When Sepp Blatter so eloquently suggested that to improve the women’s game you would effectively need to turn it into a 4-dimensional lads mag, we audibly tutted, wagged our collective virtuous index fingers and shook our self-righteous heads in unison. We will not stand for this! We are the well adjusted, marching towards equality. In an unprecedented showing of gender solidarity we all joined hands and burst into song, Imagine by John Lennon or that song off of that old coke advert. In full voice we arrived at the ticket office unburdening our purses and wallets of our hard-earned to procure our season tickets to watch Manchester United women’s team *Sound effect of needle scratching on record* Oh…
In 2005 our beloved Manchester United scrapped their women’s team because there was no financial sense in it continuing for the club. Forgetting thousands of years of institutionalised sexism (as a man, I’m well practiced in this), this is an important new factor in the stunted growth of the women’s game. Business, as football now is, for the most part does not often regard lateral thinking as an essential tool for its own perpetuation: if something is making you shed loads of money you carry on doing it. If it isn’t, you stop. The men’s game sees individual club revenues reaching consistently over 400 million. The women’s game does not. It’s of course hard to simply put a figure on how much it would cost to really push the women’s game, especially when there is an absolute absence of inclination, but it would be probably amount to no more than the average Premier League Chairperson’s pocket change.
Only one or two mainstream sports have a thriving women’s game, one of which is tennis. This is pure speculation and founded in nothing other than an uneducated guess, but this could be down to tennis throughout the century being a social ‘double-dating’ pastime for the middle and upper classes. Women were ‘allowed’ to play tennis. An alternative explanation for its near parity with the men’s game may actually be simply that it’s young females running around in short skirts. Whatever the reasons behind the success it provides evidence that women’s competitive sport can be lucrative.
When we stopped blinking for long enough and saw some women’s football coverage on TV in 2005, when the England team played in the European Championships hosted in this country, viewing figures averaged at around 2 million. Attendance at the grounds during the tournament averaged around the 20,000 mark. Both roughly just below a quarter of what the equivalent fixture achieved for the men during Euro 96. Albeit a big drop, this suggests that there is a ‘market’ for it. Most other sports would bite your hand off for those figures. There is money to be made.
Women have threatened to enter the men’s game but have been met with a reaction akin to that of a stag do infiltrated by an inquisitive fiancée. In 2003, Perugia were hoping to sign Birgit Prinz, a footballer for the national German women’s team. The Perugia president Luciano Gaucci said their investigation had led them to believe, “There was no regulation that would limit Birgit from playing with men”. He also felt the need to add, “She is very beautiful, and has a great figure. I can assure you that as a player, she’s very good.” I’ll let you pick yourself up off the floor and dust yourself off after that one. Birgit Prinz apparently declined the offer to join the club amid fears FIFA were about to throw their toys out the pram. The following year when Maribel Dominguez signed for Mexico’s second-division club Atletico Celaya, FIFA in a written statement acted swiftly, “The gender-separation principle in football should be maintained…this is laid down in league football and in international matches by the existence of gender-specific competitions, and the Laws of the Game and FIFA’s regulations do not provide for any exception…there must be a clear separation between men’s and women’s football”. Well, what did you expect? A clear, progressive, straight answer?
Of course, the women’s game does amble along in the background around the world. In America they give it a good go, but more often than not clubs claim they can’t maintain professional status due to poor revenue streams – which sadly means no-ones making enough profit from it, and not that it couldn’t be sustainable.
Here the Super League launch this year will see the financially stable women’s teams attempting to push the game into professional waters. The F.A however have already raised concerns about the financial climate and have admitted to struggling to find all the investment required. “We’ve got less money. We have to be clear about putting money behind priority programmes – and the Women’s Super League is a priority programme.”
Football is not run by historians, philosophers, psychologists, mathematicians nor scientists and so is not equipped to offer a solution to gender inequality. Sexism is not an issue football can tackle. It can assist somewhat if it changes it’s tact from sporadically mentioning the women’s game in brackets. But it won’t. It could, if it really, really wanted to, perpetually reinforce a well considered campaign of being a well adjusted institution. But it won’t.
You can’t undo His-Story.