In 2015, I interviewed the supervisor of Chelsea FC Women, Emma Hayes. The interview bought off to a unhealthy begin after I requested her the seemingly innocuous query: “Can girls ever obtain equality with males?” The girls’s game was a way off reaching parity with the men’s, she instructed me.
Seven years later, this is nonetheless the case (however they did even have a 50-year head begin – extra on that later). But what she actually appeared pissed off by, I sensed, have been the fixed comparisons with the men’s game. Could we not “respect [women’s football] in its own right”, she requested, and acknowledge it as “a great product” regardless?
As a younger and idealistic reporter, I struggled to know Hayes’ level. Surely this was internalized misogyny talking? Women’s football was gaining in reputation, so why ought to its gamers be thankful for being paid the London residing wage, when male footballers have been taking house as a lot as £200,000 a week?
But as time has gone on, I’ve began to know what she meant. There is worth in recognizing the girls’s game as a separate product, as a result of it is a completely different product, and in that respect it presents completely different alternatives. For a begin, the girls’s game has not been corrupted by cash, or mired in accusations of misconduct or poisonous fan tradition, and we will forestall it heading in the similar path as the men’s game.
It is additionally undeniably a extra family-friendly atmosphere, and it is a delight to see so many younger girls and women in the crowds flocking to the Women’s Euro. I’d be shocked, for instance, to search out any followers like that drunk at a girls’s football match that they wound up falling on high of the folks in the row in entrance of them, as I skilled at the League One play-off last in 2019.
This 12 months’s Women’s Euro has seen file after file damaged in phrases of attendance and viewers, and right now girls’s football at the worldwide degree is an unstoppable power. The high quality and expertise displayed throughout the match has been immense, not least that of the Lionesses in their 4-0 semi-final win in opposition to Sweden. Sure, there have been some much less thrilling video games, however let’s not faux the similar cannot be stated of men’s football.
Since the 2017 relaunch of the professionalized Women’s Super League – a transfer, some argue, designed to embarrass some of England’s high golf equipment into making a public dedication to the girls’s game – some have moved in the direction of the “#oneclub” strategy: when you worth your membership, you worth all the groups inside it equally.
It’s a pretty concept in idea, if followers really signal as much as it, however let’s not faux football is an equal alternatives sport between women and men – we have to maintain the video games up in opposition to one another in order to acknowledge these disparities.
It additionally implies that the distinction between men’s and ladies’s football is valued much less – “#NotWomensFootball” the Volkswagen adverts at this summer time’s match state, however why is not it? By positioning girls’s groups as some kind of spin-off of massive Premier League golf equipment we’re not actually encouraging folks to understand it as a “great product” in its own right, and there are a honest few elements of the men’s game we’d ‘t really need to emulate.
That stated, there is not any excellent resolution. Treating the girls’s game as a separate product additionally opens it as much as the heavy weight of expectations heaped upon girls throughout society. Why is the girls’s game seen as extra “household pleasant”? Because girls are softer? Less liable to diving, swearing and backchatting the ref? (Just ask Spain’s Misa Rodriguez about that.) Even in this 12 months’s Women’s Euro, commentators have asserted that it is uncommon for feminine gamers to conduct themselves in this way.
You solely want to have a look at the criticism the Arsenal Women’s gamers acquired after they traveled to Dubai in January 2021 at the top of the tier 4 Covid restrictions to see how we view feminine gamers. We merely anticipate higher from them than their male counterparts. They are anticipated to behave as ambassadors for the game slightly than just rock up with a Gucci washbag and a few AirPods, play football and trot off once more.
However, the plain elephant in the room relating to girls’s football, and one of the principal points with the “one membership” strategy, is that ladies nonetheless take house a tiny fraction of what male gamers earn at comparable ranges, and funding in the girls’s game is vastly inferior. Paradoxically, this appears to be the root trigger of why the girls’s game is favored by some, and in addition why girls’s and men’s football won’t ever be equally revered. Men rage on social media that “WOMEN CAN’T FILL STADIUMS”, which is perhaps true, however little is executed to handle why.
In 1921, the FA voted to ban girls’s football, deeming the game to be “fairly unsuitable for females”. Just a 12 months earlier than, the girls’s game was having fun with file success, with 53,000 supporters turning as much as a Boxing Day match at Goodison Park. It took 92 years to see that attendance file damaged. The legacy of that ban, together with at the moment’s male-centric set-up, means the high girls’s groups are beholden to the goodwill of their male overlords. Just have a look at how Charlton Athletic Women have been sacrificed to finances cuts in 2006 after the men’s workforce have been relegated from the Premier League.
But it does not should be that approach. “There are radical methods of re-envisaging girls’s football,” Prof Jean Williams, the writer of The History of Women’s Football, tells me, citing the US National Women’s Soccer League franchise Angel City, a membership based by girls – Hollywood star Natalie Portman , no much less – in 2020, as a girls’s membership in its own right. “But that is not taking place right here – girls’s football is a sub-brand of the men’s game.”
The massive query the FA, Uefa and Fifa have to reply is whether or not girls’s football is a money-making train, a field to tick, or whether or not they – and the men’s groups who’ve benefited from a longstanding patriarchal construction – have a ethical obligation to develop the girls’s game, even when it does come at an preliminary value.
Jen Offord is a producer and presenter of the Standard Issue podcast, and writer of The Year of the Robin