• Matthew Whiley

Women's Football: Why The Negativity?

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

"What's with all the coverage of women's football? Does anyone really care?"

"Why are you pushing womens [sic] football so much! We don't want to see it and never will!"

"Make a separate page, even women don't care about womens [sic] football"

"Reporting women's transfer news to be politically correct. Nobody cares"

These are just a selection of genuine comments I've seen in recent days on a post from a well-known media outlet when they dared to report that Tottenham had signed World Cup-winning American forward Alex Morgan, one of the most well-known stars of the women's game.

And those are actually on the mild side. It takes only a cursory glance into comment sections of other posts on the women's game to find far worse misogyny littered around. Comments about professional female footballers' looks, sexuality, and supposed ability compared to male youth-teamers all abound.

It's absolute nonsense, and offensive nonsense to boot, but that doesn't stop it being written. Do male footballers get talked about in this way? Of course they don't. When was the last time you heard or saw someone judge Kevin de Bruyne's footballing ability based solely on what he looks like? Or speculate that Mohamed Salah doesn't know about football because of his gender?

Now, I have to admit that some parts of this are very difficult for me to write, namely anything that requires a first-person perspective, because I haven't, and most likely never will, experience discrimination based on my gender. In addition, while I'm writing this arguing for the mind-blowing idea that female footballers are much more than what the comments above portray them to be, and deserve the chance to speak for themselves, I (a man) am talking for them, aren't I? Hypocritical, much?

Still, I will do my best to take an objective viewpoint and simply use the relevant evidence to point out the flaws. The vitriol directed at women's football clearly comes from entirely false ideas, so what I really want to do in this post is look at the common misconceptions around women's football and try to provide evidence in order to dispel them.

Let's, then, lay some of these misconceptions out plainly. Just to be clear, the below are all real comments that I have personally heard or seen.

1) "No-one cares about women's football"

2) "The quality of football on offer is poor"/"It's not as good as men's football"

3) "Women don't know as much about football as men"

Right, here we go.

1) "No-one cares about women's football"

With regards to this, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and of course what people who write this sort of stuff online mean is that they don't care, and to them, just one other person in the same comment section writing something in the same vein is validation of their idea. We can quite easily dispel this with some basic facts and figures surrounding attendance and TV viewing figures.

In 2019/20, the average crowd per game across the Women's Super League in England was 3,401, with Tottenham having the highest average at 8,614, and running down to Bristol City, who received an average gate of 1,285. The total attendance across the 152 WSL matches last season was 516,882, and on top of that, 77,768 attended England v Germany at Wembley in November. For reference, the average attendance at a National League/Conference game in the same time period was 2,174, yet have you ever seen any comments along the lines of "No one cares about Conference football"? No, didn't think so. (Sources: www.worldfootball.net/attendance/eng-frauen-womens-super-league-2019-2020/3/ & www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/50345414).

In addition, a combined 1.12 billion people watched the World Cup on television last summer (Source: https://www.fifa.com/womensworldcup/news/fifa-women-s-world-cup-2019tm-watched-by-more-than-1-billion), so I'm all ears if someone wants to try and make the case that 14.5% of everyone currently alive counts as 'no-one'.

So yes, speaking directly to the people who believe and perpetuate this, more fool you, I say, because there is some real high-quality football to be found if you give women's football a chance. That dovetails quite nicely with my next point.

2) "The quality of football on offer is poor"/"It's not as good as men's football"

Yes, I'm paraphrasing slightly, because when this idea raises its head, 'poor' is usually replaced with another four-letter word. This is frequently laced throughout criticism of women's football, and it's one of the most recurrent methods of belittling the game, the players, and people who do actually care about it. It's a vicious circle; those who believe it haven't actually got anything to base it on, but they don't want to see what they perceive to be poor... precisely because they believe it's poor, and so the dissemination continues.

