The Vagenda

No, I Didn’t Start Liking Football To Try and Impress You


I have been interested in football pretty much ever since I became conscious of its existence. My family are huge Arsenal fans and my younger brother, sister and I have always been treated completely equally by our parents. I’ve never felt that there was any expectation that I wouldn’t love football due to my gender – despite the rest of society suggesting otherwise.

Inspired by Sporty Spice and, later on, Bend it like Beckham, I played football at school. I was actually on the school football team until the age of 11, when we were told that boys and girls were no longer allowed to play football together because the girls might get hurt, and there weren’t enough girls to have our own team. And that was the beginning.

Ten years ago, my family got season tickets for our team. Let me tell you, nothing makes feel more like a part of something than sharing the highs and lows of a match with 50,000 other fans who love your team as much as you do. At least, that is, until during a heated London derby, a Chelsea player gets an injury and Eva Caneiro (the team’s obviously incredibly intelligent, and, incidentally, very beautiful medic) runs out into the pitch and the man in front of you shouts: “Get your tits out!” whilst his mates laugh along. Yeah. That can make you feel a little separate from the crowd.

So here’s the thing about being a female football fan. However much you follow and love the game, every so often there’s a little reminder that, to some people, you’ll never quite belong; that football, even in the 21st century, is essentially a lads’ club; and that because you were born with a vagina, you are not allowed a full membership.

This extends way further than a couple of metres from the pitch, incidentally. When I finally downloaded Tinder recently (I know, I know), I was surprised by one thing in particular. It wasn’t the prevalence of mirror selfies or profile pictures from Tiger Temple, but the amount of attention that one of my pictures got from members of the opposite sex.

One my profile pictures on Facebook is of me at an Arsenal game wearing a team shirt and scarf  - and, since Tinder links up to your Facebook account, everyone can see it. I happen to think I look pretty good in the photo (y’know, it got 40 likes, but whatever, who’s counting?) plus it represents me as a person pretty well, in one of my favourite places of all time, throwing up a gang sign, obv.

And one of the most common questions I get asked by these modern suitors, having seen my pic, is some variation of: ‘R U one of those girls who pretends to like football just to get guys lol?’

Literally, is that even a thing?!

Nowadays I feel confident enough to stick up for myself in situations like this, but younger me, despite having the role models of Mary-Kate and Ashley in Switching Goals for inspiration, simply stopped voicing my opinions on my favourite sport in mixed sex contexts, for fear of being embarrassingly ignored, or, even worse, hideously patronised for having “tried to join in the conversation”. Put simply, women’s only legitimated role in this arena is as something to be looked at.

Don’t believe me? Take a terrifying jaunt to the annals of Twitter, where there are accounts run by female football fans, some with tens of thousands of, mostly male, followers. What is immediately noticeable about these popular accounts, however, is that alongside their tweets about Hodgson’s squad selection or #DareToZlatan banter, you can find pictures of the tweeter pouting in her knickers and cropped Man U shirt, or retweets of her photos being featured on Lad Bible’s “Cleavage Thursdays”. These women and girls have realised that, in order to be taken seriously in any capacity when it comes to football, they need to play up to the sport’s culture of female objectification. Consequently female football fans become a fetishised commodity, never equal to their male counterparts. Is it any wonder that, when the Brazilian referee Fernanda Colombo Uliana made the news after officiating her first top-flight match earlier this month, the coverage was pretty much dominated by admonitions to look at her arse in a white bikini?

The whole things makes me really sad and really, really, fucking angry. I hate the fact that so many female friends of mine, who I know would absolutely love the excitement and emotional drama the sport entails have no idea that that side even exists. I hate the fact that they’ll probably never know what it’s like because they feel excluded or victimised by the media coverage of the sport. And I hate that I can’t imagine things any other way. Because it doesn’t actually have to be this way.

But you know what? Mostly I hate the fact that there are men out there who genuinely believe that their attention is worth so much to me that I would put time and effort into pretending to like football just for a right swipe on Tinder. No one is worth that much trouble. Except maybe Olivier Giroud.


30 thoughts on “No, I Didn’t Start Liking Football To Try and Impress You

  1. Just want to pop up and say thank you for this!

    I have played since I was five, I have coached, refereed and *gasp* watched soccer(pardon football) and /still/ have to fend off ridiculous questions every time I try and watch in a sports bar or in the students’ center.

    Sorry I cannot name every single player on your favorite team, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the game, or know a lot about it.
    And no, just because I happen to have breasts does not make it more difficult for me to join in an argument about whether that card was deserved. Thanks for asking.

