I have a vivid memory from the last World Cup. About 15 of us from the This Fan Girl community were gathered in a crowded east London boozer. The mood in the packed pub dropped as Kyle Walker gave away a penalty to Tunisia. Jordan Pickford missed it by a finger’s width and the scores were level. To rouse the room, or maybe just to rouse herself, one of the girls from our group who was gifted with the lungs of a headteacher shouted a full-bodied “C’mon England!” From the back of the room, in equal volume, I heard a chuckled reply of “Let’s be having you!”
For anyone unaware of the reference, it is plucked from an ill thought-out half-time speech made by Norwich City fan and part-owner Delia Smith. It is now, of course, a famous football meme, a blink and you’d miss it moment, but this man referencing that speech in response to my friend’s shout is a reminder that, in places where football is consumed, women are not afforded the same freedoms of expression as men.
I’ve been running This Fan Girl for about six years now and there are a couple of experiences that seem to be almost entirely universal for women who love football. “You’re not really into football are you?” is a question almost all of us have been asked. “You know a lot about football for a woman” is another one. For a lot of women we’ve spoken to, going into a pub when the football’s on without the “protection” of a male figure seems unthinkable.
Even the pubs themselves know they have a women inclusivity problem. After all, it was only in 1982 that the law stating women could be refused service in pubs if they weren’t accompanied by a man was lifted. Over the years we’ve been approached by some of the biggest pub groups in the country, asking for ways they can make their spaces less intimidating for women.
So even though this year’s winter World Cup is rousing less excitement than usual, I am worried. Last year’s summer Euros conjure up some particularly bleak memories of fans that include racism, gatecrashing and violence at Wembley, and the correlation between matches and domestic violence. And this winter, for the very first time, the majority of games here in the northern hemisphere are going to be played in the dark. Mix that with a national mood that feels “stressed and frustrated”, alcohol, drugs and the knowledge that half of UK women already feel unsafe at night, and I’ve got every reason to be worried.
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With that in mind, we wanted to do something to make it as safe as possible for women who are choosing to watch the tournament in pubs, so we’ve built a charter backed up by research and real lived experiences that we’re sharing for free with pubs around the UK.
For starters, pubs must make sure they have robust systems in place to report and deal with any serious incidents if they occur. They must also make sure all reports of intimidation in a venue are taken seriously by staff, whether that’s unwanted staring or physical assault. Pubs could also think about ways of making ordering drinks easier, so women don’t have to continually go up to the bar, thus risking the dreaded lower-back graze. These are just a few things pubs can do to make life easier for women.
The bottom line is that pub managers hold a lot of power in terms of changing wider footballing culture, because their venues are so attached to the game. A massive proportion of managers we’ve spoken to are keen to make changes. But ignorance still stunts progress, because many admitted to not considering the extra danger a winter World Cup will pose to women. Our campaign is vital to ensuring establishments that have historically catered for men are actively thinking about women. Now that’s something worth shouting about.