Okay, so it’s fair to say that over the last twenty years or so, that the beautiful game has changed somewhat, probably one of the biggest changes has been the increasing influence of Sky television, particularly for fans of the biggest clubs whose kick off times are dictated by television coverage.
For me though, one of the most significant changes has been on the crowds, gone are the days football grounds resembled some kind of exclusive mens club who could smoke, swear and generally be ‘blokey’ to their heart’s content, leaving the family behind at home. Now, it’s increasingly common to take the whole family.
But when did football start becoming a family rather than man zone? There’s no specific date to point at of course but probably one of the key reasons particularly outside the premier league where accomadations were generally decent anyway, has no doubt been the trend to move from cold, windswept open terraces and into all new enclosed, stylish (some argue, soulless) stadia. Over 30 English football clubs have moved into shiny new stadiums since my very own pioneering Scunthorpe United kick started the move for all inclusive purpose built stadiums way back in 1988.
With these new stadiums, has come increased facilities and particularly designated family areas, this alone has helped to push up the numbers of female fans at games but still cannot be seen as a sole reason, for every Emirates there is an Edgar Street and for every Stamford Bridge there’s a Sincil Bank or Spotland and girls can be found at all of the above.
So if it can’t just simply be attributed to better stadia, what is it about football, that makes females up and down the country say ‘no thanks’ to spending their Saturday’s trying on clothes in dry shopping malls, and instead say ‘yes please’ to standing in the rain on open terraces and travelling on stuffy coaches?
My own personal love affair with football started properly when I was 13 years old but my earliest memories of football were of watching England going out on penalties in Euro ’96, I was 10 and didn’t really understand too much I just know it was the first time I saw my dad and brother cry simulatneously. Still, I was content to spend my Saturday’s at my friend’s house and didn’t bother about football again until 1999 and Scunthorpe went to Wembley. Maybe it was the lure of going to the same place Manchester United had just lifted a trophy the weekend previously or more likely it was the increasing gnawing jealousy that my brother and dad had a ‘special bond’ that I wasn’t part of, but something made me say ‘I want to go too’ when the topic was broached. From the journey down in a fleet of coaches, a sea of claret and blue, mingling outside the famous Twin Towers, to the excitement of Alex Calvo Garcia’s early goal for Scunthorpe and subsequent promotion celebrations I fell head over heels in love with football and with Scunthorpe United. The following year was no picnic and I very quickly experienced the bitter feeling of relegation and more losses than wins but I was absolutely hooked. I begged my dad to take me to as many games as possible and developed a particular love for going to away games, meeting new people and visiting new grounds.
Ten years on and having experienced three trips to Wembley, four promotions including one title winning season and FA Cup trips to Chelsea and Manchester City, I realise for a fan of such a small club, I have been exceptionally lucky and could even be considered something of a ‘glory hunter’ given my first ever game was at Wembley but for a Scunny fan that still seems ludicrous!
There are many girl’s stories similar to mine and even though we have the same passion, same enthusiasm, proven we have the same knowledge about our teams as any other fan, I still find from time to time that female football fans are still not taken seriously!
As soon as anyone with an obvious female username posts anything on my team’s messageboard it is usually followed up by comments about ‘getting back in the kitchen’, thankfully most football fans are accepting of female supporters and there is an increasing band of intelligent, intellectual and knowledgeable female football fans. My football love is demonstrated most by the fact in my relationship it is ME who drags him to games, me who extensively studies fixture lists before booking holidays, me who postponed an anniversary celebration to go watch my team (get hammered) at Cardiff instead. Unique? Probably not but I do think football is my life, I love my club to death and part of the reason for me choosing a career in education, aside from the fact I love working with children, no doubt the fact my weekends would still be free for football was somewhere in the back of my mind!
Unsurprisingly research on female football fans is still few and far between and I wasn’t best pleased to see a google search on the term generally just come up with pages about ‘sexy’ celebrity fans and scantily clad women at games. In my experience female fans are still not really understood because we are still something of a minority of our sex, apart from one very good friend who loves football as much as me, my female friends just don’t get it, why spend hundreds of pounds on football when it could be better spent on clothes and shoes? World cup times are always amusing too when most females either ignore it like the plague or try and get involved, girl’s magazines usually print things like ‘women’s guide’ to football and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen pubs running initiatives just for ‘women to avoid the football.’ I just shake my head
However, as this article suggests, female fans are most definitely on the increase, the most recent published information on female attendance was in 2006 by Match Day Media, a digital company who provide entertainment facilities at Premier League stadiums. The research found there were 500,000 more women attending Premier League games, making up 18% of the total and estimated by the end of the 2006 season, the total female attendance at Premier League game was set to be 2.33 million. In addition to Premier League data, the research also found a significant rise in females with England membership and 1/5 of season ticket holders in the Championship were female. Furthermore, they estimated that if female attendance continued to grow at the rate it was, by 2010, nearly a third of those attending Premier League matches would be women. Sadly, I can’t find anything by way of follow up to see if this did happen but I would think it’s probably pretty accurate.
Television companies have cashed in on the rise of the female football fans, if there’s a tense moment in a game, you can almost guarantee now they will find a woman, biting her finger nails, on the verge of tears, willing their team on like the Stoke girls I saw complete in jester hats at the recent quarter final. Unable to look, like the Crawley fan who hid behind her scarf, or in despair at defeat, like the unfortunate female Preston fan captured by the cameras, mascara down her face and ripping up her programme after her team found themselves on the wrong end of an epic Lancashire derby.
Are females more emotional? Well I know I get very emotional, either in glee or anger and one of the longest nights of my life was in Milton Keynes watching Scunny fight their way through an epic penalty shootout, however I wasn’t the the one who walked out the stadium unable to watch, that was my dad!
So what do you think about female football fans, a welcome addition or do you still have the attitude the men of the 1920’s had about females attending games that it was ‘an invasion of their leisure space’? Okay so there may be some girls more interested in checking out the player’s legs than the tactics but ‘proper’ female fans are out there, and they’re just as passionate about their team as you are and yes they DO know the offside rule!
By Nicola Kilmore – @footychick25 – Scunthorpe United fan