  2. This is an all too-real scenario that I am privy to a lot of the time, unfortunately. In the pub on Saturday, just before the champions league final started, there was an all-male lineup of pundits whose names and faces were all familiar to me. As I was watching, a man sidled over to me and said ‘bet you don’t know who that is?’ pointing to Graeme Souness on the screen. Really? You’re trying to get one over on me on football pundits names? He then proceeded to ask my friend and I our views on our team’s manager, and raucously laughed when we inferred that, among other things, the way the manager presents himself projects onto the team he is in charge of, and this can affect performance. Silly little women’s ideas on the beautiful game!
    I have been an Everton fan all of my life – something that was the product of my mum’s influence, and not my dad’s. I am a season ticket holder, and apart from it being a great excuse to spend time with my dad, I also have an enduring love for the club and their values, and they hold a very important place in my heart, as part of my culture and what I have been brought up with. Something that I think is true of most football fans who dedicate a lot of time, money and effort to the beautiful game… except, when you’re a girl, it’s different isn’t it?

    I don’t live in Liverpool anymore (I’m only in Manchester, so not the world’s biggest pilgrimage), however my friends do, and my life still fully revolves around what goes on there, and in terms of football and being a woman, it’s not very nice.

    Most match days, if you use Twitter and Facebook, and you’re from Liverpool, you are largely alerted to the notion of ‘match slags’ (I am sure it isn’t necessary to explain what people mean by this, but I will tell you anyway) – when there is a major Everton or Liverpool game on, it is perceived that there is a whole clan of women who make themselves available in pubs and bars in town and around the grounds, in order to snare themselves a man in order to have sex with. As you would expect, this is a view enforced by a lot of men, but surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, depending on your experiences) it is fellow women who are hugely culpable for the apportioning of this moniker.
    Not so shockingly, it is ‘scouse parody’ twitter accounts, such as @scousebirdprobs who usually perpetuate this hideous tag
    (see: and for just a couple of instances).
    I could go into detail about what I find so utterly deplorable about this whole badly spectated cultural commentary, but that’s another article (and I probably don’t need to, really). But it does make me sad that fellow women are saying this, and especially women with such huge followings that could really use them for good.

    Apart from this,

  3. This is so true and brilliantly observed – and it takes a lot for me to say that, given I’m a lifelong Spurs fan. Don’t say it…I know our managerial policy is a mess and we desperately need a new stadium.

    I was brought up in a family just like yours and frequently went to matches when I was younger.

    Unfortunately, I then spent a number of years at university keeping quiet when watching the game with friends, after comments like, “goodness you’re loud when you watch football.” (err, yes, Spurs have just squandered possession vs a supremely average team AGAIN and we need the three points – I’m going to yell at the TV every so often. Like you did last week when your team were playing.)

    I did get a prime seat on the house couch for the weekly MOTD (too cheap for Sky), but only because the guys discovered I have a talent for giving neck rubs.

    And yes, there was an undercurrent of, “are you just here so you can flirt with boys?” Answer: not really – it may be university and hormones are a-raging, but I’ve lived with you all for a year and I’ve seen your attitude to personal hygiene. Plus, no girl honestly thinks that plan would work. You’d have more luck chatting your crush up in the bar rather than trying to flirt while they’re glued to the TV.

    Time and again, I found that expressing an opinion often meant getting quizzed about my knowledge of various stats, and woe betide me if I wasn’t completely on point about the latest transfer gossip or injury news – it felt like I was being set a test they wanted me to fail, to see if I was parroting lines I had heard elsewhere.

    To be fair, since then lots of guys have been really welcoming when I want to join a conversation, but too often the default is still, “crikey, you know a lot about football…for a girl.”

    I’m not sure if football struggles with gender barriers more than other sports. Although I really enjoy rugby and cricket, I don’t have the same depth of knowledge. I can follow the flow of the game, but for technical intricacies I need to defer to male friends who’ve played the sport in question. Which is fine, no-one should pretend to be an expert if they’re not, but sometimes I get the impression that guys are more comfortable with a girl in the role of willing student, not equal debating partner.

    And it’s a real shame, because I love football – even when it turns and bites you in extra time. But even though it’s our national sport, and even though it is inclusive enough to have spread to almost every country in the world, somehow half the population have to work really hard just to be part of the conversation about the beautiful game.

