In the twelfth instalment of our regular column – in which we use our pondering skills to delve deep into cliches, stereotypes, and seemingly unimportant male-orientated issues – we consider women’s football, a sport we should be pouring equal support into
This season I have been to the same amount of men’s and women’s football away days – two each. The men’s games (I’m a West Bromwich Albion fan) were both low-scoring draws. The women’s games however were far more exciting. West Ham Ladies (my adopted team) away at Hull City, a three-nil win in the semi-final of the WPL Plate and then the final itself, a five-nil drumming of Luton Town Ladies. Needless to say, the best attacking football I have seen this season in a stadium setting has been courtesy of the ladies.
If you haven’t made it to a women’s game yet, I think you’d be surprised. My introduction to women’s football came through a friend in the coaching set up at West Ham Ladies. He said I should come and watch a game, so I did, driving across the country in blizzard conditions to a pitch at the University of Hull. The setup was modest, a few spectators gathered behind the dugouts, a lady at a table making sure people bought a ticket, but the football itself was impressive.
I’m not sure what your perception of women’s football is, but I think the quality would surprise the unfamiliar. There’s a lot of tedious comparisons to be made between the men’s and women’s game that I’m not going to make here (that always fail to consider the historical development of both sports), but overall the quality is of a high standard. And maybe due to suspect goalkeeping, every game I have seen live so far has been punctuated by someone scoring an absolute worldie, top bins.
I enjoy the men’s and women’s game for different reasons. I enjoy the tradition of the men’s game. As author Irvine Welsh put it (in issue 32 of this magazine), he prefers football to be a ‘horrible industrial laddish pursuit’, an image of football at odds with US Soccer, which he was being questioned about. I feel the same. I enjoy the cinematic, probably outdated and undoubtedly masculine side of the game.
Women’s football is not like that and that’s why I find it refreshing. It feels exciting and new, the start of something. The style of play (at West Ham at least) isn’t safe. People compare it to the lower tier of men’s football, but it’s not as lumpen and slow. There’s end to end attacking intent, just like there would be if we were to reset the men’s game without the influence of money. The football would be braver.
Of course, money will play a defining issue in how women’s football advances. It seems madness that until they announced one over recent weeks, Manchester United hadn’t had a ladies team for thirteen years (a period of time that saw the men’s team win five league titles, five domestic cups and one champions league). Meanwhile, Sunderland ladies, a team that produced seven of the current England ladies squad, face a damaging divorce from the men’s club, initiated by the latter’s financial meltdown.
There’s a lot of good in the women’s game too. Not to say there isn’t in the men’s, but it’s often overshadowed by lingering themes of greed, prejudice and violence. The lingering theme of women’s football internationally is liberation and overcoming. Carson Pickett, Orlando Pride’s left-back is a female professional footballer born without a forearm and hand. Despite her disability, she’s at the forefront of US soccer. Hajra Khan, the captain of the Pakistan women’s team is a beacon of progress and equality in the face of one the world’s most oppressive countries for women. Afghanistan captain Shabnam Mobarez is another inspiration.
That’s not to say women’s football is perfect. Next year’s league shake-up – which has seen new and current women’s teams applying for places in a new look top two tiers – has been controversial, with fans and pundits questioning transparency. With the game still in its early stages though, the reconfiguring is understandable. Regardless, next season will be one of the most exciting years in domestic women’s football. The WSL starts on September 8 and if you’re a football fan – there’s no excuses. DB