Yes, I’m A Girl And I Actually Do Like Soccer
Autumn marks new things for many people. The start of a new school year. The beginning of the best fashion season. And (arguably the most awesome of them all) the start of European club football (also known by many as soccer).
Two weekends ago marked the beginning of club football for the top-tier leagues of Germany and Italy, while English and Spanish leagues kicked off the week before (Ligue 1 of France began a week prior to that!). The start of the club football season brings about some of the most watched sporting events in the world and will certainly be enjoyed by many.
While I do look forward to watching weekly games, cheering on my favorite teams, and keeping up with (often times it’s more like agonizing over, really) news and predictions of what will happen during the season, lately I’ve been looking back and reflecting on my experiences as a female fan.
I am an avid soccer fan, following my favorite players and teams year-round. I love the game, I love watching it and I’ve played it for most of my life. But just like virtually all other sports, soccer is incredibly male-dominated in every aspect, and as a woman, I’m often left frustrated and exasperated in the heavily male environment and fandom.
My interest in soccer is not new, nor is my knowledge of the game incomprehensive. I played competitively for over 11 years, and still play with friends and in pick-up games. I’m an avid, active fan of various players, teams, and leagues. I cherish the 30 days every four years where the whole planet stops to watch the World Cup. However, all of this, all of my experiences and passions, are completely irrelevant to many men upon realizing that I’m a soccer fan.
When I talk to someone about soccer, I’m doing so because I enjoy it. I want to share, discuss, and talk about what is going on with a topic I’m interested in to someone else. But instead of being met with standard questions, say about the team I support or who my favorite players are, I’m more often met with a dismissive (and likely insulting) response—probably a quip about how I’m only watching for the hot players or because I want to be “one of the guys.”
I don’t know why or how this happens so frequently, but it seems like many men are incapable of believing that a woman can be interested in something for (gasp) the intrinsic happiness it brings her, and because of the men involved.
This bizarre notion is unfortunately widespread. In May, Major League Soccer writer Simon Borg said, during an official MLS podcast, that “die-hard” female fans were a “turn-off,” and made remarks about women who take interest in the game, saying that such behavior (like wearing face paint) is unattractive to men and would discourage a serious relationship.
Well guess what, Simon? I don’t care. I’m not watching games because of men. My goal is not to snag a boyfriend or to be perceived as desirable. My goal is to watch some football, and to be able to express and enjoy myself, and I’d like to do so without being discouraged by MLS employees or seen as a bimbo by male fans.
I’m not here for the men, and I often wonder if people realize how ridiculous these condescending claims sound. Obviously I’m spending all this time and effort into feigning interest in football because it is part of a grand scheme to manipulate a man into a date. And I’ve clearly got no better things to do other than watching 22 barely distinguishable figures on a screen for 4-10 hours a week, praying for a close up or a glimpse of someone’s abs.
I’m tired of men assuming I’m incompetent about soccer simply because I’m a woman. I’m tired of offensive and insulting remarks about how I don’t know what I’m talking about, or that I’m only here to see a player take their shirt off.
Even if I’m still around after these jests have been worn out, I’m still not taken seriously. Most of the time, I don’t even have a chance, really. Men are seen by others as “true” fans until proven guilty. They’re accepted pretty much immediately, and only after it is seen that they don’t know what is going on, will opinions change about them. For women, it’s the opposite. I’ve got to prove myself to be worthy, and I’m often immediately prompted to do this.
“Name three players on your team.” No. I know every player on my team (and probably on yours too), and the assumption that naming a few would be a challenge to me is insulting and frustrating. “Do you even know what it means to be off-side?” Yes, and quite frankly it isn’t all that difficult (well, maybe it is to condescending doo-doo brains) and I don’t know why it is so frequently asked of me and other women to verify our interest (it’s so widespread, as if some people think it’s a secret password and if you get it right you will have finally revealed your true, soccer-loving soul—unless you’re female, in that case it doesn’t really matter if you’re correct). Nobody would administer this little impromptu quiz to any men around, no matter how soccer-clueless they actually happened to be. I’m tired of having to prove myself to men before I can gain acceptance of being a “true” fan.
Believe me, I understand that novice fans who claim they know all are annoying. But they’re not frequent, and definitely not limited to women. I’ve met more male fans that boast of their omnipotence (I’ll never forget the guy who spent a good ten minutes trying to convince me Leo Messi was on Real Madrid), but they’re far less likely to be called out on it so publicly. While this may not be the case for everyone, it certainly is not even close to true that women have a monopoly on being bothersome fans, and it’s frustrating and insulting that men consistently seem to believe this.
When it comes down to it, it’s perfectly fine to have little or no knowledge about the game! Soccer is a beautiful sport, and can (and should) be enjoyed by people of all levels of familiarity. It is not bad to be unaware of the happenings of football or be uncertain as to what is going on. However it is irritating that men consistently believe this must be the case for me, and other women, based on the sole fact that I’m female, and it’s even more insulting for them to presume I’m faking my interest for the game.
Men are not the reason for my interest for football. Football is the reason for my passion for the sport, and it simply happens to be a male-dominated game. Men need to recognize that they aren’t the only ones who can enjoy the sport, and that women have a space in the football fandom as well.
Are you a sports fan? Have you run into this within your favorite sport’s fandom? Share your experiences with us in the comments!
Written by Peggah Elahi