When women’s football was first played in Victorian times it caused a furore for being unladylike, one newspaper said: ‘There will always be curiosity to see women do unwomanly things, and it is not surprising that the match was attended by a crowd numbering several thousands, very few of whom would like to have their own sisters or daughters exhibiting themselves on the football field.’ Attention was also focussed on how women looked and dressed rather than how they played; they wore attire ‘less than becoming for ladies’ and ‘it would be idle to attempt any description of the play’. Fast forward to the twenty-first century and you would be forgiven for thinking little has changed.

These days a lot of attention on women’s football is focussed on appearances based upon stereotype. If you were to believe comments made by the public on social media, a modern female footballer is butch, gay, ugly or a combination of the three. Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA once famously suggested that women needed to wear tighter shirts and shorts to attract more males to watch them, no doubt to combat these negative stereotypes.

The subject of sexism in sport was brought to a head in 2011 when the Sky Sports anchors Richard Keys and Andy Gray were caught making unedifying comments on linesman Sian Massey, stating that she did not understand the offside rule because she is a woman. Shortly following this, a slew of videos and tapes were leaked of the pair engaging in more sexist ‘banter’ and the outcome was Keys  resigning and Gray being sacked. You would think that this proves that sexism in football is no longer tolerated. Not so. Their employer Rupert Murdoch had this to say on the subject: ‘this country lacks a sense of humour.’ In addition, Murdoch’s newspaper The Sun ran a front-page headline entitled ‘Get ‘em off. Sexist Pundits axed from TV.’ The accompanying picture was of Sian Massey in a short skirt and vest top. They incredibly contrived to be both anti-sexist and sexist at the same time. Incidentally, Keys pulled off a similar trick of hypocrisy in his leaked comments by arguing that sexism in football was exaggerated by being sexist: ‘See charming Karen Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Yeah. Do me a favour, love.’ So what does this all mean?

Well it shows that there is an acceptance amongst sexists that sexism is unacceptable (at least publically) but they continue to do it because what they might call the brigade of left-wing political correctness threatens the status quo. Football manager Mike Newell bravely confronted this issue on behalf of sexists with comments about a female linesman who did not give her team a penalty, her presence was ‘tokenism for politically correct idiots…she shouldn’t be here. I know that sounds sexist but I am sexist.’

To understand why sexist attitudes in football have not changed much since, a little history is necessary.

On Boxing Day 1920, a match at Goodison Park attracted a record 53,000 people for a women’s game, which was more than most men’s games attracted on the same day, this showed how popular the women’s game had become. However, in December 1921 the FA banned women from using facilities that were affiliated to them. The reason they gave was that: ‘The game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.’ An argument can be made that the real reason for the ban was that the men at the FA saw the women’s game as a threat. It is certain that these actions put an end to the popularity of the women’s game. It was only in 2012 when that attendance record was broken for a women’s game in this country and that was because it was the Olympics.

The ban on women playing in FA affiliated venues was lifted in 1971 because the European governing body had made it compulsory to accept women. However, it was only in 1993 the FA actually provided financial backing and only then because they were asked to do so. In 2006 the FA was asked to provide support for an organization called ‘Women in Football’ but they declined to do so because it made them ‘uncomfortable’. The FA has only recently started to do good things for women’s football; they set up a semi-professional league for women three years ago.

To this day we can blame the FA and the press for doing nothing to combat sexism in football and only taking action when under pressure to do so.

Attitudes change with pressure. England’s World Cup quarter-final in 2011 was only shown on BBC2 after pressure to get it included. In 2012 a campaign was made to stop women being barred from any football facility area and Barnsley were forced to remove a sign from their tunnel which read: “No women beyond this point”. However, sexism still endures.  Women in Football recently conducted a survey showing that more than two-thirds of women in football experienced sexism and 35 percent were not paid equally to men. One respondent said, ‘You can’t report someone every time someone says something derogatory as it’s so commonplace.’

Women and their politically correct male counterparts continue to fight for equality in football and it is by continuing to do this that they will triumph.

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