Women are routinely made to feel unsafe at football matches. Why is this tolerated?
The Football Supporters Association published some research from their Women at the Match survey this week.
Basically, it showed an increasing intolerance for sexist behaviour at games. 59% would like to see clubs condemn individuals who exhibit such behaviour. 39% would like to see sexists ejected from the ground. 5% said witnessing sexist behaviour put them off going to a game.
One such woman wrote to me last month to tell me of her awful experience as a Stoke fan attending an away game at Sheffield United. She has written comprehensively about her experience and sent the letter to both clubs. To date she has heard nothing back except an acknowledgement of receipt.
Do clubs really care?
The worst thing about her comprehensive account is that her experiences will be familiar to anyone who has ever gone to a game. It included men walking into women’s toilets ‘smirking’, men aggressively pushing and shoving, large groups of men indulging in sexualised chanting, including a ‘modified’ version of the song ‘Deliliah’ which replaces ‘knife’ with ‘dick’ and an anti Port Vale chant which includes the lovely line ‘… fetch your father’s gun, And shoot the Vale scum’. The whole atmosphere was horribly intimidating and frightening.
In her letter she summed up how she felt about the whole experience
‘I paid money to feel stressed and intimidated, to be surrounded by sexually or otherwise aggressive chanting, as well as being pushed down steps and having a flare go off a few seats away. I think the club has made a fool out of me. I was stressed to the point where I then skipped the following Tuesday’s home match (we have season cards) because I just couldn’t face it. Incidentally, I spoke to a woman the other day who asked how the match had gone. When I told her how awful it had been, she said that she’d offered to go with her boyfriend because she had a rare Saturday free (she normally works) and he had told her not to go because it would be ‘too violent’. I’m saddened that yet again the onus is apparently on women to change our behaviours, i.e. not to attend in this case, rather than be able to feel safe and even to thrive.’
No-one should feel like this at a football match, or in any walk of life. But all men know men who behave like this. And, to be honest, we’re scared of them too. We all know it is almost exclusively men who indulge in this behaviour. Men who behave like this need to be outlawed both culturally and legally. Interestingly, my correspondent states that she didn’t hear any racist or homophobic abuse, but that the air of aggression and intimidation made her fear for her safety. That rather suggests that fans know they will be thrown out for some forms of abuse so don’t indulge in it – at least in this instance – but not others. That is rather damning and suggests that clubs do not take it seriously and don’t take it seriously because it involves women. Sexism is endemic. Football is not excluded.
She points out that her son didn’t enjoy it either, but feels that they seem to be expected to just put up with it. Not unreasonably, she feels that she shouldn’t have to put up with it and that it is disgusting that the club does nothing to stop it. There are plenty of warm words all through football about being inclusive not abusive, but the reality is very different to the PR. This is still a man’s world and we all know what that means.
The FSA survey shows that there would be backing for a proper, long-term campaign against sexist and misogynistic abuse at games, policed and prosecuted. With 20% of women reporting unwanted physical attention at a game, this cannot go unchallenged. We’ve all felt in danger at a game due to nutters kicking off, but only women fear they are going to be groped or worse.
While this abuse is always conducted by men, loads of other men hate it too and find it scary, so why aren’t clubs doing something about it? We’d all support it. Only the bad men wouldn’t. There is an unspoken but very present feeling that this sort of thing is just the norm, somehow natural and even desirable. Worse than that, anyone who protests is just some soft clart or PC wanker who wants to spoil everyone’s fun.
But none of this happens in women’s football which enjoys a higher number of women and kids as supporters. That must be because THOSE men are not present in significant numbers. Why can’t men’s football be just as civilised? Why does this industry accept horrible behaviour so readily? Is it because men being bastards is just so normalised that it goes under the radar?
Women are sick of it. Everyone with half a brain is sick of it. It shouldn’t even be happening. We need to put pressure on our clubs to make the game welcoming to everyone and not a place where the most toxic masculinity can be indulged in free from criticism or censure. As I wrote back in March, it’s not a PC thing, it’s not a woke thing, it’s not a metropolitan elite thing, it’s not a feminazi thing; it’s just a human thing. And being human is the one thing we all have in common. Let’s act like we understand that truth.