FOOTBALL'S SEXUAL REVOLUTION

The 1990 World Cup captured the hearts of women reports on a survey which shows that more and more are watching the game
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The Independent Online
A Premier League survey of football followers has yielded the clearest view from the stands yet obtained. And those stands are peopled increasingly by women.

Although only one in eight supporters are estimated to be female - of the 15,170 respondents to the questionnaire, 2,000 were women - the ratio is rising. Of fans who have started watching football regularly since the advent of all-seater stadiums five years ago, women represent one in four (25.8 per cent).

When the women come to the game, too, they are just as willing as men to stick with it. A total of 67.5 per cent of the women surveyed are season ticket holders, as against 66.7 per cent of men.

The results of the survey - the largest yet of its kind to be conducted - will be published officially next week. The data, which was gathered last season from all 22 Premier League clubs, bears out the widely held perception that going to football matches in this country is becoming a more attractive, less daunting proposition for women.

John Williams, who has been collating the findings at the Leicester University's Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research, subscribes to the widely held belief that the 1990 World Cup had a profound effect in attracting women to the game.

"I think many women were truly captivated by the drama of the World Cup," Williams said. "The game in England had just gone through the trauma of Hillsborough, and the predictions were all about the trouble that our supporters were going to create in Italy. But the supporters behaved themselves, by and large, and we had a team which was doing well and playing the game in style.

"Also the television presentation of the World Cup here underlined the drama of these matches in these cathedral stadiums. Twenty eight million people in this country watched England's semi-final, and half of them were believed to be women. I think that had a big influence on female support."

A total of 76 per cent of women approve of the stadium changes which major clubs were legally obliged to make in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. Six out of every 10 women surveyed believe the behaviour of fans has improved in recent years, and that comfort and improved safety at matches are major gains.

"More respect is being paid to supporters," said one woman West Ham fan in the survey. "Low-key policing and stewarding have helped the atmosphere. I don't ever feel intimidated now by opposing fans or the police."

Such feelings of security have been achieved in a heavier-handed fashion in Italy, where some women fans are placed in special areas of the ground protected by gun-toting women police officers.

A national opinion poll in Italy conducted three years ago showed that 2.5 million women attended football matches regularly - a figure which corresponds with the best estimates of women fans in this country.

A recent survey in Spain revealed that 12 per cent of supporters were women, but that proportion varied regionally. At Barcelona's plush Nou Camp stadium, for instance, 20,000 of the 101,000 season ticket holders were female.

Increasingly, football clubs are coming to realise that women are good for business. Female supporters in Britain, according to this latest survey, buy more club merchandise - 20.6 per cent spend more than pounds 100 per season on shirts and key rings, as opposed to 17.3 per cent of the men.

Marketing is directed towards families. Clubs such as Newcastle United, for instance, do a nicely profitable line in school shirts with the club's crest discreetly embroidered.

The awareness of families extends as far as creche provision for some clubs, but the majority have yet to consider offering this service. "There is a real decline in women spectators between the ages of 20 and 40," Williams said. "The obvious reason for this is child-care."

His theory is backed up by the comments of a 30-year-old female supporter of Leeds United. "I'm only able to attend home matches because of the creche," she said. "I used to watch almost all our away games, but the absence of similar facilities at other grounds prevents me from going now."

Leeds also offer adult season ticket holders a free seat for a child under 13, and Coventry City offer concessionary entrance fees for accompanied youngsters under their "Kid-for -a-Quid" scheme. Family-enticing pricing.

Despite the increasing number of women watching the game, however, watching habits of male and female spectators remain markedly different. The vast majority of female fans (81.1 per cent) watch in mixed male and female groups, something which only 32.4 per cent of the men do. The lads may stick together, but the lasses tend not to - only 5.9 per cent of women watch unaccompanied by men.

And women are not uniformly overjoyed at what they get for the price of their seats. Female opinion is polarised on the general atmosphere inside stadiums over recent years. Although 43.2 per cent think it has improved; 32 per cent think it has become less exciting, with followers from Arsenal, West Ham, Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds being particularly critical.

There was widespread concern among women, too, about the widening gulf between large and small clubs, and the feeling that there was too much money and greed within the game.

Williams is aware that the detailed quality of the questionnaire may have deterred responses from right across the social classes. But the Premier League is said to be "very encouraged" by the overall findings.

"We are truly committed to encouraging more women to watch the game or take it up themselves," said the Premier League's spokesman, Mike Lee. "The evidence from the research is that the improvements in stadia and facilities are encouraging more women and families to watch Premier League football. All of this is good for the future of the game in this country."

