Girls get their kicks by Helen Donohoe

My niece is doing amazing things. At the vulnerable age of seven she is making her very own stand against the pinked up tyranny that surrounds her.  She doesn’t like pink anymore. Hallelujah I cry. Not only that but she would like to wear shorts rather than that school dress please. Good choice! Much better for climbing. She’s also taken the brave decision to wear her football kit of choice as she proudly takes part in the inevitably boy-dominated football sessions after school. All the braver because her football kit of choice is Tottenham Hotspur’s.   The boys in their mass marketed Chelsea and Man Utd uniforms think this is funny – but she can handle that.  What she finds much harder to cope with is the horrible stick she gets from the girls; ‘you look like a boy’, ‘that’s what boys’ wear’ ‘do you want to be a boy?’.

It’s so familiar to me. It’s as if 30 years of my life never happened. In 1979 I was in exactly the same place.  The kit was red with white sleeves but the bullying was just the same.

On the face of it that is quite depressing. However if you look closer there is room for a smile. There will always be spirits that can not be fenced in. No force in the world would ever stop me playing football (and many have tried).  But women and girls all over the world play football in far tougher circumstances than I or my niece have ever faced. I sent this article to her as a reminder of that.

And here’s another great piece of film.

However, we need a prevailing culture that means you don’t have to be brave or tough to have the same choices as boys.  Naturally cultural change is complex and multi-faceted but role models are essential.  That is why it is absolutely critical that the Football Association get women’s football right. They govern the game in England, where the game was invented.  They have responsibility for the development of the game at all levels and ultimately they have the ability to allow women and girls’ football to thrive – or in the current climate at least survive.  Arsenal Football Club have for over ten years set the inspirational standard of what women and girls’ football could look like.  The players are heroes. My two year old girl can shout their names and if I ever need reminding of how far we have come, I just take my daughters and their friends to join the crowd that every Sunday watch Arsenal women play.  This year they won the FA Cup and League again.

However, they really are the exception that proves what the norm could be.

Thirty years on from my experience as a girl daring to be different the links are still missing.  When girls on the one hand can dream of growing up to be Rachel Yankey, but still face bullying for just wanting to join in with the boys (or hopefully other girls playing football) we still have a long way to go. If you’re a football fan ask your club what they are doing for women and girls’ football (pink scarves in the club shop is not the right answer!) or remind the FA how critical it is for them to invest in the women’s game.

Not every girl or indeed boy will get their kicks from chasing a football around a park.  However, that should be their choice and no one else’s.

Orla - supporting Arsenal Ladies

Orla - supporting Arsenal Ladies

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3 responses to “Girls get their kicks by Helen Donohoe

  1. My 5-year-old announced the other day that she didn’t want to do ballet classes, she wants to play football. Now all I have to do is stop her becoming a Millwall supporter (it’s our nearest club…)

  2. I help organise womens football for middle aged women. My generation grew up not being allowed to play football in the playground! However we have got a group of mums and teachers together to play regularly on sunday mornings. You can probably guess we get no funding or support from local council or footballing groups. However despite that we have held a couple of tournaments involving 150 women who had never played before. If you are interested in doing the same in your area email me at jackie@mertonparents.co.uk

    Since us mums and teachers have been playing the number of girls at my school wanting to play has tripled!

  3. I’ve been a lurker of this blog/site for a couple of months now and I love it. We’re in Australia and my 6 year old daughter has begun her first season of football. We’ve had a really positive experience so far. I’m thrilled she initiated this and whilst I would support her in any endeavour, am glad she does not feel bound to the traditional sterotypes of activities girls ‘should’ be participating in.

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