Football: `Fan's Eye View - Joy and commitment form partnership in pursuit of acceptance

No 224 women's football
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The Independent Online
"Twenty-two blokes kicking a bag of air around," was my brother's response when he learnt that I'd taken up football. A Philistine's description of the "Beautiful Game," I agree, but not as predictable as the usual "women can't play football". And it plagues me because most people that say that "women can't play football" have never witnessed a women's football match. After all, the average attendance figure for a women's footy match never exceeds five, and that includes the ref and linesmen. You might occasionally spot one man and his dog loitering on the sidelines - his dog being his alibi should anyone catch him actually watching the game.

But while most find the concept of a woman playing football little more than a novelty, to some it is an unwelcome aberration, an affront to the very masculinity of the sport. One only dare mention the word "football" and "women" in the same sentence and grown men turn into Alf Garnet, spouting indignation in every direction.

However, people are becoming more receptive to women's football. It may be a sign of the times that a leading sports manufacturer included a women's match in its recent advertising campaign. There are also football boots, designed exclusively for women, if the makers are to be believed. We even have our own publication, On the Ball, a monthly magazine dedicated to the women's game.

On a personal level, I was invited to play for my works team (all male, of course). Normally, I would never play with or against men, but on this occasion I jumped at the opportunity because I knew I could gain a rare insight into the men's game. So, what exactly are the differences? I noticed within the first two minutes that I couldn't hope to keep pace with the lads. Even the unfittest caused a problem because of the difference in physique.

So unless you happen to be Lightning from Gladiators, you'll never be able to match a man for power. As a result of this deficit, I was left standing whenever an opponent used a turn of pace on me. I bandied with the idea of "taking him out" (and I don't mean for a spot of lunch), but decided against this as I suspected I'd come off a lot worse.

But this doesn't mean that women don't tackle. Football is a physical game, whether it be men or women, and tackling is unavoidable. I stuck my foot in front of an oncoming forward bearing down at goal, "bear" being the operative word and, to the delight of my team-mates, I had nicked the ball, a la Bobby Moore. It was stupidity more than judgement, but I'd proved I could tackle.

The uninitiated sometimes ask me if women possess the technical capabilities needed, namely heading and chesting the ball. I'll freely admit that I've seen girls shy away from an aerial challenge, preferring to relinquish possession. However, I've also seen many men do exactly the same. Personally, I love heading the ball. It really is more to do with personal preference than gender.

Chesting seems to cause the most curiosity among the sceptical. Can we do it? Does it hurt? It's as easy for me to chest the ball as any man - possibly because I have the same size chest. For the more generously endowed, it works the same way. It doesn't hurt, as long as you do it right. I have seen some women run for several yards with the ball precariously balanced on their chest, but this seems more an advantage than a hindrance to me. I will concede that there are some women who pose more of a threat to themselves than the opposition, their ample cleavage threatening to knock them out every time they run. But there's nothing a good sports bra won't fix!

For the perversely interested who ask how the manager gets on in the dressing-room should he be a bloke. Well, it's simple. He knocks on the door before entering.

The women's game really does have the same ingredients as the men's - flowing football, full-blooded tackles and spectacular goals (sometimes). So, while we strive for acceptance in the game, we play, not for momentary gain, but for the sheer joy of it. I'm confident anyone who's worked with a women's team will tell you women are totally committed. We don't want to beat you at your game, we want to join you. God bless all those who love the "Beautiful Game", man or woman.