DEDICATED FOLLOWERS OF FOOTBALL: Clare Garner went to Highbury on Saturday and asked a cross-section of women spectators how they feel they are treated by the sport

PAT WARD

71, retired

Arsenal supporter, from Shepherds Bush

I haven't got red corpuscles in my blood stream, I've got red guns. I came here before I was born. My mum was pregnant with me when she used the family season ticket. I never miss a game and I come on my own. I'm a widow. My husband was a keen football supporter - of Southampton not Arsenal - and we'd go all over London to see games. It doesn't worry me in the least coming here on my own - it never has done. I can put my shoulder forward in a crowd and get through just the same as the men do. If you're sensible you can avoid the thugs and I could give them as good as they give me in terms of language. I just ignore it. I've got two lovely fellows sitting next to me who are younger than my own sons. My female friends think I'm mad going to matches but I say them, `You can see a play, and come out saying it's rubbish. You've spent the same amount of money and haven't even been in the fresh air.' I still say that if more women came and got rid of their frustrations then they wouldn't be so uptight in the week.

AMY READ

8, schoolgirl

Arsenal supporter from Thamesmead

I've been to a football match three times before. The first time I was seven. I always come with mum. My dad supports Arsenal and I just started liking them. My dad works here. He's an Arsenal steward. We meet up with him afterwards. I don't know any girls who have been to a match but loads of the boys in my class have. There's this boy in my class who supports West Ham and he said if Arsenal win then when I go back to class he's going to kill me. I'm worried about that. I watch telly at home, but only when Arsenal is playing. I used to sit on dad's knee and watch. At school if any of the footballs are out I usually grab one and start playing with my friends - both boys and girls. I'm proud to be a football fan but the boys are not impressed. Ian Wright is my favourite player. My dad gets some booklets about him and I always read through them. We've got about 20 of them. I get Arsenal kit for my birthday.

TRACY NEWBY

35, resident warden,

West Ham supporter, from Dagenham

The very first game I went to was with my father when I was seven. A relative worked in the West Ham offices so we got complimentary tickets. I started going on my own with friends when I was about 14 and the same group has stuck together ever since. It's a mixed group and women aren't treated any differently. We just have good fun. The language doesn't offend me at all - I might have a go myself. I go to 80 per cent of games in the season - all home and some away games - but I never go alone. We know football so we can talk to men about football - which shocks them. They don't think women know one end of a pitch from the other. The facilities are all right. We've got a new, updated stand at West Ham now but before it was a little bit rough. It's improved in terms of toilets, comfort and seating. Speaking as a single parent I would like to see families at football matches promoted. It's difficult if you're on a very low budget. I consider myself a 100 per cent fan and if a new shirt comes out I'll buy it.

JANINE THOMAS

15, schoolgirl

Arsenal supporter from Burnt Oak

This is my first match. My mum first got me into supporting Arsenal when I was about five. Then my sister started supporting Tottenham and rivalry happened. My schoolfriend, Caroline bought me the ticket for my birthday so that's why we are here today. Some of my girlfriends have been to matches before but others think I'm crazy and can't see why I am so interested in football. I just think they are a bit stupid not supporting Arsenal. Quite a few of my school friends go to matches but it's mainly the boys. We always argue about football with them, not about being female football fans but about different teams. I'm a little bit nervous about being a girl at the game, because blokes just think: `oh, girls are just little things you can push about'. I hope to come to lots more games after this one but would feel safer with more people - not necessarily boys. Anyway, I think the boys will want to come on their own. All the boys play football at the lunch break and they are always talking about dream teams from fantasy football. I come to the matches to watch the sport.

MARION CROSS

39, customer services assistant. West Ham fan from Barking

My mum lives opposite West Ham's ground and my brother, Ron, who's nine years older than me, used to go to the matches. One day when I was 13 I asked if I could go too and since then I've been going regularly. Now I'm a season ticket holder and I go to quite a few away games. There's a big crowd of us that goes - about seven men and seven women. The numbers are growing because we tend to have a laugh. Naturally you'll be abused by the opposing supporters but it doesn't make any difference if you're female or not. I think a football supporter is treated as a football supporter. There's no discrimination as such. We like being in mixed company so we just accept whatever there is for mixed company. At Leyton Orient women are getting cheap tickets, which sounds great but I don't think there should be anything special for women. However, I don't think football is promoted enough as a family day out. It's very expensive to take a family. As far as the toilets go, they used to be diabolical at West Ham but now there are six or seven instead of two.

