In recent years, the woman’s game has rapidly gained attention, unfortunately, not all of this is positive. Negative comparisons with the men’s game have become commonplace. Whilst it is easy to see the differences, there are times where the criticism seems unjust and without substance.
Suggestions are often made that the woman’s game is not of a good enough standard. Popular opinion is that the woman’s game shouldn’t be shown on TV due to it being considered inferior. Instead recommendations centre around showing the men’s lower league games as an alternative; not that the lower leagues offer much to talk about at times either.
The reality is more complex, pitting women against men is one of the oldest rivalries, especially in sporting terms. However whilst male and female athletes in other sports have their differences, it’s not compared or debated to the extent that men and woman’s football is.
Gendering as a whole plays a big part in creating divides. Cultures and societies have been responsible for deciding what is considered male and female. Over time we have seen role change, with females being allowed to do the same roles as men. It’s also worth pointing out that blue wasn’t always a boys colour, nor pink for girls, but the other way around.
As adults we tend to tell children that football is a boys sport, creating a divide from the start. Similarly, children don’t normally see toys as gendered unless we tell them, and the same can be said for sport. We often use the phrase ‘boys don’t cry’ as a way to toughing up the male image and ingraining a tougher demeanour. Maybe our views as adults in which we are inclined to pass on the notion of football being a male sport, is why a high amount of individuals are all too quick to judge the women game.
Whist woman’s football seems relatively new, in reality, it started being played around the same time as the men’s game. Unfortunately, it has been suppressed at various points. WW1 saw the women’s game gain prominence. The men’s game had come to a halt due to the war, but the population still wanted its football fix. Even in 1920, one particular woman’s match saw an attendance of 50,000 spectators with a further 14,000 waiting outside.
After WW1 ended and the men’s game resumed, the FA in 1921 decided to ban the woman’s game. This ban would last for 50 years. With the game always evolving and women banned for such a time, you do have to ask; where would woman’s football be in the UK had that ban had not existed?
Inevitably there will always be differences. Women will never play the same way as men do, for one obvious reason; body type. As we know, men are usually taller than woman and even in the men’s game, a team with a considerable height difference, tend to have an advantage. Whilst shorter teams are considered more technical.
Being short means having a shorter stride, but it comes with the bonus of having a lower centre of gravity, making it more likely for a player to stay on their feet. One thing the woman’s game is praised for is not going down so easily.
Then there is genetics to consider. The male body is leaner, more muscular and carries less fat. Woman have less muscle mass and a higher percentage of body fat. This is a result of being able to bear children, along with extra organs, enabling that to occur.
Woman are also not encouraged to attain the same lower fat percentages as males. Doing so can sustain long term damage to the reproductive system. Due to woman’s bodies having different capabilities, this does tend to have a knock-on effect on the style of play.
Foot size, leg strength and heart volume on average are smaller too. This attributes to a slower-paced game. Women don’t run as fast and cover less distance as a result. It also means fatigue sets in earlier.
Where the male body is stronger and faster, the female body is nimble and tactile. This makes it difficult to compare the two and although women are slower it’s not for a lack of standards. It’s the result of being genetically different and this should not be held against us. Unfortunately, body types rarely seem to be considered when discussing the woman game, especially when deeming it inferior to the men.
Interestingly, when the rules for the men’s game were being created, to determine the goal height and width, the average male height was taken into account. Since then the average male height has gone up considerably, but the original goal dimensions remain. Whilst much has been made of female goalkeepers letting in more shots and the ongoing debate to make the goal smaller, nothing is mentioned about increasing the men’s goal in response to male heights going up.
Today the average female height is similar to that of men’s at the turn of the 20th century. Back then they were advised to stay close to the goal-line, much like female keepers do today. As male heights have increased, it now allows them to come further out, adopting a sweeper type role. The football we see today in the men’s game is not the football of 100 years ago.
At junior levels with boys and girls playing in mixed teams, it’s noted there isn’t a huge difference between them. At this age body shapes and heights are similar. Once adolescence kicks in and boys become physically stronger and taller, the differences between playing styles become noticeable.
The female game is also tarred with misogyny and sexism and is present from a young age. This negativity is responsible for a high drop out rate compared with the male game. Facing this type of conduct is demoralising, with a huge impact on mental health and confidence. Females are leaving the game before they have a chance to achieve their full potential. Whilst it easy to say they have to get used to criticism, this isn’t so much criticism as it is harassment.
In a bit of reverse psychology, what if the women’s game was the dominant one? With the male game being seen as too fast, and too aggressive? Is it more a result of what we have become used and that we rarely like change.
There are times where individuals seem to think woman football is a contender to the throne. Comments such as ‘woman’s football will never be bigger than the men’s’ get tossed around all the time, anyone would think the whole reason women play, is to rival the men’s game. The reality is that women do enjoy playing football. It’s not about rivalling the male game but filling a space where female football can exist alongside it.
It’s unlikely that the women game will eclipse the men’s. Although there is no reason that it can’t become as big in due course. For now, the women don’t bring in anywhere near as much revenue as what the men do. Then again the men’s game has not always had huge amounts of money involved either. This is something that has been steadily growing since the 60s when it first became commercialised. These things take time and with each passing season, the men’s game commands more money and revenue. As much as we don’t like to think this, the men’s game at its highest level is a business first and foremost and a sport second.
As humans, we like what we like. It is totally fine to enjoy the men’s game and not the women’s and vice versa. Essentially whilst it is the same sport, following the same rules, it is played very differently and that’s okay. What is not okay, is the ill-informed, sexist and misogynist views that eclipse’s the women’s game. A bit more respect and understanding of why the woman game is different would go a long way to accepting it and not viewing it as a hindrance to men’s game.
Truthfully it’s nice to see more sport being played by females and being shown on the t.v. In an age where youngsters are less active, the more sport that is shown and inspires the next generations can only be a good thing.
Sometimes, it is always great just to delve deep into the archives and look at the former glory days...