So, today is International Women's Day. Naturally, I couldn't let this day go by without writing a piece on women's football and our Palace Ladies!
What is the purpose of this article? Well, I want to try and address the archaic mindset that I feel sadly still haunts too many of us. Football is the biggest sport in the world, I don't care what anyone says(especially egg chasing fans). Yet, there is a massive divide between men's and women's football. Now, don't get me wrong, in terms of time scale, the men's game has been growing for a lot longer than the women's, so naturally there would be a gap. However, that gap really does not need to be as big as it is, and I really feel it is the archaic mindset that plays a big part in this.
For years, I remember thinking that in America, the women's game was actually bigger and more popular than the MLS(I think attendances may have echoed this), yet elsewhere in the world, especially over here, it was all but non-existent. I say non-existent, but it was actually there, with women up and down the country playing the game they loved, it is just that the rest of us refused to acknowledge it. Let's be honest, ever since I was a kid, society told me that women's football was rubbish. Only men could play decent football, that was the attitude, and as a kid when you are being told that, it is easy to just believe that it is the truth. It wasn't helped that none of the girls in our school really seemed to play. Every spare minute of every day, us boys were kicking a ball, while the girls were doing anything else, and so that just seemed to back up the point. What I didn't realise, was that not only was society pushing a negative on me, but it was pushing an even bigger negative on the girls. I was simply getting told that someone else couldn't play football, while all the girls who wanted to play were getting directly told that they weren't good enough, or worthy enough. How ridiculous is that? How upsetting is that?
Thankfully, I am one of those people who likes to form my
own opinion. As we got older, if a girl wanted to play(which happened occasionally),
I had no problem with it, to be honest I was just happy with the bigger teams
meaning a bigger game! Then along came my ex, a big footy fan, an Evertonian
born and bred. She loved to watch and to play, and I was all for her joining a
local team, which she did. It was around this time that I started following the
England Women's team, especially as the BBC covered their games. For years, my
interest stayed with the England team, because league football just didn't have
the exposure, especially when it came to Palace and so I just had no clue.
Every tournament though, I would be watching the games, suffering the same
Three Lions frustration as I would with the men, watching us go close, but not
getting over the line!. This year of course, as I have covered before, my eyes
have been fully opened and I am now a big fan and advocate of the women's game,
especially of those who wear our red and blue with pride. Yet in this modern
day of supposed forward progression, there still seems to be such a backwards
outlook for some.
A few weeks ago, some of our players were sharing articles on Twitter in which parents were kicking off because girls were allowed to play on their boys team. There was a story covering one young girl, who not only got grief from parents, but was ignored by most of her team mates as well, just because she was a girl wanting to play football. I mean, what the hell?? Why on earth are people vilifying someone who is doing something they love, purely because of their gender? I remember seeing those articles and they made me want to write this article, and now just seems like the perfect time. Even a few days ago, I was talking to someone after England had drawn with USA in the Shebelieves Cup. I stated that they still had a chance to win it, and the reply I got was 'Yeh, but who cares'. What kind of attitude was that? The thing is, I couldn't even put it down to a lack of interest in football, because the guy is a huge footy fan. That attitude was simply because it was the women. Had it been the men, that conversation would have been in depth and full of detail. That is the archaic mindset I am talking about, and it needs to change.
At one of the recent Palace Ladies games, a few of us were interviewed for a podcast, and one of the questions we were asked, was if we thought it would be a good idea for the Ladies to play at Selhurst Park. One of the others suggested that it could work if it was doubled up with a men's game(an idea that was actually suggested for the day we played Grimsby in the cup, while the Ladies played Millwall). For me though, I saw it currently as a negative. Don't get me wrong, I would love to see the Ladies get to play at Selhurst, they deserve an opportunity like that. My concern would be that too many fans would just think 'women's football sucks' without even giving it a chance, and that would generate a huge negative. For me, the attendances at Hayes Lane need to grow first. More fans need to start getting down to games and start to understand and realise just how hard these women work, and how they give everything in every game. Is it different to the men's game? Yes, of course it is. Different though, doesn't mean worse. Hell, in the men's game every team, every league, every nation, are different. We all say that the Premier League is the best league in the world, yet come European games, we often see our top teams struggling against mid table European teams. Other leagues aren't worse, they are just different.
The fact is, the world is slowly starting to catch up, but
it needs flexibility in attitudes to help it do so. In pro wrestling(yes I am a
fan!), the women's matches used to be seen as a toilet break for live crowds
because those matches were seen as terrible. Granted some were, partially due
to lack of talent, partially because the women were held back, put in bra and
panties matches instead of just being allowed to wrestle. Now though, things
are different. The women have used their talent to force the issue. They have continued
to improve and to grow as performers, until the fans could no longer ignore
them. With the fans on their side, it eventually became impossible for
promoters to ignore them, and now women's matches are often must watch, and
have prominence on a wrestling card. The same needs to happen in football. Skills
improve all the time, the talent is only getting better, the women just need
the platform to show it. Revamping the league format last summer was a step
towards that, but it needs more. It needs people to say 'you know what, I love
football, I'm going to go and watch'. If you did, you would not be disappointed.
Hell, in all the years I have followed Palace, I have never been bothered about
seeing big stars and international players on visiting teams, I just cared
about our players. Yet when the Ladies played Chelsea, it was a genuine thrill
to see Fran Kirby play live, having watched her emerge on the international
scene several years beforehand! Watching live is a real game changer, and a
great opportunity to be a part of something special.
These girls, these women, like all us guys, love football. They love to watch football, they love to play football. Why should anyone stop them, or criticise them, for that? My daughter has been to two Palace games and a few Ladies matches. She does not have the attention span yet to watch much, but she always asks questions. She loves to kick a ball about, and has an interest in learning to play football(once she gets past wanting to do it in a specific way!!). If coaches, or parents, or other kids refused to let her play, or put her down for doing it, just because she is a girl, I would go nuts. I don't understand parents who wouldn't want their girls to play either. I would love nothing more than to see my daughter play football. I would love for her to join a team, and it would be a dream of mine to see her play for Palace one day. I would never force it on her, it would always be her choice, but I would support her all the way and would be proud as hell to see her achieve any of it.
I don't expect things to change overnight, nothing ever does. What I do hope though, is that maybe this little rant might even change just one attitude for the better. I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to be treated second rate when it comes to my favourite sport, purely because of my gender. I suck at playing, but yet probably had more opportunities than girls who are talented, and that is just wrong. I take my hat off to all the young girls, and all the women out there, who have refused to let society hold them back, who have refused to let sexist attitudes deter them from their passion. They bust their guts every day to improve themselves, to up their game and make women's football better, so now I hope that the world can follow their lead. Bigger crowds, better sponsorship, TV deals. These are all things that need to come their way, deserved rewards for all their hard work. For now though, all I can do is my piece to try and help raise the profile and awareness of our Ladies. At a time when our teams of all ages are enjoying cup runs, our reserves are top of the table and our first team is surviving against the odds at a league level they have never been at before, we need to start celebrating their achievements. These articles will be how I continue to spread the word, and currently, Back Of The Nest is the only fan site for Palace Ladies related content, including playing interviews. So please, keep reading, make the right choice and start supporting the girls, and lay those old mindsets to rest.
Oh, and by the way, England won the Shebelieves Cup! #winning
*All CPLFC Photos courtesy of Tara Hook Photography*