If I had a pound for every time I’ve seen or heard that …
Frankly it’s a bit annoying. Want to know why? Read on.
The 2002 World Cup. It is almost time for the England vs Brazil quarterfinal and I’m hurrying home from school in ankle-deep rainwater so that I don’t miss kick-off.
It is pretty hard to pinpoint the exact moment I started to fall in love with the ‘beautiful game’ as Pele calls it, but this one is probably as good as any. From the moment I saw the lovable Gaucho curl in that freekick, there was no looking back. (Cliché alert!)
Being a girl in a guy’s domain is hard enough without trying to carve a niche amongst all the tradition. Being a football fan in India has been steadily gaining mainstream acceptance and has witnessed accelerated popularity over the last few years. Even so, being a female Indian Arsenal supporter who is a bonafide football fan first is apparently rare as I’ve found out the hard way. My sister (also a die-hard Gooner) and I still face the drawbacks of being in a society that not only worships cricket, but also generally lumps most sports following females into the ‘you watch only for the hot guys’ category.
For all the talk about how most guys are searching for the girl that loves football, many sure treat the rare ones they meet with every cliché there is. My Football Paradise colleague, Vikrant is working on a series that highlights what it’s like to be a football supporter in a third world country. This is my effort to add the additional problems just because you have the extra X chromosome. To an extent, it’s an India specific problem. I have spent 4 years in the UK for my University studies (gone to a fair few live games as well) andthe female fan experience (and even the general one) is a lot better. But some problems are fairly global. However if there’s anything that annoys me more than guys assuming I’m a fangirl, it’s girls becoming all aggressive and holier-than-thou to prove how kick-ass (to borrow a phrase from their book) they are. This piece is a plea for guys to give girls a chance when it comes to traditionally male-dominated areas like football, and for girls to realise that by getting unnecessarily feminist they are losing so much of what the game’s supposed to be about.
Yes, I’m a girl who loves football. I would much rather watch a game, go to a game or play a sport than go shopping. Football takes precedence over most social events. I know what an offside is in all its technical glory and feel proud of Sian Massey for continuing to hold her own. I’m also watching more women’s football than ever. There may be many girls who think Cristiano Ronaldo still plays for Manchester United (before, it used to be David Beckham), who cannot differentiate between penalties and free-kicks (‘Can’t wait for the game to go to free-kicks’ – overheard at my Uni pub), and who say their favourite team at a Euros is Brazil (I kid you not!) but that’s not me. I’m not a fangirl. I care more about formations, the technique, the skills, the tactics than I do about the players’ birthdates, their girlfriends, their favourite colours. (Of course, I love seeing photos of their kids as much as anybody, how can I not when they are so expressly adorable?)
However this keen interest in the sport doesn’t mean I am a beer-chugging, swearing, punch-throwing sort of gal. I may become a different person when I’m watching football, especially Arsenal, but that doesn’t make me less of a girl. I am allowed to have my football crushes (aren’t we all?) but note that most of them are on that list for being very good at football first and foremost. It may be surprising but when a game is on, I’m actually more interested with what the players do with their feet and the football than how cute they look doing it. It’s amazing how much a wonderfully taken goal, a particularly defence splitting pass, a breathtaking piece of tekkers, an acrobatic save or even the most outrageous and audacious piece of football (most recently, Zlatan vs England anyone?) can make you think a player is beautiful.
So I don’t appreciate being constantly told by the media that girls cannot be passionate purely about the game. Being bombarded by articles telling you how to keep yourself occupied during international tournaments or at the start of every new club season is bad enough. But throw in how football is a tool to get a guy (Top 10 things you need to know about the game to impress a guy and other such wonderfully inane suggestions), introduce pink and sparkly football merchandise to ‘pander to the female demographic’ (there is a strong reason why my previous neutral feeling towards that said colour has turned into abhorrence, and no I don’t like vampires that sparkle so what gives you the idea I want glitter on my football top?) and you make it harder. Sillier is the argument that being a serious fan is intimidating to guys and to actually ‘bag one’ it’s better to pretend that you don’t really understand too much so his ego can swoop in and save the day.
My support of Arsenal or my love for football has got absolutely nothing to do with wanting to impress guys. I don’t do it because it’s cool or to get attention. It’s got everything to do with what feels like a missing limb during off-season and those even worse international breaks. I may not know everything there is to know about the game, I may not be able to list the name of every player in every team and I may even make mistakes, but as long as I can back my point up with relevant facts or insights, my input is every bit as valid. I’ve always loved being around people who know more than me about a subject, how else will one learn and have proper discussions about anything? Having to try harder to prove a point and having less maneuver room for error has been a blessing. It means that I have to be absolutely sure of what I’m saying which in turn means that my footy knowledge has a strong foundation. In turn, I also sometimes know things that even many guys necessarily wouldn’t.
This brings me to the main reason for this piece – my strong love for the beautiful game. 9 years and counting, it’s become an integral part of my life and a life-long commitment. I’ve spent countless late nights watching matches alone or with my sister, I’ve spent countless weeks absolutely depressed after my team lost and absolutely euphoric after a win. I continue to spend so much time reading about football, watching football and having intense discussions. For me learning more about the game, its history, players, teams and legends is far more important than showing off the fact that I’m a girl who loves football. I count myself lucky to have met and made those few friends along the way (In India, the UK and other parts of the world); guys that accept and respect me for my opinion and truly treat me as one of them, guys that value my insights and know that I’m always open-minded and ready for rational but passionate debates about all aspects of the game, and guys that don’t laugh when I end up toeing the ball in a kickabout but genuinely cheer when I make a good pass or a decent interception.
I think it’s apt to end this article on a gender-neutral note. Muppets and gloryhunters (whatever gender) are never going to change, never going to see sense and never accept that they can be wrong too. We all know who they are and I’ve had my share of trying to argue with them. But it’s not worth it. Taking the high road can seem like we’re giving up, but we’re just saving our energy for the ones that will automatically respect us for our rational thought without needing extra convincing. Hating another team or player is an instinctive reaction and who doesn’t love to gloat or rub it in after a super win? Everyone’s going to have moments when they feel like venting about fans, refs, players, results etc because football is nothing without the emotions, the banter (I love it as much as the next person), the spontaneous reactions and rivalries. But, like Sarthak has so aptly said, the real fans of the game enjoy all that but go beyond for the bigger picture. THAT’s the ones we should be focusing our discussions and opinions on.
As long as you have them, it doesn’t matter if anybody accuses of you loving football for any reason but the game. As long as I have the occasional pleasure of stunning guys who think I wouldn’t remotely know anything about football, I’m content with letting my blog, my articles and my online presence do the talking. I want to be known for my footballing knowledge and acumen; I want to be respected for being someone who knows what she is talking about than someone who is aggressive to the nth degree because of some misguided notion of girl power. (Another phrase I absolutely despise) Isn’t that the best way to show that you don’t need to be a guy to truly love football?