Women's soccer isn't all boozing and cursing

Players are irritated at the laddish behaviour of their counterparts in the television drama 'Playing the Field', reports Amanda Kelly
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IT IS simply not football, as far as women soccer players are concerned. While the BBC screens the final episode in its highly acclaimed women's football drama series Playing the Field tonight, real-life players have accused the programme of misrepresenting them.

The six-part series, which has been so successful that a second is promised next year, features the turbulent lives of the Castlefield Blues.

These feisty lasses, who swear like troopers, tackle like tanks and toast their triumphs by downing pints of lager, have left top British players grumbling that the TV caricature gives the wrong impression.

They believe laddish characters, such as Theresa and Rita, who wouldn't look out of place in Men Behaving Badly, only reinforce the negative image that surrounds the women's game.

"I could only stomach watching one episode," said 27-year-old Clare Wheatley, who plays for Arsenal Ladies' Football Club. "There is absolutely no similarity between their lives and ours. It was, obviously, written to entertain and not to promote women's football, but it could really damage our image, especially at a time when we are just starting to be taken seriously.

"In the programme, players' lives revolve around drinking. They resemble nothing more than a Sunday league men's team. At Arsenal, we are very dedicated, and run ourselves in the same way as the men. We are too busy training to spend our time boozing."

The drama, which attracted more than eight million viewers in its first episode, was written by Kay Mellor, the author of Band of Gold. She used the real-life Doncaster Belles as role models for her six-part series. As well as appearing in some of the match scenes, members of the team advised the actresses on sporting techniques.

Defender Michelle Jackson, 29, who has played for the Belles for 10 years, said the show bears little reality to their team life.

"I hope people don't base their opinion of the women's game on it. The Castlefield Blues are not nearly as good as players in our team. I know they're only actresses, but their passing is terrible and their technique and balance aren't much good either.

"Some of the screen players are really big and butch, which is the old stereotype, but which bears little resemblance to reality. Although it's not a professional sport, we play to the highest level and have to be very fit and athletic.

"We are actually far more boring than the programme makes out and most of the time we go straight home to bed after training in the evening."

"I hope people who know nothing about the women's game don't base their opinion on this series."

Team physio Sheila Edmonds, who started up the Doncaster Belles in 1969, added that the number of expletives used by the team was greatly exaggerated.

"We were stunned by how much they swore. Everyone uses bad words sometimes, but their language was as blue as their soccer shirts."

Producer Greg Brenman, who employed a large team of researchers to explore every aspect of the game, defended its authenticity.

He said: "Despite the requirements of having to create a drama, we believe the programme is a very accurate and authentic portrayal of the sport.

"We undertook a tremendous amount of research, and many of our consultants are key figures in the women's game, and they are all delighted with the series.

"The only thing I would concede is that the actresses are not as fit and skilful as the players, but that is hardly surprising."

Production for the new, seven-part series starts in June and will be screened some time around Christmas.