Prejudice is a funny thing.
I read Nia’s article earlier this week on International Women’s Day about the difficulties she faces in establishing her credentials in any footballing conversation with interest. That women don’t know the offside rule is one of the sport’s greatest clichés, yet it’s also one of the laziest.
I’ve been into football since I was a little girl running around the field whirling my T-shirt above my head in the same way as all the boys in my street. Nothing about that has changed since my mum gently told me that it was no longer entirely appropriate to celebrate in such a fashion.
If anything, my love for the game has intensified since I stopped playing at the end of university, as I now have more time to study it.
A year ago, I was completely in agreement with Nia’s experiences.
In a world where to venture an opinion on anything even loosely associated with the beautiful game was akin to threatening to dangle someone’s baby off a balcony, the audience, however big or small, would regard me with complete horror and then incredulity.
This year, I find myself reflecting on attitudes I face, and finding some small but reassuring signs that perhaps things are improving.
Take this Thursday, when I was invited along to an events day at the Arsenal training ground on behalf of Daily Cannon.
Naturally, I was the only non-staff girl on the scene, but as someone who studied physics at university and now works in the old boys club world of insurance, that’s hardly an unusual or intimidating scenario.
I was, admittedly, somewhat nervous about the football-related challenges that awaited – after all the last time I kicked a ball in anger was the final year of my aforementioned time as a student – but it was refreshing to see the reception I received courtesy of the other participants.
No one was (at least openly) looking at me quizzically, and no one asked me the same sort of leading or trick questions that Nia was confronted with in her example.
No, instead I was welcomed into a group of people who apparently already knew each other quite well with barely a second look.
It’s the same story at work.
In a male-dominated industry, most people have their team, yet no one has batted an eyelid at my (strong and vociferous) views. Perhaps the odd raised eyebrow at the fact that I choose to spend every weekend suffering/worshipping (delete as appropriate) at the church of Arsenal, but even that is perhaps a comment as much on my lifestyle choices as my gender.
The primary place where I still have to fight to establish myself as a football fan remains the pub, and of course, there are some mitigating circumstances.
Alcohol does strange things to people, as usually rational people demand Wenger’s head on a plate and some think it a good idea to unfurl banners of bore after a 4-0 victory*.
There is rarely more alcohol on show than in Britain’s greatest drinking establishments after all.
*yes, bore. It didn’t work last time, it won’t work this. Don’t try to pretend you’re being polite when you might as well turn up with an expletive-laden demand.
Of course, being a relatively quietly spoken individual doesn’t help in often noisy surroundings. Frequenters of the Daily Cannon podcast may remember a particularly musical* rendition of Bellerin’s song which, while demonstrating a vague sense of melody, probably underlines why you won’t find me raising the dead on game day.
I’ll try, of course I’ll try, but block 104 don’t tend to pay much attention if I attempt to start a chant!
*relative to the Emirates fare, at any rate. Charlotte Church has nothing on me…!
If you’re wondering where that quietly spoken individual was on this week’s pod, then you’ll realise that of course even the quietest people can pack a punch if the right topic is a talking point.
No, it turns out being a female footy fan has its upsides too.
In just over a week, I’m marrying the Spurs fan who I’ve been with for the last ten years.
That relationship is not without its challenges (!) and last weekend, in particular, placed an unusually large burden on it, especially when he claimed Spurs deserved to win…!
However, my Lilywhite husband-to-be frequently says to me that while he’d do almost anything to change my allegiances, he wouldn’t trade me for the world.
Apparently that’s in no small part because his ideal woman would have to like football since it’s such a huge part of his life.
On Thursday night, I tweeted about how my fiancé had returned home to watch the second half of Spurs’ demolition by Dortmund, unaware of the final score.
He asked me to set up the sky box so that he wouldn’t find out the result by accident, and of course I was happy to oblige. Gleeful in fact.
My Spurs-fan-fiancé just got in, having missed the second half, and wants to watch it now. "Can you set it up?" "Of course, dear!" 😁😁😁
— Xhelen🎗 (@nellypop13) March 10, 2016
I then proceeded to enjoy 45 minutes of his misery as his team were comprehensively taken apart by a team much less accomplished than Barcelona (sorry Lewis…).
That for me is part of the beauty: that we both love football but support differing teams simply means that we can enjoy the banter 24/7.
And he loves it.
Maybe, just maybe, being a female football fan is no longer something to be laughed at, mocked or ridiculed, but something to be impressed by.
Or better still, something to be unremarked upon entirely.