Now, anyone who knows me will know that I am no elite athlete. However, in later life, and just so that I can eat more puddings, I have become a MAWIL. Now, a Google search won’t reveal what that is since I’ve bastardised MAMIL; that is, for the uninitiated, a “Middle-Aged Man in Lycra”. You can now find me enjoying the great British outdoors donned in uber-glamorous Lycra for a little cycling or running (the former is better since it can more readily be combined with a mid-exercise glass of vino).
So now I not only enjoy watching sports (unless it gets too tense in which case you will find me in the kitchen making tea) but I also actively engage in it. The problem is that it irks me to see women struggling to compete with men in sport – relegated to being second class citizens, allowances needing to be made for them. I used to play one-a-side with my next door neighbour Steve when I was a wee girl. He was Liverpool and I was always Wolves (in those days they were actually still pretty good) and I thought that I was a lot better with my feet than my hands. But games lessons for girls at school in the 80s consisted largely of rounders and netball. I can still remember the abject horror that struck me whenever I realised that rounders was the choice of the day. The humiliation was boundless…firstly I never once managed to get bat to ball and secondly I couldn’t catch a ball to save my life. Meanwhile the boys were off playing footie. (I know, I am ignoring cricket, and rugby, but just let me have my whinge.)
So why don’t girls play football to the extent that boys do and, if they do, why don’t they get to play it with the boys? Might parents have something to do with it? I recently had a conversation with a couple of guys about their young kids. One father had two boys, the other three girls. The father with three girls said he’d like to have a son so that he could take him to the football…he didn’t get away scot-free with that comment! There was nothing unusual about his comment though as recent research commissioned by the FA shows1. Fathers encourage their daughters to engage in swimming, athletics, gymnastics, tennis, netball or martial arts before football, yet footie is the number 1 sport fathers want their sons to play. Reasons given by fathers were that “football is a man’s game”, is “unladylike” and that their daughters would be perceived as “butch” (see Alex Greenwood below for an impression of the butch England players) or indeed that “women aren’t built to play football”. Does this mean fathers think women don’t have feet I wonder? Or that they just can’t kick? Maybe some of these fathers have balls that deserve a deft shot by a stiletto-clad foot?