LORRAINE SEAGER

29, computer operator.

Arsenal supporter from Romford

My dad and sister were West Ham supporters and I used to go occasionally when I was little but it's only in the past three years that I've really started coming to football. I got into it mainly through family but different supporters from work would invite me along to games like Sunderland. I don't feel threatened in the predominantly male crowd. Everyone treats you really well - they make sure you're OK. We're on equal terms with the men. We go in there for the game and as far as everyone's concerned that's it. I go to roughly half the away games plus Cup games. My girlfriends think I'm a bit strange because they think `football, it's a man's game'. They have a dig at me but I don't care. I say `it's my recreation time and I'll do what I like with it'. West Ham has thought about facilities a bit and there are things there now that should have been there from the beginning. Other clubs are getting there but some could do with a bit more thought. Two toilets for women supporters is not enough.

JILL DYER

52, part-time sales assistant. Arsenal fan from Gerrards Cross

My husband, an Arsenal supporter, first got me interested in football. Now he doesn't come to games and I do. He's working on Saturdays and, anyway, he prefers to watch it on the telly. I come with my son in the week but he is working at weekends. Today I'm meeting a woman who works in my husband's shop. Her husband has a season ticket for the East Stand but he is away in Canada so I can use it. Normally I just come on my own and go in the North Stand. There isn't a set pattern in how often I come, just whenever I can. I love the fans, love them to bits. I'm one of the boys actually. I'm probably noisier than some of the blokes but I don't use really bad language. It doesn't offend me. You have to accept it at football. I've sat next to psychos but I never feel threatened. The facilities are smashing in the North Stand. They are all new and the toilets are lovely. No complaints at all. They've even got a creche here. It doesn't affect me but I would have thought this makes a big difference to women.

Four women making their mark in the game By Louise Taylor

Marrie Wieczorek (Middlesbrough coach): Andy Capp would be appalled that Middlesbrough have a female coach on their books. Marrie Wieczorek is employed part-time as a "football in the community coach", her brief being to train both boys and girls aged up to 18 in schools and youth clubs across Teesside. As an official club representative - and thus potential talent spotter - she is inundated with coaching invitations. A former captain of the England women's team and now, at 38, manager of Middlesbrough Ladies she holds the FA preliminary coaching badge, aiming to gain the full FA coaching licence before her 40th birthday. Initially, contemptuous teenage boys tended to start off sessions calling her "Miss", quickly switching to "Mazza" once she has whisked the ball off their toecaps.

Wendy Toms (lineswoman): She was at Selhurst Park last Saturday running the line in the Crystal Palace v Huddersfield First Division match. The only lineswoman on the Football League list, she officiates once a fortnight, spending "free" Saturdays refereeing semi- professionals in the Beazer Homes or Diadora Leagues. Now 32, the Parcelforce employee from Poole, Dorset, began refereeing in Cyprus where her ex- husband was stationed with the British forces. "When you have had to get a wall of Scots Guards back 10 yards it prepares you for anything," she said. A league official yesterday said: "So far - she joined the list last season - we have had tremendous reports on Wendy. If she continues to progress at this rate she has every chance of joining our official referees' list."

Caroline Brouwer (physiotherapist): Many well-qualified male physiotherapists find they lack the mental toughness required to survive in a football club but Brouwer spent 13 years at Wimbledon FC. She cites one of her happiest, enduring memories as: "Wrestling with Dennis Wise." Brouwer, who left last season to establish her own sports injury clinic, still freelances for football clubs and finds many of the game's better known names beating a path to her door. "Once you're well known you get respect and they see you as a good physio rather than a woman," she said. "The worst thing is when the players get bored on long coach trips and start picking on you. Friends say it's made me very tough. On on my first day at Wimbledon I saw a long line of player after player with `groin strains'."

Gill Bridge (managing director, Blackpool): Karren Brady is not football's only managing director. Up the M6 from Birmingham, Second Division Blackpool also boast one. At 28, Bridge has been at Bloomfield Road for two years and a principal part of her brief is to oversee relocation to a new 20,000 all-seat stadium. Recruited from magazine publishing - a company owned by Blackpool's chairman, Owen Oyston - she initially found overcoming "the credibility hurdle" daunting. "You have to be twice as good as a man," she said. Brought up as a Liverpool supporter who watched matches with her father, Bridge's ambition is to help take Blackpool to the Premier League. Once there she might meet Yvonne Todd, company secretary/director at Chelsea and Sheila Marson, QPR's club secretary. (Graphics omitted)

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