I’m sitting in my favourite bar, sipping at a large glass of white wine that’s entirely too dry, listening to the rest of the blokes I’m sitting with talk about football.
They’re complaining about Wenger, our lack of defensive midfielder, injuries, how we should buy Cavani, and probably the price of f**king fish ‘n’ chips because we’re Arsenal fans and, by nature, we like a good old moan – often with valid reason.
I clear my throat and shuffle forward in my seat, wiping away the condensation that’s collected on the bowl of my glass with my thumb.
“I actually really like our attack how it is; I don’t think we need any more attacking players,” I mumble, trying to disguise my Surrey accent behind a thin veil of mockney letter dropping, but instead sounding like I’ve gotten lost on my way to a Carry On audition.
All eyes turn to me.
Bloke #1 takes a swig of his lager; Bloke #2 draws patterns on the wooden table in the condensation from his own glass; Bloke #3 suddenly becomes very interested in his beermat.
Bloke #4 “So, who would you buy then?”
Bloke #3 smiles encouragingly.
Me “As far as forwards go… no one. Although I wouldn’t complain if we bought Cavani, of course… I just think the money could be spent better elsewhere.”
Cue polite chuckling, head bobbing and more lager swigging.
Bloke #1 “Well what do you suggest we do then?”
He sneers into his pint.
I now launch into what probably sounds like a well-rehearsed speech about defenders, how we never truly replaced Gilberto Silva, leaving gaps in midfield, and how our injury problems do need to be addressed.
I gesticulate wildly as I address my audience and draw defensive lines on the table with my fingers; I even get the salt shaker and an empty crisp packet involved at one point.
Now this is a fictional situation without really being fictional.
It’s a scenario I’ve found myself in more times than I can count with a range of football fans who support a variety of clubs. No matter what team they support, if I’m in a group of men, I repeatedly feel this need to essentially prove to them that I like the sport.
I have to demonstrate an above-average level of knowledge – higher than that bloke on the other side of the bar – in order for men to take me and my views on the Beautiful Game seriously.
I have to essentially pitch them on whether my footballing opinion is worth their time and if I don’t show them I’m the next Gabby Logan, anything else I have to say on the subject will fall on deaf ears.
Whereas any bloke can seemingly fart his way into the conversation without as much as a raised eyebrow.
As a woman, I have to display the knowledge of a manager; each point I make has to have a clear argument, evidence and reasoning complete with pie chart and Powerpoint presentation.
Never mind that Bloke #2 suggested we should buy s*dding Darren Bent – he gets a solemn nod, maybe a grunt if he brought up his goal scoring record against Arsenal. I just tend to get that vacant look that shows they’re not even considering my argument because they don’t believe I’m capable of making one.
Instead they’re thinking about what time that Chinese takeaway down the road shuts.
Furthermore, when I do in fact prove that I do know the offside rule and I don’t just watch football to see grown men running around in shorts (that’s only about 20% of the reason), I get a hypothetical pat on the head. A “well done, you”.
It’s a patronising thumbs up for breaking gender norms, even though I’m not: I’m just participating in something I enjoy. I don’t deserve praise, condescending or otherwise, for merely liking a sport and it’s usually this reaction that stops me from piping up.
Instead, I keep sipping my wine as it grows warm in my hand, maybe I nod a bit; sometimes I’ll watch another match on TV over someone’s shoulder.
For the most part, I’m not that bitter (I insist, as I seethe and hammer away at my laptop keyboard).
It’s estimated that only 19% of fans who attend Premier League matches are female. Finding a female football fan therefore is less common than encountering a male football fan.
However, the reaction towards us when we do step forward and try to involve ourselves in the conversation shouldn’t be that of shock, admiration or – even worse – scepticism, it should be the same reaction you’d give any football supporter.
Am I always right? F**k no!
Do I want to discuss it? F**k yes!
I don’t want you to handle my opinions and views with kid gloves; by all means, pull my arguments apart, trash them, stamp on them, set them on fire for all I care – I’d prefer an honest debate rather than being treated like a child.
An honest debate between football fans, because that’s what we all are.