Women in Football
HIDDENGSarah Gilmore looks at the reasons for the marked increase in the number of women writing and reporting on football in recent times, and the hurdles they still have to overcome.
O v e r t h e p a s t f e w y e a r s w e h a v e seen an e x p lo s io n o f women writing, editing and presenting on football. They seem to have come from nowhere and arrived at the top o f their professions, giving their views with authority.
Women have always played football, have always watched it and commentated on what they saw. It is just that much o f our contribution and experience is sometimes insignificant when compared with the sheer ‘volume’ o f our male counterparts. So what is going on now? Are we seeing an aspirant generation o f women invading and laying claim to territory which has been a traditional male preserve for a century or more?
Through talking to a sample o f women across all sections of the sports media, along with Rob Shepherd, formerly o f Today, I set out to discover whether we will see a distinctive women’s view of football emerging in the media.
The backgrounds of all o f the women were fairly similar and their careers had significant parallells. Nearly all had started out at university - writing for the student newspaper on sport and progressing from higher education to local papers, radio and TV stations. So, for example, Eleanor Oldroyd o f Radio 5Live’s Sunday Sport went from university to a local radio station in Worcester working on sport, and from there to four years at Newsbeat before working exclusively on the subject in 1991.
Jane Hoffen’s CV is very similar, coming to work exclusively on sport - ultimately at Sky - via a background in local TV. It is easy to dismiss the years spent in local media, but the ‘training’ that they received and the earning o f dues takes time: meteoric rises to fame are rare.
Amy Lawrence had a slightly different story having started her football writing for the fanzine The Gooner, pursuing it through university via the newspaper and subsequently freelancing prior to gaining her job at Four Four Two.
The accent on knowing your stuff - being able to show your credentials - has always been something women have either doggedly followed or rejected, preferring to make up their own rules. Sometimes the latter pays off, but in the area o f football journalism the option o f short cuts is not on the agenda.
Eleanor Oldroyd is concerned that some companies are jumping on the bandwagon o f increased female attendances at games and seeking to get their programmes/magazines staffed and fronted by women whose knowledge might not match their ambitions. “It is important to keep your skills base,” she says, “women in this profession have to know at least as much as men. ” A view echoed by Jane Hoffen. Both deny any attempts by male colleagues to hold them back from pursuing their careers in extremely male dominated areas, but Hoffen has no illusions as to her abilities and how she has used male criticism .“A lot o f eyes were on me especially at Sky. You cannot be an idiot in front o f a camera. I confess to being pretty ropy at Sky at first, but I’ve worked on it. I’ve used the criticisms made o f me to improve and much o f that criticism has been helpful.”
Is life really that rosy? Is it possible for women working in these environments to publicly criticize former and present colleagues? “You can’t get annoyed about the banter unless it’s outrageous,” says Hoffen. “You’re in a heavily male environment.”Amy Lawrence admits - like the others - to the “one letter in a hundred" which says, “What do you know - you’re only a woman ...” but feels that she has had to watch her step in relation to men she has worked with. “It’s there. You have to be careful. People do want to trip you up. There’s a lot o f inherent jealousy.” But in the final analysis? “Attitudes towards me have been pretty good.
WOMEN WILL OBVIOUSLY TAKE TIME TO BUILD UP A SHARED FOOTBALL CULTURE. PERHAPS IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN - MAYBE ALL THIS INTEREST ISMERELY A FAD?