^Afomen in Football
■ LindaSharpies reflects onthetrials andtribulations of beinga femalefootball supporter.
Whatever it is about football that sets the pulse racing at five to three on a Saturday and causes people to go to extreme lengths to follow teams which seem destined to stay in the lower divisions well into the twenty-first century, women are not immune to it. A trip to the primary school at playtime will reveal at least a few girls enjoying that prince among games, ‘keepy uppy’. Similarly, every club has its fair share of middle-aged women who have been standing on the terraces for twenty, thirty or forty years. Of course, women form aminority of any football crowd, but this is not surprising since we are continually told that it’s not feminine/lady-like/attractive to spend time at football grounds - in short, it’s aman’s game.
The reasons for women becoming supporters are as varied as those for men. My own interest began with my grandmother, lifelong supporter of Huddersfield Town, telling romantic tales of the days of hard leather footballs, pit boots and shorts down to the knees. Coming from Yorkshire, the male members of the family were supposed to indulge in more macho pastimes, such as tearing engines to bits and watching or playing rugby league. Other women I know started watching football because their parents, friends or boyfriends did, or simply because the club formed an important part of the community in which they lived.
Whatever the reasons, female football supporters are every bit as passionate as their male counterparts.In recent years there has been a general anti-football campaign fuelled mainly by the media, which has caused crowds to diminish, and helped reinforce people’sprejudices against supporters. Consequently, football fans in general, and female fans in
“ I f you th in k m e n ’s to ile ts som e t im es leave a lo t to be desired, you s h o u ld see som e o f the la d ie s ’. ..”
particular, are viewed as strangely masochistic creatures. Everyone who goes to football matches suffers from these views, but I would suggest that women get the worst of it. The attitudes of people to my own obsession with football have changed over the years. As a girl an interest in sport was thought to be healthy, and even if it was football that had captured my imagination, at least I was getting some fresh air. Of course, once I
became an adolescent the general attitude was that I was just going to lust after the bodies of virile young men. Now I support Ipswich Town, once home of the Adonislike figures John Wark and Eric Gates need I say more? Since I have been married people are confused; I no longer fit into one of their preconceived ideas about women who spend their spare time at a football ground when they could be going shopping, and so I am treated as something of an eccentric.
Contrary to popular opinion, male supporters, in the main, treat us with respect. Whenever crowd conditions become threatening, women are usually protected by other supporters where possible, and it is unlikely that women will be involved in any fracas at a football
ground. Indeed, clubs with a relatively large female following tend to be less intimidating, and most male supporters seem to welcome this. Of course, chants aimed at women are still in evidence, and we often hear sexist comments expressed by men who think that we should spend our leisure time at home comparing knitting patterns. Whilst I don’t condone this sort of behaviour at games, I don’t think it is part of football culture in particular, more part of British culture in general. Some people are sexist, some sexist people are football supporters.
So what of the clubs’ attitudes to their female supporters? At first glance, female involvement in most clubs is confined to selling pies, doing the electrical work and parading round the ground in shorts on