Saturday 26 January 2008 Women in Football article


FFC Emily Brobyn looks at the percieved role of women in the modern game and challenges men everywhere to look beyond the WAG culture and see there are some genuine female fans.

Football has evolved dramatically over the years. It is more of a business than ever and is regarded as the nation's favourite sport. The wages that footballers earn these days provide their 'bling-tastic' lifestyle and programmes like Dream Team and Footballers' Wives only highlight the image and perception that football has never been so glamorous and provocative.

The likes of Victoria Beckham, Coleen McLoughlin and Danielle Lloyd have attracted the female generation to the beautiful game albeit for the wrong reasons. We are in the day and age of easy fame and these young and easily-influenced women who grace glossy magazine covers seem to view footballers as an easy route to notoriety.

Danielle Lloyd's stint on Celebrity Big Brother only seemed to boost her popularity and she has kept in the spotlight since by dating both Marcus Bent and current beau Jermaine Defoe. Is it a mere coincidence that most of her boyfriends are professional footballers who earn thousands of pounds a week? Perhaps, though just sleeping with a footballer these days can result in a lucrative kiss-and-tell deal with a Sunday tabloid.

However, not all WAGs set a bad example. Louise Redknapp, wife of former Liverpool star Jamie, tends to shy away from the publicity and limelight in favour of a quieter life. There are dozens of women who are married to Premier League stars yet they opt to live an anonymous life, even though they still live the glitzy lifestyle.

But it is the WAG wannabes who d[beep] themselves over Premier League stars all for the sake of designer handbags and column inches that make it all the more harder for females who have a genuine passion and knowledge of football to be taken seriously
The recent alledged events at Man United's Christmas party and other alleged scandals have done nothing to improve the reputation of women and football. It is an automatic assumption from the majority of males that if you are a woman watching football, you are merely there to peruse through the 'talent' on show; to ogle the players in shorts, making it all the more harder to be respected and to prove that you are serious about the sport.

Football has always been a sport dominated by men. It grew in popularity in the Industrial Revolution when working-class men began to fill their mundane Saturdays watching at local football matches. During this time it was viewed that a woman's role was in the kitchen and looking after the children.

It has only been in the past couple of decades that the number of females at football has steadily increased. The violence and thuggery in the late 1970's and 1980's and its hooligan culture made football terraces a dangerous place to be.Ironically, it was a woman at the time, Margaret Thatcher, who enforced Acts like the 1989 Football Spectators Act in an attempt to clamp down on the widespread disorder. The Hillsborough disaster and the following Taylor Report made most terraces in England a thing of the past making football a safer place to be and attracting families to visit (whether that be wrong or right).

The role of women in football was on the increase too. Karen Brady became the managing director of Birmingham City and was in fact the first female managing director of a PLC. Although a WAG herself (she is married to Paul Peschisolado), Brady took over the reins at St Andrews in March 1993 at the age of 23 and remains at the helm now. She is the epitome of a modern-day businesswoman, managing her job with raising a family.

Helen Chamberlain is another female who has set a great example of how women can love football just as much as men. Her role on Soccer AM began in 1995 and has since made her a dream wife for the majority of men, as well as a role model for women who are trying to break into the industry. She can discuss the game and is fully knowledgeable of the sport. Helen is a true ladette who men seem to accept as 'one of them'.

After Chamberlain, a flurry of female presenters graced the sporting schedules, most famously Kirsty Gallagher, Clare Tomlinson, Georgie Thompson and of course, Gabby Logan. Logan recently achieved a milestone for women in the field- the first woman to ever front Match of the Day. A small step for man, a giant leap for woman kind, indeed.

Inevitably, with this kind of achievement comes a downside. Jacqui Oatley became the first female commentator to feature on the same show, in the 2006/07 season. Her appearance was greeted with a tirade of abuse and negative feedback from viewers who seemed shocked and appalled to hear a feminine voice talking about off-sides and tackling. Dozens of anti-Oatley groups were set up on the social networking site Facebook and petitions were raised for the BBC in an attempt to get Oatley off the show.

Why? What is wrong with a woman commentating on a football match? Why is it acceptable for Gabby Logan to front the show (albeit occasionally) but not acceptable for Jacqui Oatley to commentate? I am not judging her on her abilities, merely on the fact that she is female and the reaction that has come from her gender.

The Facebook groups are bombarded with comments like 'get back to the kitchen' and 'it is just not right, a woman commentating isn't right', but there is no le[beep]imate reason why Oatley shouldn't feature in the show. She no longer does, but is a regular on BBC Radio Five Live.

Football is a sport that is male-dominated, but in 2008 it is unacceptable that sexism should have any place in sport. I have never heard any complaints from men regarding Georgie Thompson presenting...that wouldn't have anything to do with her looks now, would it?

It remains to be seen whether women will ever be accepted and have their rightful place within the football world and whether men will actually ever open their mind to that possibility.

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