What’s Holding Back Women’s Football?

In anticipation of a new season, RUPERT MERCER looks back on why women's football in Cambridge just can't get the traction it deserves.

Last term I was talking to a friend of mine, the captain of the Girton women’s football team, and asked her how the season was going. The answer was simple – it wasn’t.

By Week 7 the sole action they’d seen was a friendly against Darwin, where they had to be given two players because they’d only had six turn up.

Why the discrepancy between the sexes, I wonder? Women’s football, in particular, is seen by a lot of people as a feminist issue.

People ask why, with women’s professional leagues now set up, it fails to attract the support or funding of the men’s game. When the obvious argument that the standard is lower is provided, it is held up as Chauvinism; but is this any wonder if at the grassroots level there is the basic lack of interest seen in the Girton girls?

Varsity Women’s Football – in a field

It is absolutely right that women should be given the same opportunities to play sport as men in childhood and beyond, and therefore there’s is no reason they should not build up the same levels of technical skill as men. At a professional level, as athletics demonstrate, men will always have the edge physically. But for amateurs there is no reason that women should not compete at the same level – as any of us guys who’ve been drubbed by a girl at tennis can testify.

So what is it about football? The fact of the matter is that before the global commercialisation of the game, football in Britain was an essentially local, working-class sport, and so the concept of what it is to be a ‘football supporter’ hails from a culture that’s hardly feminist in its outlook.

This is not to say that to be a fan nowadays is to be a sexist and hopefully, the idiocy of Gray and Keys aside, women are now entirely welcome in today’s game and in stadiums.

Varsity Men’s Football – in a stadium

However, there is a difference between women being welcome and the culture changing, and evidence suggests the game is simply not as attractive to women as it is to men.

The problem extends across sport. Editing Tab Sport this year I have been amazed few views an article on women’s sport receives. A report of the Lacrosse Blues coming from behind to beat Oxford 8-7 in an absolute thriller received hundreds fewer hits than a write-up of a college football game between John’s and Queens’. Why?

The answer seems to be that those girls who do get into their sport play it with equal dedication to guys and maintain a broad interest in sport as a whole. But sport plays such a part in male culture that even many of those who don’t play to, say, Blues level are interested in reading about it.

The important thing to understand is that this is no sign of sexism – rather it’s simply evidence that our society still brings up children in a way that prompts them to be attracted to things down sexual divisions.

However, if this is ever going to change we need to work out how get girls out on the football pitch on a wet Saturday, not as a feminist statement, but because they want to be there. Then it’d be great to see a few of you at Match of the Day.

  • Sports fan

    The reason no-one read the lacrosse article isn't because they don't care about women, it's that they don't care about lacrosse. Having watched the women's Varsity football match, I can safely say the teams on show would be beaten by every college team, Trinity 3rd XI included. Although more women should be encouraged to play football and if interest rises, so will the quality of football, the fact remains that men are going to be stronger, bigger and faster; that's why women have their own teams. Women's sport will never attract the same interest as men's, not because we are all subconsciously prejudiced against women, but because the standard is never as good. Although the gap can be partially bridged by an increase in interest, the standard will never be as good.

    • Another sports fan

      If you've watched athletics, tennis, or swimming (to name but a few sports) you'll know that the women's events in these fields attract pretty much the same interest as the men's events. Despite the fact that female tennis players, 800m runners or whatever are not as strong or fast as male ones. The problem clearly isn't that "the standard is never as good" simply BECAUSE they are women; in football the standard certainly isn't good enough and should get better, but there are also cultural factors.

  • Judge

    … The Kitchen, perchance?

  • Marianna

    I am looking for team to play in, any suggestions?

  • Just saying

    To be fair there is a higher attendance at the girl's match.

  • Spectator

    I do not think it is mysoginistic to say that in general, "having the edge physically" makes men's sport faster paced and so more exciting to watch. Although women are often just as skilled as men, the physicality plays a significant role in determining how enjoyable many sports are for spectators.

  • Richard Keys

    Idiocy? You should try hanging out the back of it mate

  • Cuntabrigian

    A comment from the article:

    "The important thing to understand is that this is no sign of sexism – rather it’s simply evidence that our society still brings up children in a way that prompts them to be attracted to things down sexual divisions."

    Or maybe (more likely actually), differences in recreational interests between the sexes is more to do with biological determinism i.e. innatism/nativism, rather than social determinism?

  • Hawk-eye

    Fenners cannot be described as a 'field' (it is a first-class cricket venue) – get your facts right boy

  • Obvious


  • Man

    Where is the men's college netball league?

  • Marge

    Football is not originally a working class game – it has its origins in public school games, played exclusively by men. Which is why the Old Etonian football team has won the FA cup 6 times. Floreat florebit..

  • A Top Bloke

    Women are not as skilled as men at sports.
    You used tennis as an example in your article. Tennis shows the difference in skill between the two sexes better than any other sport. Have you ever watched women's tennis? It is terrible in comparison to men's. Look at Rodger Federer, he is the not the most athletic player by far but he has skill and flair in abundance you do not find in any female tennis players.
    That is why viewing figures for women's tennis are much lower. It is far less entertaining.

    • Game. Set. Wank

      "women's tennis… is far less entertaining"

      Are you serious? Have you tried watching Sharapova, Kournikova or Ivanovic?

    • Amateur

      This is about amateur sports. Women are often better than men on an amateur level, even if men are in general better. That was the claim the author was making.

  • Chief

    Women are shit at football because they're too busy doing the dishes, sitting down to piss and giving blozzers.



  • Birke

    the problem with womens football is I always get a boner when i watch it

  • Andy Gray

    Well Jeff, not enough emphasis on the post match showering, which ideally should take place in the centre circle with a hose and some buckets/sponges.

    • Redknapp

      I'd smash it.

  • Steve Z

    actually many studies have found the endurance of women in the glory hole field to be lacking in comparison to be their male counterparts. strange but true

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