England in Euro Final 2009

// 10 September 2009

The women’s England football team are playing Germany in the Euro 2009 final today, and you can watch the match live at 16.45 on BBC2.

The Guardian has an interesting piece on the history of women’s football in England, from its heyday in the early 1900s, when tens of thousands turned out to watch matches, to the subsequent FA ban on women playing in 1921, its repeal in 1971 and the ‘uphill battle to recover its momentum ever since’:

If the Football Association is culpable for invoking that highly damaging ban in 1921, it has, since assuming responsibility for the women’s game in 1993, made significant inroads and investment into promoting it. The introduction of central contracts for senior England players has helped some of the women to make ends meet, but at just £16,000 a year – which equates to a day’s wages for some of England’s top male players – the sums are still tiny.

The government must also accept responsibility for the women’s game’s lack of development: a Sport England report in 2002 found that only 13% of girls had access to football coaching in schools, and an FA report in 2007 concluded that 52% of girls in England have had no experience of playing football, while 331,000 girls who have only ever played in a “kickabout” wanted to have the opportunity to join a team.

It is easy to blame predominantly male institutions for this, but as one Guardian blogger commented, “Women don’t support women’s sport – why should men?” Sweeping generalisations aside, there’s something in that.

I’d say the something in that is a mixture of internalised sexism, gender socialisation and a lack of awareness of women’s sports, but the blogger does have a point, and despite not generally being hugely interested in football, I’m going to watch the match because I want to support women’s right to play football professionally and be respected and remunerated for doing so. The more people watch, the more coverage the team will get, and the more girls – and PE teachers and parents – will see that football isn’t just for men, which has got to be a good thing. But right now, The Times thinks Rio Ferdinand’s caravan holiday in Wales in more interesting than the prospect of the women’s team becoming European champions (just keep scrolling down…).

Comments From You

Kez // Posted 10 September 2009 at 12:46 pm

I think lack of awareness of women’s sports (largely because of lack of media coverage) is a huge factor. Women’s football is much bigger in certain other countries (the USA springs immediately to mind). There is loads of potential for increased exposure and popularity in the UK – it used to draw massive crowds back in the early 20th century until the FA got all threatened and introduced the ban.

Jessica Burton // Posted 10 September 2009 at 1:11 pm

Women’s sport does just need media attention. In the sports fields where women are covered just as much as men by default, eg the olympics, the ratings don’t plummet when the women’s event comes on do they? If you like watching sprinting you like watching sprinting.

I only had this thought because I was recalling how much I enjoyed (in the days when I had a TV) watching netball at the olympics.

Incidentally, in my inbox today CDWow sent me a £1 off voucher to celebrate England’s World Cup Qualifier. Big whoop!

Helen S // Posted 10 September 2009 at 1:13 pm

I think the ‘women don’t support women’s sport – why would men?’ statement is far too generalised to really be taken that seriously. I think the blogger is trying to refer to women’s football more than women’s sport, for a start. I know plenty of women who enjoy female tennis and golf, for example.

But as a football mad woman (and an ex-player myself) I’ve always found that if you own up to supporting women’s football or mention wanting to watch a game, it immediately brings you up against the usual derision, scorn and even downright bullying aimed at the women’s game.

I’m not convinced that women don’t support women’s football, but my point is that you get shot down very quickly (by both women and men) for trying to be a part of it.

And as a football mad feminist (I follow both the women and men’s game), you end up very often being hit on both sides. On one side by men (and the occasional woman) who dislike women being involved with football of any kind, and on the other side by feminists who, because they associate football with a male agenda, think women should distance themselves from the game rather than trying to establish equality.

That said, I’m really looking forward to the game tonight. I just wish I had more men and women who would happily sit down and watch it with me.

If anyone’s interested in the early days of the ladies’ game in England, I’d really recommend ‘In a league of their own’ by Gail Newsham about the Dick Kerr’s Ladies team – in the 1910-20’s they had higher attendances than most of the men’s game before the FA banned women’s football. A real eye-opener.

Jess // Posted 10 September 2009 at 3:12 pm

Sport England report in 2002 found that only 13% of girls had access to football coaching in schools, and an FA report in 2007 concluded that 52% of girls in England have had no experience of playing football, while 331,000 girls who have only ever played in a “kickabout” wanted to have the opportunity to join a team.

I think this has a lot to do with it. When I was at school, football was not a regular part of girls’ PE/games lessons; I think it only even became an option really late on, when I was about 15? If I’m remembering right? Anyway, we had one or two lessons, then the only other time involved the girls playing against boys, which, clearly, even for those who might have had a bit of talent had it been nurtured, wasn’t exactly encouraging, since the boys had been playing regularly throughout their time at school.

This meant, for me, football was not something I played; and if I watched it, it was only about watching the men’s games. Add to that the cultural messaging that football is essentially linked to being a man, and women fans have historically been dismissed, all that stuff about women not understanding the offside rule, etc, and the general lack of respect for women’s sports, or expectations that women will like to watch or play sport at all, I don’t think it’s surprising that not many women are exactly avid followers of what little women’s football exists.

