On Saturday, along with mates Ed and Toni I headed along to FC United to see them play King’s Lynn. I had no plans for a blog but events conspired to give me a bit of inspiration.
Last week you may have seen a bit of coverage on the issue of sexism in football in the lead up to International Woman’s Day*, I’ve spoken to couple of pals Hanna and Bentz, for the Football Flush Podcast women who follow Preston and United respectively and they have said that in terms of sexism directed at them, they found it more of an issue in the pubs and on way to ground with a degree of self-policing evident among the support. However it is fair to say that a female official, steward or even a Police Officer who comes to the attention of the crowd will get the treatment.
In the interests of full disclosure I should declare I am a 51-year-old bloke whose formative footballing years were the mid 70s and 80s. This was far from a Golden Era for any of the “isms”, racism of the most foul kind was rife and a football stadium was not a place where women would be routinely comfortable. I remember taking a girlfriend to a game in the early 80s and being at ground an hour early to make sure I got us in the stand. There was no way I was taking her on the terracing and to be subjected to that particular madness. That all said I’m not painting myself as some kind of hippy sort who could “feel the pain of the sisters” I just didn’t want to be rolling about the terracing swapping punches with some idiot who tried to feel up my girlfriend.
I was aware of the wrongness of racism. The despicable treatment of Mark Walters on his debut for Rangers against Celtic at Celtic Park in 1988 is probably my most shameful moment as a Celtic fan, bananas thrown on the park and there was a horrible atmosphere that day. Fans confronting other fans asking what the fuck they were playing at. I often think had Celtic not won comfortably that day there would have been a riot in The Jungle, the game acted as a truly welcome distraction.
Since that day there has been no significant incidences of racism in the Celtic support and that is a source of considerable pride for me. However, where sexism is concerned I don’t think any club can hold themselves up as being beyond reproach on this subject. If I’m honest I can’t hold myself up as any kind of moral authority. If I was at a game and heard monkey noises I’d “take to Twitter” and would be full of, arguably, over-earnest “outrage”. Yet at same game wolf whistles directed at a woman would probably not even register such is the accepted normality of that behaviour. Can’t say I am proud of that admission but that’s probably the reality for huge numbers of otherwise sound football supporters.
It is time that nonsense like that is challenged as enthusiastically as racist behaviour would be. I’ve checked the calendar and it’s 2015 and women now make a huge percentage of the crowd at every football stadium, some of the best twitter accounts for clubs are written by women. One of the best FC Barcelona accounts is @cynicule , a woman who writes with insight, intelligence and humour about the club and she is by no means unique. In mainstream media Amy Lawrence is rarely less than “worth a read”, all this is pointing to the fact that football needs to grow up when it comes to its attitude to women.
This brings me to Saturday’s game at FC United, one of my two companions is a woman and there was a good crowd at the game. This meant a busy tram, busy approaches to the ground and a stadium where you stand on terraces. It only occurred to me later, when I had the idea for this blog that at no time did I think Ed and I would have to look out for Toni (although , in truth , I suspect our assistance would only have been needed to save someone from Toni if she was subjected to any sexist abuse) As the teams came out and the game kicked off I noticed the ref was a woman. You may remember my previous blog about my trip to FC United was essentially a love letter , to a football club and an ethos that restored my love in the beautiful game, I won’t lie, I was dreading the first contentious decision.
I didn’t have to wait long, an industrial challenge on an FC player , a clear foul got the “play on” treatment, “here it comes” I thought, and I was right it did come “Fuck sake Ref, that’s fucking shocking” and variations on that theme. One thing that was missing was any reference to her sex. If only that had been her only bad decision, she had an absolute shocker, with a crowd of 2,500, tackles both legal and illegal flying in, passions on the terracing were running high and she was subjected to abuse, but the abuse was “normal” the same that a male ref having an equally dreadful game would get. Well, with one exception, there was one shout about the ref and ironing from a guy in late 50s who looked as if he may live on his own, so it wasn’t all some kind of anti-sexist utopia but for 90 minutes the ref got it in the neck, based solely on the way she did her job not her sex
This is a wee bit of a “Guardian, quinoa muncher”post and yes, it’s a bit earnest, but it is time we kicked sexism out of football, I’ve been as guilty as most in the past but the genie is out the bottle now, clubs are starting to act and , as I experienced in my last visit to FC United, their fans are showing that it can be done. With an election approaching, the spectre of a Tory/UKIP government looming large I’m going to need to find an oasis of sound behaviour in a sea of right-wing, poor people hating racist, homophobic, sexist fuckwittery, FC United might just fit that bill.
*The best tweet I saw on Sunday about “why isn’t there an International Men’s Day” came from Scotland’s own Christopher Brookmyre he tweeted the following…
To anyone suddenly curious as to when is International Men’s Day, the answer is: “Go and have a cry-wank, you needle-dicked arse nugget.”