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.

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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.