Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Football, football, football, football, football, football, football, football, football... what you men see in it, I don't know.

We, at the Jagscast, are delighted to present you with an article written by everyone's favourite lady Thistle blogger MC. The woman behind tells us a little bit about how clubs can make their product more attractive to women.

I like football.

I never thought I’d hear myself say that, but there it is. I didn’t start coming to football because of a partner, child or family member. I just decided it was a challenge, and I never thought I would actually enjoy it. But as the weeks without football at Firhill have dragged on, I’ve found myself really missing it, and keen to go back at the earliest date I can. But it seems I’m one of a minority at the stadium, where attendance numbers seem to be on the slide and I meet the same three or four women in the toilets at half time every matchday. In tough financial times, increasing the number of people attending the game is vital. Let’s face it, though: many Partick Thistle supporters, even the diehards I’ve come across, are disillusioned with the recent poor run of form. Ironically, one of the few things which might increase the number of supporters attending would be for that to continue, leading to a relegation battle. The Under-16s-go-free scheme has been in place for some time, and the uptake seems to have stagnated. But what does Partick Thistle do to encourage women along to its games?

For as long as I can remember, football has been for blokes. It’s inevitable: I’ll bet that everyone has seen a video of a female toddler pushing a pram around and crashing it into furniture (meeting two fabulous stereotypes which will continue long into their adulthood about their maternal instincts and their ability to drive), while her brother stumbles over a football with an adult performing a dramatic dive of the finest Italian teams as the wean “scores” his first goal. Most girls I know don’t bother going to the football because they don’t care. They don’t understand the rules, they get bored by the terminology, they are lost by the punditry, and they find the atmosphere and culture surrounding the stadium at best bearable, at worst intimidating.

As a result of this, the generally male-dominated stands immediately, and understandably I suppose, presume that a girl who is keen on football must be in some way “blokey”. Does that mean I automatically have the face of a bearded gargoyle? Well, no...but if I dare to be something other than that, or make an effort by wearing something girly, I’m probably only out to pull a player, right? I didn’t think that this kind of attitude existed these days, but since my blog started I’ve been called countless names and many football-related conversations I get involved in magically turn into discussions about my chest. I brush it off, especially because I join in with the joke. You only need to look at my blog to see me fully playing up to the stereotype, in fact. I don’t deny it. However, I know this attitude would discourage many of my female friends from coming near a football game.

Unfortunately, clubs entrench the attitude by assuming that women at matches fall into the second category: girly girls who like girly things and oh! Pink merchandise! We’ll hook ‘em in with that. I’m sorry, but why would I want to turn up to support a team who wear red and yellow in a baby pink beanie? I’d much rather own a well-fitted Ladies cut strip than a cotton candy generic item with a small logo. Eintracht Frankfurt has a group of fans called “Stoppt Rosa!” specifically campaigning against the fact that these items do not reveal anything about your allegiance, but instead your gender: they argue that you wouldn’t expect all the men to wear baby blue. Target the female market in merchandise, but don’t wrap us up in cotton wool and candy floss.

When I first spoke to the Jagscast about my blog, I was told that in Germany, teams have specific provision for women on matchdays. The stadium opens early, and there are child-friendly activities to encourage the idea that football is a fun day out for the whole family. Indeed, you need only look at the success of the women-only match Fenerbahce were forced to pilot after the closed-doors decision as evidence that women will come to football when the provision is made for them. Alarm bells are ringing for me, though: when I go to the game, do I want to sit in the women only area of the stand they have set aside for me? Well, no, not at all. Likewise, I’m concerned at the continued belief that the presence of women at games has a calming effect on the crowd, and that discipline and the general atmosphere of the terraces are hugely improved. I’m sorry, but just because I want to go to see football doesn’t make me Ghandi. It’s as sexist to presume that women can magically solve some of the problems of football as it is to ask why they’re not at home making the tea.

However, what teams can do is show that women are wanted at the stadium. Think about the little things: ensure that there is suitable provision for ladies toilets, and for God’s sake make them comfortable. Get some decent soap in there. Replace those wooden toilet edges. Dish out handwarmers or flog them for a pound with the programmes. Really promote the fact that there is a bar available after the game – a fact I only discovered recently – and make it easy to find. When they get there, make sure it has stuff they want to buy. Get some matchday entertainment. Offer a ladies day, like many clubs already do. Run events specifically tailored to women: fashion shows, Christmas shopping events, ladies lunches. Even better, chuck it on a social shopping site and watch as groups of girls plan a night out with the club at its centre. They might not be as interested in the 90 minutes of a match as their male counterparts, but believe me, they would be much more easily persuaded to come to a club social event.

But as things go at the moment, the most obvious problem for encouraging women to football is that when they get there, they feel like a minority. This is probably best evidenced by the fact that many women go to see Glasgow’s big two teams: more women attending matches will normalise the idea, making it more accessible for others. I’m sticking with it and I’m trying my best to bring along friends, but it’s tough to persuade them. Women must be more visible in the stands, but also in the boardroom, coaching, and even on the pitch. Give younger girls role models to show them that football – whether played by men or women – isn’t necessarily a bloke’s world and that they can come and watch the men’s game without being labelled or segregated.

I like football. I just wish some more like-minded women would join me.

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