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.