When Arsenal released their latest training kit, they once again excluded female fans and the women’s team and, as Helen Trantum explains, this is far from an isolated incident…

Arsenal training kit, via Arsenal
Arsenal training kit, via Arsenal, which now appears to have been edited to remove Leah Williamson

Arsenal recently released a new training kit; so far, so normal.

They even stuck a woman on the email mail shot advert. How very 21st century of them.

But that’s where it all started to go wrong.

What is the point in showing Leah Williamson wearing a shiny new kit (and rather tasty kit as it happens!) if, when you click through the advert, you cannot actually buy the product if you are a woman, like Leah Williamson?

Of the various things advertised in the email, not a single one is available in a women’s fit.

In fact, the only item from the training range which you can buy at all is a pair of tracksuit bottoms.

Talking a good game is not enough

Arsenal training kit, via Arsenal
Arsenal training kit, via Arsenal, featuring Leah Williamson

Arsenal are usually brilliant at diversity.

We give our women’s team a lot of airtime, there are all sorts of events where the men and women stand side by side, and we talk a fantastic game, in general.

It may seem like a small point, but the decision to switch from having the respective teams listed as “First Team” and “Ladies” to “Men” and “Women” was a huge step forward in acknowledging women in sport.

But, sometimes, actions speak louder than words, and this is a classic example of the sort of – we’ll call it oversight, rather than malicious disregard – that irks female fans, young and old.

Ask any Arsenal-supporting woman of a certain age, and they’ll tell you tales of buying XS men’s, or more commonly L or XL boys clothing just to be allowed the privilege of wearing club colours.

It was only quite recently that even the standard home match kit was made available in a women’s fit.

Then the away kit was offered.

Then the third kit.

But if you want goalkeeper kit? Long sleeved match shirts? And the above mentioned training kit?

Forget it.

But why is this an issue?

Arsenal training kit, via Arsenal
Arsenal training kit, via Arsenal

I joked with a follower on Twitter that it’s a first world problem to want clothes that fit properly, but if you’re spending £50 on a ‘luxury’ item of clothing, is it so wrong to want it to be Goldilocks, and not a bit too big or a bit too small?

If I buy a top from the boys’ range, here’s the reality:

  • It’s too tight around the hips and the chest
  • But it’s baggy around the waist
  • Short sleeves cut into my arms
  • But long sleeves are several inches too short

And yet, for many years, I bought them because I was desperate to proudly wear Arsenal clothing.

Women have struggled for years with body image, and the right to dress as we see fit.

I am a photographer by trade, so I welcome a multitude of women into my studio.

Yet on pretty much a weekly basis, I am left trying to convince a new mum to be in photographs with her beautiful newborn baby, because society has told her that if she doesn’t look like a stereotype then she’s not good enough.

Take a moment to consider that.

A woman doesn’t want to create treasured memories with her family, because she is worried about her appearance.

We have girls who lose interest in sport as they approach their teenage years because it’s not tailored to them, nor considerate of their needs.

Some push through that, yet we lose so much female participation in sport, both as players and fans, because of these sort of issues.

Imagine a 10 year old girl visiting a well-known sports apparel store recently to choose some new gear, but being told “sorry, we only do girls’ clothing online.”

It’s appalling.

It’s not an issue unique to football, either.

Judy Murray launched a campaign called ‘Miss-Hits Tennis for Girls’ – but why? It’s not to prioritise girls over boys, of course, but more to try to overcome these sort of barriers that just don’t exist in male sport.

“We have to make tennis more boy-friendly” said no-one ever.

Yet, that precise statement, with one minor change, is featured prominently on the Miss-Hits website.

And netball, a sport I am heavily involved with, still sees participation dwindle significantly through the teenage years, even though it is an extremely female-orientated and dominated sport.

Society as a whole is not set up for women to succeed in sport, so why offer up even more obstacles?

It’s a subconscious attitude.

Nike made headlines when one of the most decorated athletes in history, Allyson Felix, spoke out about how they had refused her concessions around performance after giving birth.

In fact, they offered her 70% less, apparently tone deaf and ignorant of the HUGE market of women who have had or would one day like to have children.

Four months later, Nike announced a new policy for athletes in the 18 months around their pregnancies, but the damage was done, and the attitude was clear.

Football already has a significant bias to overcome – I vividly remember being told as a child that I couldn’t play due to my gender, and my views as a fan and armchair analyst are regularly undermined both overtly and subconsciously because I’m a woman.

Bear in mind that I am a lifelong season-ticket-holding die-hard fan, who played the game throughout childhood and adolescence, and now writes about that same subject.

If I don’t have a chance, then who does?

But according to legend, understanding the offside rule is the preserve of males, apparently.

It’s up to our clubs to role model the right attitude towards girls and women in this amazing sport, to make them feel comfortable, to make them feel welcome.

It may seem like a small thing, to offer clothing specifically designed for women. But can you imagine the furore if the men’s team were asked to play wearing, or indeed our male fans were only offered for purchase, the sort of deep v-neck cleavage bearing shirts that used to be the ‘women’s kit’ made available for sale?!

So why has nothing happened about it?

It would be bad enough if Arsenal didn’t have a women’s team. But if they are producing the training kit for the players*, is it so hard to increase that production run for the fans too?

You’d think it would actually introduce economies of scale.

And, frankly, even if it didn’t and meant subsidising the women’s options, so be it.

You will never grow your female audience properly if you don’t cater properly for them.

*As it happens, it doesn’t sound like the players are getting quite the same privileges as the men’s team either. In a quickly deleted tweet, Beth Mead questioned when the women’s team would be receiving their allocation of training kit. 

Likewise, Lia Walti pointed out after the FA Cup final that the club had tried to do the right thing by providing them with new jackets.

However, once again, the gesture wasn’t thought through, as these were only offered up in a men’s fit in sizes M and L.

Sounds flattering…

It’s time the club started walking the walk, rather than just talking the talk.

Women may not be the majority shareholders in Arsenal fandom, but we are a significant minority, and we deserve to be catered for, too.

Take a look at the brand new Arsenal advisory board composition and you’ll probably notice a glaring omission.

Despite a growing contingent of match-going supporters, and many more supporting online too, there’s not a single female face represented on that board.

It’s symptomatic.

It’s problematic.

It’s self-propagating.

And I’m sorry*, it’s not good enough.

*I’m not sorry.