Sexism: still a thing, then

Eva Carneiro, Heather Rabbatts, pink ranges for women in club shops, girls’ football tops with plunging necklines: why is the football industry still sexist? Zoë Morgan on how the game is still getting it so wrong

It shouldn’t be difficult for women to enjoy watching football.

Going to matches, turning the telly or the radio on, cheering, getting frustrated, going too far and telling someone they’re ‘not a real fan’ on Twitter. These fundamentals are the same for men and women. As a factor in the grand scheme of gender equality, watching football should not even be an issue. So why do clubs and governing bodies keep making such a mess of it?

The Eva Carneiro saga at Chelsea has been so cringe-inducingly embarrassing for all involved that it’s likely you’ve observed it entangled in a frighteningly large cobweb behind your sofa. Among football’s medical staff, no one had a higher and more sensitive profile than Carneiro and yet José Mourinho did not hesitate to chuck her, covered in some premium jam, into a circling swarm of wasps. In doing so he broke the cardinal rule: he questioned her knowledge and understanding of the game.

As in cricket, where there seems to be a penchant for professional players to criticise journalists who ‘haven’t played the sport’, in some circles there is a feeling that women ‘cannot understand football’ like men can. The first question I am often asked when I mention I like football, is ‘which players do you fancy?’

This is all absurd: observation and comprehension are skills possessed by both sexes. Just because a woman may not have spent many a Tuesday night wheezing and spluttering their way through a work 5-a-side kickabout they are still quite capable of understanding a sport (which doesn’t require its participants to possess a particularly high intellectual capacity).

Just in case we’d all forgotten about the Carneiro story, the FA managed to bring it back on to the news agenda in spectacular fashion by announcing their only female board member, Heather Rabbatts, was to be investigated. Rabbatts had allegedly breached the FA’s code of conduct through her criticism of how the Carneiro case was handled. This criticism was having the temerity to suggest that Carneiro should have given evidence about something that she might have a fair amount of knowledge on, i.e. a thing that happened to her? How dare she make the FA look like such mugs?

As a young girl I went to football matches because everyone in the crowd, wrapped up indistinguishably against the cold, became the same. It no longer mattered who was cool and who was not, who was a girl and who was a boy – we were all on the same team

Rabbatts has been the only high-profile member of the FA to even question Carneiro’s treatment. This suggests a distressing flaw in how women in the game are treated, with a lack of support at even the highest level.

Women who go to football matches want to go as equals. But are we anywhere close to achieving that when someone with as high a profile as Carneiro received such vile abuse from the stands? And why would certain members of the crowd think that this wasn’t ok, given the treatment Carneiro has received?

Jürgen Klopp uttered some resonant words during his first press conference as Liverpool manager. “It’s our job to make them [the fans] forget their problems for 90 minutes.” That is the very point of football: 90 minutes of escapism, of entertainment, of equality. As a young girl I went to football matches because I enjoyed them, and to me, everyone in the crowd, wrapped up indistinguishably against the cold, became the same. It no longer mattered who was cool and who was not, who was a girl and who was a boy – we were all on the same team.

Many young female football fans are referred to as ‘tomboys’, as if liking football inherently makes you less feminine. That opinion is supremely outdated – but then, if you dress in an overtly feminine manner, you might be subject to catcalls and jeers, so it can be a vicious circle.

Attire is another contentious issue in the football equality debate. If I see another Club Shop ‘pink’ ladies range, or merchandise featuring some adorable diamante crystals, I’m going to write Emmeline Pankhurst’s family a letter of apology.

Female football fans do not want to make football a fashion parade; it is an unnecessary money-maker that only serves to highlight a disparity that should never have been there in the first place. Let’s not even start on those plunging necklines of the Manchester United ‘foxy ladies range’ that made headlines at the start of this season. There was something eternally endearing about Carneiro running onto the pitch in a coat and tracksuit bottoms about a foot too long for her. No female range for her; she was just wearing exactly what everyone else was.

Let’s face it, if people start judging women by whether or not their shirt is ‘cinched in at the waist’ when they’re watching Barnsley v Shrewsbury in League One then football really has got a lot to answer for. Women don’t go to watch games and don’t support their team in order to be noticed. They want to blend in with a crowd of people who are all rooting for the same thing, and forget about real life for 90 minutes.

Articles like this should never have to be written. A woman’s presence, either as a staff member or in the crowd, should not even be a thing. But while the clubs and the people at the highest level still make it difficult, there is still a fight for women to be able to simply blend in.

You can follow Zoë Morgan on Twittter at @zvfm2

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