I have played and watched football my entire life, but it’s something of a lose-lose situation when you’re a women. You’re either having to defend your femininity to the archetypal “lads lad” (are they threatened when a girl plays better than them?); or you’re having to defend your love of the game to those very same lads (because having boobs and wearing skirts is tantamount to not understanding the offside rule, apparently).
Football is a difficult and oftentimes uncomfortable industry to work in as a woman; a quick google search and a scan of the comments is all that’s needed to prove how strife casual and institutionalised sexism is within the game we all love. Think back to the sexist storm that rained over the UK in 2007, following the announcement of Jacqui Oatley becoming the first woman to commentate on Match of the Day. And in 2011, when Sky Sports personalties Andy Gray and Richard Keys were both sacked following derogatory remarks made about female match official Sian Massey (they found themselves at the centre of another sexism scandal earlier this year when old footage emerged of the pair wolf-whistling and making lewd comments about pundit Clare Tomlinson). Premier League boss Richard Scudamore also made headlines recently when misogynistic and disgusting emails were leaked to the press; is it any wonder that women watching and working in football continue to feel marginalised?
I was disappointed earlier this week to see the Official Football Conference Facebook site post a picture of Hyde FC’s physiotherapist, inappropriately complimenting her appearance. Cue responses like, “I’d be having a few groin strains if she was me physio, I wouldn’t be off the treatment table!”; “Ooh me leg hurts at the top just round a bit near the crotch’ and ‘definitely my groin darling”. Such comments do football zero favours, yet the official Conference Facebook site appears happy to not only turn a blind eye, but endorse this display of casual sexism.
Unfortunately, we are seeing similar attitudes creeping in at Wrexham AFC. When referee Amy Fearn disallowed Adrian Cieslewicz’s goal against Kidderminster, shouts of “stupid cow”, “stupid bitch”, “get back to the kitchen” and worse started pouring from the terraces in waves. The bizarre decision was eventually overturned and the correct decision given, but it begs the question: would a male official’s place in a football ground ever be called into dispute? His eyesight, maybe – but I don’t think I’ve ever heard chants of, “get back to the garden shed!”.
Last season we had a Burlesque dancer in an event celebrating club sponsors (many of whom were women), and scantily clad girls selling raffle tickets to salivating men old enough to be their fathers. The latter issue was raised at the Wrexham Supporters Trust board meeting appearing in the minutes from April 2014, and it was agreed that their attire was not in keeping with a community club. Despite this, nothing has changed (if Wrexham’s first home game of the season gave any indication), and the commodification of women’s bodies is fine to the higher ups as long as they see an increase in profits. It’s a marketing ploy that reeks of desperation and alienates not just the female supporters, but families who don’t want their young sons growing up thinking it’s okay to harass and treat women like objects; or their young daughters growing up thinking their self worth lies in the way they look. Chants of “get your tits out for the lads” – chants I have not heard for some time at The Racecourse, and ones that always sullied my experience as a very young girl – started coming from the ERS during Saturday’s match too, and I have to wonder: is it a coincidence or is it the kind of casual sexism that Wrexham fans now feel is acceptable?
The wider implications of this are the young people coming to matches and learning to accept these practices and attitudes as standard, and the young girls whose aspirations are lowered as a result – young girls who should be looking at the female board members we have, and striving to emulate them.
Wrexham is a club that is embedded in the fabric of our society, and sewn deep within the hearts of thousands of fans; why should any of us settle for anything less than a level playing field?