On women’s football and (super?) heroes

I wrote piece for a Lewes FC women’s match programme (Lewes vs Charlton, 12th Nov 2017). I am thrilled to have written on the subject of Lewes FC’s EqualityFC campaign and want to spread the word as far as possible. They’ve kindly given me permission to re-post the article here.

Today I read an argument that there’s no case to pay female football players the same as male football players until gate revenue is on a par for women’s and men’s games. It’s a gross oversimplification: it made my blood boil.

Something about it takes me back to my 80s childhood of classic action movie heroes: hard-ass, lone wolf white male takes on impossible odds fighting against the bad guys and wins. He wins, the bad guy loses. We’re all safe. Hurrah! Or something. That’s also a gross oversimplification.

I get the point about gate revenue: that attendance, media coverage and sponsorship determine how much money is available and men’s football generally attracts more of all of the above. But seeing it that way turns funding the sport into a zero sum game. In order to win (time, attention, money) someone else has to lose out.

Change has to start somewhere, right?

Instead, how about seeing men and women’s football as being part of a community? How about fostering a sense of belonging and valuing equally everyone who’s prepared to put equal effort into the work they do? There’s nothing that says “you belong here” as clearly as being treated equally.

Lewes are leading the way with Equality FC and the excitement of the Lionesses storming their way through the summer signals change is here. Yet fully fledged equality won’t suddenly arrive in just one heroic step – arguments about gate revenue show there’s more work to do.

Who, me?

Diversity matters. I wouldn’t peg myself as a typical football club owner, but then I’m not convinced Lewes FC is a typical club. Before I’d heard about the Lewes Women’s team it never even occurred to me that women might play football. It wasn’t that I thought women playing football was impossible, more that I’d never seen evidence of women’s football on anything like the scale of men’s football.  

I never thought for a moment I’d belong at a football match until some friends invited me along to the Pan. Five years later and I’m a proud owner. It turns out it was the idea of being connected to players who, like me, are women and to my friends in the community that already supported them that made it work for me.

For Lewes, diversity may be our strongest asset as a club. As a community owned club a huge range of people have a stake and a say in how our club runs. So we don’t stick with the idea that whoever makes the loudest noise is running the show. We can have many voices talking about who we want to be welcome in our community and how we reach them.

I still think it’s easy to slip into the old habit of thinking there’s someone else who has all the great ideas and the charisma to carry them all off, win the day and get both women’s football and the club to where we want it to be. In reality every different point of view and every different experience counts.

Lewes FC has no shortage of passionate, talented and courageous staff and volunteers, so we’re lucky … and they’re not the only ones who can make a difference. You’re here at a match reading this programme, what would you like to see happen in 17-18 to increase support for women’s matches?

Lessons in pop culture – “Batman doesn’t do ‘ships”

In 2017 my movie watching habits are mostly dictated by the biggest learning curve of my life: teenagers. They also make all the chocolate disappear, but that’s another story. They helpfully expand my world by sitting me down to watch some of the most annoying movie songs known to humankind. And then quoting the dialogue at me. Endlessly.

This is how I learned that “ ‘ship” means “relationship” and that the LEGO version of Batman shows much more vulnerability than Christian Bale ever let on. I also lost several credibility points when I had to ask what the hell “ ‘shipping” meant.

After some protest and a hasty request for suitable quotes from the aforementioned teenagers, I’ve decided Batman’s LEGO incarnation is a much better model for our club than Die Hard’s John McClane. Batman learns, the hard way, that saving the world is actually a lot more about valuing everyone’s contribution and appreciating the relationships we’re a part of than being a lone hero.

By looking at our club this way we’re not playing a zero sum game. Supporting all our players equally shows our commitment to diversity. Our diversity supports a better game, a better community and more people get the benefit of it.

Who in your life may, like I did 5 years ago, unexpectedly feel they belong if they came along to a match?