Carrie // Posted 10 September 2009 at 6:00 pm

The Times ARE running live commentary this afternoon – I’m writing it! http://timesonline.typepad.com/sports_commentary/football/

Alex T // Posted 10 September 2009 at 6:13 pm

As I was saying to me mum last night…

We should start referring to men’s sport as just that. There’s not ‘football’ and ‘women’s football’, but ‘men’s football’ and ‘women’s football’. Last night England qualified for the men’s football world cup, not the only one in existence.

Kath // Posted 10 September 2009 at 9:28 pm

Alex T – good idea. I also like to refer to women’s football as just “football” and watch everyone’s confusion as they try to work out what match I’m talking about.

Sarah // Posted 11 September 2009 at 4:59 pm

The boys in my tutor group were discussing the match this morning, in exactly the way they discuss male football. I could have jumped through the roof! (the girls are still disinterested, but this is at least a step in the right decision…)


oliver newton // Posted 11 September 2009 at 8:54 pm

I was just searching the net to find viewing figures for the womans world cup when i came accross this.

I am a major football fan (did the whole crying thing when toon went down) and am reasearching the world cup for uni. However i just had to say somthing here. I am not against womens football, its an amazing sport, and my girlfriends womans magazines say it is one of the best ways to keep fit! I would not however watch womans football. Its not just the lower quality at this momment in time, but the lack of spectacle that goes with it. I need major build up in the media and be able to talk to strangers about the sport, however i dont think this will happen with womens football. My reasearch is on the economic impact of the World cup, and i dont think womens football can achieve this due to the lack of sponcership and lack of investment into the game. Mens football has a very long period of development, i have no idea when the womens world cup started. I have friends that used to play for Bangor city ladies, and they allways said that they never watched womens football as mens football was far more advanced. My mums really into tennis, and plays regularly, but prefers to watch the men at Wimbeldon.

Its the finance thats in mens sport that keeps it where it is.

I worry that the BBC is doing the P.C. thing and showing the womens football, however im sure that more people would have watched a mens game. Sports companies spend Millions of pounds more advertising men, and this will be reflected in the coverage that they recieve. We all know that the majority of football fans are male, but this is also true about sport in gerneral. At school, i could count on one hand how many girls i could have a decent chat about football with.

So if the majority of fans are male, the majority of inward investment will also higher for the mens game.

I thinks its ace that more and more women are playing the sport for fun, football is one of the best things in life, but its good how it is at the momment, and as womens football is part of FIFA the ones in power will not want to change anything, and i think it may be a shame the more i get into this.

Anyway, my main point is, its all economic reasons, not political, and for this reason its going to be hard to get into one of the worlds biggest industries.

Good luck though :)

Laura // Posted 13 September 2009 at 7:02 pm

Hi Oliver,

I agree that the economic factors you list are holding women’s football back (and therefore holding back it’s potential to attract more supporters and fans), but these economic factors are rooted in a political context: sexism.

Hazel // Posted 13 September 2009 at 11:32 pm

“I worry that the BBC is doing the P.C. thing and showing the womens football”

Why are you worried? What is there to be worried about?

Helen S // Posted 15 September 2009 at 3:03 pm

“as womens football is part of FIFA the ones in power will not want to change anything, and i think it may be a shame the more i get into this.

Anyway, my main point is, its all economic reasons, not political”

You’ve totally contradicted yourself – FIFA’s reasons for avoiding tackling gender inequality in football are VERY political. Remember Sepp Blatter saying women in football should wear skimiper kits to encourage higher attendances? Sexism in the game runs to the highest echelons.

I also find it a bit concerning that you’re apparently ‘researching’ the women’s football world cup for uni but don’t know when the first one was held – even a simple wikipedia search would tell you it was in 1991.

Kez // Posted 15 September 2009 at 3:57 pm

I think Oliver may be researching the men’s football world cup (needless to say he did not feel the need to specify) – I hope this is the case, since he doesn’t even know when the women’s tournament started! If it’s the women’s game he is researching, his research has clearly not got very far.

I don’t understand the point about the BBC doing the “PC thing” and “more people would have watched a men’s game”. No doubt more people probably would have watched a men’s European cup final, but I’m not sure why that means the BBC should therefore not show the women’s one. More people worldwide watch the men’s world cup final than any other football match, that doesn’t mean it is the only one worthy of being shown on television! Or indeed that other sports which are less nationally or globally popular shouldn’t be allowed any media coverage because not as many people want to watch them.

IMO it was a pretty good game. Strangely, I didn’t sit there thinking “ooh-err, PC gone mad, why are the BBC showing this load of old rubbish?”. Since Oliver admits he would not watch women’s football, I’m not sure how he knows so much about what it is like.

I have to say I would question someone’s claim to be a “major football fan” when they admit to needing major build-up in the media in order to enjoy watching the sport.

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