The second part of this one, which is very closely related to the first, is also often used as a stick to beat the women's game with by comparing it to men's football, and quite frequently, to men's youth teams. You know the one, the tale about the US women's team losing to a boys' under-15s team a few years ago. Yes, it did happen, but it matters very little when you put it in context. (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-4389760/USA-women-s-team-suffer-5-2-loss-FC-Dallas-U-15-boys.html).

It's weird how this one result is blown out of proportion by those who look to belittle professional female footballers, when in fact, all it proves is that there's a difference in biology between men and women. Looking at the photographs in the article above, you can see that most of the youth teamers are taller than their female counterparts, so the under-15 bit doesn't really matter; they've got, or are well on their way to having, the biology of adult men. They certainly aren't children.

The idea that men, on the whole, are physically bigger than women is not remotely new, and, again, the comparison between the two in relation to the game above is only used by people who want to put the women's game down. Do you see Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce being compared to Usain Bolt in an attempt to subdue women's sprinting? Or Laura Trott being put up against Chris Hoy to make an irrelevance of female cyclists?

No? Interesting, it's only in the case of football. Just because the top women's side might have lost once to a (sort of) junior men's team, in a friendly, where they won't have been playing at anything like full intensity, doesn't mean the women's game is lacking quality; it just proves what we've known all along - that there's a reason men and women don't compete together in most disciplines. For a snapshot of what you can expect when you watch competitive women's football, have a look at this highlight reel from December: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/av/football/50705270 .

It's good, and don't let anyone tell you it isn't.

3) "Women don't know as much about football as men"

This is a real comment I've heard someone make regarding female commentators, who wasn't particularly enamoured by the idea of women commentating on male sport. Again, it's entirely baseless, of course, but, like the other two ideas I've listed here, it continues to be perpetuated.

Now, obviously there's no evidence to directly debunk this idea, mostly because it's so ridiculous, but also because there's no universal test that you can take to prove how much you know about football, however much fun that might sound. So, instead, we'll counter this by illustrating some of the achievements of women in football, which I think is actually quite a good way to finish this post as a whole.

· Alex Scott (England) became the first female pundit at a World Cup for the BBC in 2018, and shortly afterwards, the first female pundit on Sky Sports.

· Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn, Carli Lloyd, Kelley O'Hara, Megan Rapinoe, and Tobin Heath (all USA) are all back-to-back World Cup winners and Olympic gold medallists.

· Formiga (Brazil) is the only footballer of either gender to appear at seven World Cups, and the only other player to have appeared in at least six is another woman; Homare Sawa (Japan).

· Jill Ellis (USA) is only the second manager to win the World Cup twice, and the first in 81 years.

· Marta (Brazil) was the first footballer of either gender to score at five World Cups.

· Stéphanie Frappart (France) became, in August 2019, the first woman to referee a major men's European match.

· Christine Sinclair (Canada) has scored the most international goals (186) of anyone of either gender. Abby Wambach (USA) is second in that list, with 184, and in fact the top seven are all women.

Just to put that last one in context of goals per game, Wambach's 0.72 places her in 14th in a list of both men and women, while Sinclair's 0.62 is joint 23rd. Male players below both of them include Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Miroslav Klose, and Wayne Rooney.

I could go on, but I think I've probably made my point.

To conclude, I know that women's football is ever-growing, and governing bodies around the world are doing a sterling job of continuing to fund it and ensure its sustained development; I only hope that Covid doesn't wreck the progress made in recent times.

Thankfully, these comments do represent a minority. Most of us who love football don't care about the gender of the players, and when we go to watch the game, we just want to watch the game. However, in the absence of the best-case scenario where these ugly stereotypes are silenced completely, it is important that they remain a tiny minority and are not allowed to take hold.

Oh, one final note on something completely different - I scored 10 out of 16 on the NFL predictions I made in my last post, so I think we have to call that a reasonable success, and maybe do it again sometime. I'm quite pleased with that!

Signing off,


The cover image for this post was sourced from Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alex_Morgan_May19.jpg), and is attributed to the author, Jamie Smed. It was retrieved by me on the 15th September 2020.


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