  4. Thank you for such a lovely response (especially seeing as you’re a Spurs fan). I have actually been really lucky at university when it comes to this, I live in a house of boys and we all spend entire weekends watching matches together and i do generally feel that my opinions are respected and listened to. I think that’s why the whole tinder debacle was such a shock, until that point i had never experienced the prevalence of those ridiculous opinions on such a personal level!

  5. The exact same thing happens in geek/gamer circles. I’m both saddened and yet kind of relieved to see it happens for other hobbies too :/

    Obviously this completely sucks, and while I may not be that into football myself, I sympathise.

  6. I like this article. Football isn’t my preferred sport (Come On The Toon though!), but I think this is common to a lot of sport, and other hobbies. You’re either watching it because your boyfriend wants you to, or because you’re leching over the players… and if you have the gall to play a game yourself, well then you must be a lesbian or have a Y chromosome somewhere…

  7. This is so, so true, and such a shame. And that’s without even getting started on the woeful coverage of women’s football (and virtually all other sports) compared to men’s.

  8. I completely agree with this! I thoroughly enjoy watching football and going to matches, though will admit I came slightly late to the party. My husband has supported Chelsea since he was born and his total love of the game in general has meant that little by little I have also become a huge fan. However, the idea that I ‘just support them because he does’ or that I would ever pretend to be interested in something in the hope of going on a date is so laughable it almost makes me cry. Forget the impracticality of taking an ‘interest’ in something you can’t possibly sustain in the hope of finding a relationship (the foundations of which are already built on sand before you’ve even started) or that you are so insecure you feel your own interests aren’t worthy is terrible.

  9. From a fellow Gooner, loved this piece! I have experienced it myself but most of my male friends treat my football opinion like anyone else’s, but sometimes I do hold back on a thought because I think wait maybe I’ll say it wrong and they’ll think that girl knows nothing, typical. Also, Oliver giroud totes, well before he cheated on his wife, now I’m like.. Illusion destroyed.

  10. I don’t like football. But then I’ve never watched women’s football. So maybe i do!? Point is, I can’t imagine anyone liking someone enough to pretend to like football. I pay attention when my fella talks about his fantasy books, but that’s about it, and he’s taken to pointing out the equal gender rolls or bad attempt at writing genders to help me pay attention and to care about the books.

    I enjoyed cricket and rounders because those were the ones (in primary school) where both boys and girls could play. In comp we did netball, they did basket ball, we did hockey (OW! My poor tibia and fibula) etc.
    Now days i’m really in to roller derby, they’re men or women teams, not both, but still… Where else can I watch a spot with women in it? Not in a creepy way, but in a “YEAH! I’m a woman! I can be badass too!” way.

  11. As a gamer and comic book geek, this does ring some bells. And it seems to happen in reverse too, having been part of a netball team you had to be a girly girl off the court to fit in socially. However, I can happily report having found a sporty hobby where I can compete with girls and guys alike, win against and lose to both, and have never been treated differently because of my gender – archery.

    No one should be put off a hobby they love because of sexist attitudes, but I’m thoroughly enjoying being able to focus on training and competing, knowing all my team mates have my back regardless of which changing rooms they use.

  12. Having grown up in north Manchester, as a red in a red town, I’ve thankfully not experienced too much in the way of “but you’re a girl!” #shockhorrorthanksIdidn’trealisewillswitchovertotheicedancing reactions to loving the beautiful game. It really wasn’t all that unusual where I grew up – most of my girlfriends are huge fans and the pubs would be very mixed, gender-wise, come match day. However I now live in a southeastern town where football is very much a “mans” sport, rather than a family/community sport to be enjoyed together, and I do often feel that the only way to stop the snide sneering faces when I pipe up in a football conversation is to quickly reel off some facts/figures/gossip that will somehow prove I am worthy of a voice in the conversation. It’s really quite sad…and also means that I haven’t been all that popular with the girls in this town, mostly due to the fact that I often turn down their “girly” invitations because they clash with a match I’d like to watch – and no matter how persuasive I try to be that we can do the girly stuff later (who doesn’t love a good gossip over a bottle of wine?), they would just rather go out and get their nails done whilst the men watch the game :(

  13. As a girl from the US, I can attest that this issue is seen across country borders and different sports. I’m an only child that grew up watching baseball, my dad and I made the weekly four hour trek to our team’s stadium for years and I through this exposure learned to love the game. Now, as a college student, my opinion is often brushed off by my male peers when watching baseball. Despite the fact that I have seen well over 500 games live, never missed my team’s opening day and practically live and breathe baseball, I too experience the “quizzing” for validation. Most of the time I can keep up, but one fault and you are totally discounted. Meanwhile, I’m sure I could quiz the boys with my knowledge of facts and they wouldn’t be able to stand either. Gender binaries, am I right ladies?!

