereas guys would just go,” adds Lauren.
In order to move the women’s game forward and keep young girls involved in sport, Jen emphasises importance in making all sport available to everyone. “I know a few boys who enjoyed playing netball and they couldn’t play it, not only because it wasn’t available, but also because it has this feminine image where it’s not masculine to play it, and they were getting the piss taken out of them. I think it starts at a school level, encouraging girls to get involved in contact sports, in generally stereotypical male sports, and if it’s in the curriculum, they’re going to have that experience and then extra curricular teams will span off from that. But as it is, it just doesn’t happen, it’s quite rare that teenage girls are pushed to try to get into these sports.” Hopefully, women in sport will get treated with more respect as the game continues to grow, which starts with basic support. Find your local women’s club, follow them on social media, go to their games (Chelsea season tickets are only £42!), and see when they’re on TV. And after the hype of the men’s world cup this summer, remember to watch the women’s in 2019, too.
Words, Olivia Spring @oliviaspring8
Illustration, Corey Hayman, Donia Jones, Lauren Corelli