  14. Great post. I’m a man who got into football through my mum – my dad wasn’t interested at all. It’s ridiculous that in 2014 the kind of comments you mention are still aimed at women who follow football, and you have to put up with such ridiculous attitudes. It’s up to male football fans such as myself to challenge these sexist attitudes in other men. I’d have hoped things were improving since my mum’s youth when there were barely any women or girls in crowds but clearly there’s still a lot to do.

    I go home and away regularly with my team, London’s finest, Brentford (only one division below the Premier League now so you never know, we may be playing you soon) and am glad that there are many women and girls both at home and away games around the country. Obviously being a man I’m not going to notice sexism they face (similarly to how men are often not aware of the sheer scale of street harassment for example) but from what I know I like that their being there isn’t notable, they’re just part of the crowd, united in backing Brentford, as with anyone else. There are a group who make fan videos for every game and often you can see coming through in them how part of it the many women and girls who follow us are.

    The only way for these attitudes to change is men to change them. Can’t happen soon enough.

    Your final paragraph did make me laugh though, these blokes must fancy themselves as pretty irresistible if they’re so deluded they think women would bother faking interest in football to attract their attention.

  15. Hear hear! My boyfriend is also a Brentford fan and couldn’t be more excited about next season.

    He also finds it completely normal that I’m into football and sports in general, so perhaps there’s something in the local water in Brentford?

    By the way, well done on the promotion (possibly no team has deserved it more after the past few years) and I hope you enjoy what might be the last season in Griffin Park. Go on the Bees!

  16. I was about to say the same!
    Also reminds me on the numerous tumblr posts about male geeks failing spectacularly when subjected to the same quizzing.

  17. I have been going to Brentford since I was 3 years old and it is all because of my mum. She was the one who developed my brother and I’s love of football and it never dawned on me until I was older that this might be outside the norm. I have never felt like I was out of place as a woman at Griffin park. My opinion is taken seriously by all the the friendly faces around me and it seems like Brentford does attract a higher percentage of female supporters than some other clubs. The queue for the loos at half time are a big suggestion that they might!

    It was only when I started secondary school that I realised my support of football could be judged differently. I faced the ‘tests’ that are apparently mandatory to see if a girl actually likes sport. As I’ve got older reactions to my football knowledge by men in pubs has often been more of an initial surprise followed acceptance. So perhaps the situation is improving? My experience overall has been that any sexist attitudes towards my love of football are usually found in social interactions involving strangers and not in the comfort of a football stadium.

    As for liking football as a way of getting men, that completely confuses me as a plausible option and it is laughable that some men seem to think this. Any doubt in my support for Brentford has always seemed to be from football fans who could be better described as glory hunters who don’t actually go to football matches. This would of course make them hypocrites…

  18. Thanks very much for the reply and congratulations! Great to hear of your Brentford following boyfriend, so you’ve heard first hand about all we’ve had to go through. Finally made it up, next season will be special. Somewhat coincidentally I actually brought a Tottenham supporting friend to an away game of ours last season, he was very impressed at the atmosphere etc created. Will be very sad to leave Griffin Park but at least we’re finally a club on the up.

    Great to hear he finds it completely normal that you follow football/sport, as it should be. I’d like to think it’s something about Brentford! I find it shocking that we still have men who express shock or disbelief at women who follow sport. There are more women going to sport than ever before and not just that but so many women and girls play football and other sports these days. I wonder if the problem is something inherent in football or just a reflection of the wider sexism in society. Either way, it all needs to stop, and men have a major role to play in ensuring it does.

  19. Thank you so much for such a lovely response. So glad you enjoyed the article.

    You are completely right that for this to change men’s attitudes do need to change and I also agree that part of the issue is that men don’t tend to notice that these issues exist at all. Hopefully my piece will at least enlighten any male football fans who happen to stumble across it!

    Congrats on the promotion! Hopefully in a season’s time we’ll be singing and swearing at each other from across the stands.

  20. Let’s hope so. If male football fans can notice when casual sexism comes from fellow fans (or not so casual sexism, any really) and challenge it even within their own groups it’d be a start. What makes it even more laughable is you’ll know more about football and following your team than most of the blokes who express shock that you follow football or think you’re doing it to impress them (oh dear). You follow your team and have done for years, most of them are probably armchair fans (not that sexism at matches isn’t a problem too, but specifically the types who make those comments).

    Thanks for the congratulations. Hope that’s happening soon, will be good for Premier League fans to get to see a proper London club for a change…(Chelsea certainly got a shock at the experience in the Cup last season). In seriousness, just staying up and finally getting to play Fulham again will make our season.

  21. I’m an American football fan and have the same issues. My husband and I married 7 years ago, and his son asked him if he “ordered one who liked football.” Apparently, since his father and I met online (it wasn’t even through a dating site – we got into a discussion online and things progressed from there) his mother told him that his father “got me off of the internet” and that one of the requirements was that I must like football. I don’t love football because a man loves it. I was raised by my mother who was raised by my grandmother who was raised by my great-grandmother to love football. Whether or not the men in our lives loved it was and is irrelevant. Then I had to deal with a nine year-old who felt compelled to explain the nuances of the sport, the rules, and generally what was going on during the game to me – points which I knew and understood better than he did. The ex-wife was then offended because I told her son that men don’t have a monopoly on sports and that his behavior was sexist and insulting. I guess she didn’t like my interference with her raising of a chauvinistic ass. In the years since, my stepson may or may not have learned something from me about the invalidity of patriarchal mores, but he has at least learned to keep his mouth shut.

  22. Catherine – great to hear from a fellow Brentford fan that my perceptions of women and girls being entirely part of everything at Griffin Park are accurate. I know that it’s not remarkable at all to see plenty of women at Brentford, home or away, and have never heard anyone comment on it other than older fans on one or two occasions saying how positive it is Brentford now has so many. Was great after the Preston game in pubs around GP/Brentford afterwards the atmosphere and chatting away with all fans, embracing promotion long into the night, and I can recall a few occasions during that of women starting chants in pubs and getting things going (not that it took much doing). Wouldn’t have thought to comment on that but given the topic of this post, thought I would here.

    Your last paragraph is what I had a feeling would be the case. I imagine the kind of bloke who doubts women’s commitment to their clubs to be glory fan types whose “commitment” consists of watching games on Sky and thinking they know it all while probably never going to games, just “supporting” one of the big clubs because they’re on TV and win a lot. Not always going to be the case, but unsurprising it often is. Now their knowledge of football I’d question…

    Also quite a collection of Brentford in the comments here: me, you and junebug’s boyfriend. Already more Brentford fans here than Fulham’s average away support.

  23. I absolutely hate that the testing just becomes an expected part of being a female football fan! A friend of one of my housemates genuinely only started to take me seriously as a fan becausw I knew what the purpose of the D just outside the area was when nobody else in the room did…

  24. Thank you so much for this article. Oh my God.

    I have a season ticket for my team too and you’ve really hit the nail on the head. Specifically the part about occasional reminders that actually, you’re not that welcome there (e.g. the reaction to female physio.)

    As for ‘pretending to like football’… get over yourselves. Your attention is not worth that much to me.

  25. Mrs Cloughiepig and I met through our love of the game (she was following my live tweets of a match). In fact she was into it before I was, as her Dad took her to Nottingham’s Market Square as a toddler to celebrate winning the European Cup. It astonishes me that anyone could question a woman’s love of the game. No real point here, just dumbfounded at the hassle that women still have to endure in this day and age.

  26. I agree so much with this article. Twice since the start of the world cup I’ve been with my work friends (all men) watching the match and received comments that I must be bored and what would I rather be doing. I’m used to this as it’s happened all my life, but both times my boss has looked really confused and said why does everyone keep assuming that? As far he’s concerned I’m the only other person on our team who he can discuss footy with – nobody else had any interest. He seemed shocked when I said always happens.

  27. I’m a blue as well! I’ve never really encountered much sexism at goodison to be honest, although I regularly am the only woman I can see anywhere near where I sit. (The guy who sits in front of me did once say “she’s good that linesgirl isn’t she?” about Sian Massey, but you can’t really complain about that.) I do notice quite a bit of homophobia though.

    I haven’t really come across the whole “match slags” thing, although I suspect that’s partly because I don’t live in Liverpool anymore and when I’m there I don’t go to the sort of pubs they’d be in. But scousebirdprobs really really annoys me. When I see my friends retweeting it I feel so sad for them.

    I’ve never really played football as I went to an all girls school where we only did netball and hockey. I just accepted it at the time but now I think about it it’s ridiculous that we didn’t have the option to play the world’s most popular sport. I might’ve enjoyed PE a bit more if we had.