Being a female fan: And Another Thing

From the November 2005 issue of FourFourTwo...

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Our panel, from left to right:
Liz Rakowicz, advertising account director, Barnet
Emma Keens, account manager, Arsenal
Annika Giffard, personal assistant, QPR
Rachel Sullivan, journalist, Leicester City

How did you first get into football?

Rachel I don’t know. I grew up with a brother and a step brother, who were both Spurs fans and they made me watch Spurs incessantly when I was a kid, so I decided I hated Spurs and would never support them. I supported Leicester instead, because that’s where my dad was from and he supported them. Saying that, my first game was Spurs v Sheffield Wednesday when I was 13 – I lived in Slough and didn’t have anyone to take me to Filbert Street so I went to White Hart Lane with my brother. Then, when I was at Manchester University, I got a job selling pies at Maine Road so I could watch football and as soon as I could afford to do my own thing, I bought a Leicester season ticket. I still go but I haven’t got a season ticket anymore – I’ve got a life instead!
Annika My dad first started taking me to Kingstonian when I was six – I made him buy me chips and Kit Kats throughout the game because I didn’t really want to be there, but the more I went, the more I liked it, and when my dad became a director I’d go to every game, home and away. When I met my boyfriend a few years ago I started getting into QPR, because he’s a fan, and now I go about 10 times a season.
Emma With me it’s hereditary – my dad’s an Arsenal fan. I always liked playing football with the boys when I was little, then I noticed how excited my dad got watching football. I thought it looked fun, so I went to watch a game with him when I was 10 and I’ve been hooked ever since. The first match I ever saw was at Dover Athletic, because they played at the end of my road, and I started going to Arsenal in my mid-teens.
Liz My dad used to play for Chelsea youth and is a mad Chelsea fan, so I’d sit and watch football with him every Saturday. But I started supporting Barnet because I found I had a lot more respect from people when I would say I supported a lower division team. Plus it was great to have a few beers in the local with a couple of the players on a Saturday night discussing the game. That's how it should be.

What's the best thing about being a female fan?

Liz Shocking men with how much you know about football, particularly when you know more than they do. That’s always priceless.
Emma I really like the look on blokes’ faces when they try to patronise you and then realise that you actually know what you’re talking about.
Annika The best thing is that you don’t have to queue for the toilets – and the toilets aren’t actually that bad.
Rachel But they never have any mirrors. Just because we’re watching football, it doesn’t mean we don’t still need to do our make-up.
Annika They had mirrors at the old Wembley.
Rachel Did they?
Annika I also find that blokes let you queue jump when you’re at the bar.
Emma Overall, I don’t know if it feels that different being a female fan.

What’s the worst thing?

Liz Sexism. Although it’s dwindling, it’s still rife.
Emma Sometimes men do that really annoying thing of making you prove how much you know, asking you loads of questions about games which happened when you were five, as though you’d been reading Shoot. They act like you’re not a proper fan if your memory bank doesn’t go back years and years. I think some men really don’t like it if you know as much as, or more than, them. Supporting Arsenal, a lot of people assume that I’ve just picked one of the top teams. I don’t think I’d get that as much if I were a bloke.
Annika Some men honestly don’t believe you can be into it as much as them. I’ve had people say all the usual things, like “you’re only here to look at their legs.”
Liz I’ve been accused of that as well.

C’mon, admit it, it’s true…

Liz Yeah, yeah, hand on heart, that’s what it’s all about.

Moving on. How do male fans treat you at games?
Liz I have to say not bad at all. They appreciate that you’re there because of your loyalty to the team. It makes no odds what sex you are.
Emma The other thing is, they’re less coy about talking to you at football. Obviously, they’re friendly with each other, but it’s “Alright love?” and they do try to include you.
Rachel Do they, though? I was thinking about this last night, and no man that I don’t already know has ever spoken to me at football.
Annika I know what you mean – they certainly don’t try to chat you up.
Rachel You might as well be invisible.
Annika I think it’s because you’re usually with blokes yourself. They’re not gonna be letchy like they are in a club or a bar.
Emma I find they tend to want to have a knees-up rather than chat you up.
Rachel Oh, I’d love to be chatted up at football – is that tragic?

Have you ever feared for your safety at games?

Emma Maybe in the pub, beforehand, but never during a game.
Rachel I remember going to a Marseille game once. They were rebuilding their stadium for the 1998 World Cup and because of the building work, there was only one really small opening for people to get out of. It took us 45 minutes to get out and because you’re a girl you feel really vulnerable in that situation. Everyone’s crushed together, any everybody was male and much taller than me, so I couldn’t see anything. I was actually quite scared then.
Emma The only time I really feel threatened is when you’re walking out of a game and it’s been really highly charged or there’s been a really controversial incident. You just want to get out of there in case it kicks off.
Annika When QPR played Cardiff in the play-offs, we were walking back to the coach from the stadium and these Cardiff fans were running round like madmen, carrying sticks. I was quite scared because I was with a lot of blokes, who may have been targets or might have wanted to get involved. I remember saying “Please, let’s just get out of here.”
Liz I had an incident at an England-Poland game at Wembley about 12, 13 years ago. I was waiting for my little brother outside the men’s toilets at half-time, wearing a Poland shirt because I’m half Polish. Suddenly these three England fans walked past and, assuming I was a non-English speaking Pole, one of them said really loudly, “There’s one, let’s get her and rape her later.” That was pretty nasty.

Do you shout and sing at games?

Liz I’m incredibly vocal. It’s not flattering for a girl, I know, but that passion just takes over.
Annika I sing, yeah, but I don’t shout on my own.
Rachel I do. And I swear.
Emma So do I, and I’m very loud. And because it’s really difficult to get tickets for Highbury, I tend to go to a lot of away games in the home end, so I have to really try to keep my gob shut at times. I also take clients in corporate hospitality sometimes and it’s very difficult to stop yourself cursing the opposition and singing.

Do you ever get embarrassed by other female fans shouting nonsense at games?

Liz Totally. I know I should be supportive of more female fans, but sometimes it’s quite obvious they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Rachel I love that girls love football and I should be more supportive of that, but often it’s a case of thinking, please don’t make an arse out of yourself. Look at Delia. That just made me cringe.
Annika There was an American woman at QPR the other week who would not shut up for the whole game and she’d clearly never been to a football match in her life before. She was like, “C’mon, do this, do that”. I wanted to kill her.
Emma I hate it, whether you’re in the pub or at a game, when people just go to comment on it the whole way through. The odd comment or at half-time is fine, but for the rest of the time, just watch the fucking game.

What do your boyfriends think about the fact that you like football?

Annika My boyfriend loves it.
Liz Mine too. He gets to play every Saturday and watch Match of the Day and all the live games without me putting up a fight. Although he hates the fact that I know more than him, but he’s a Villa fan, so what do you expect?
Rachel My last boyfriend didn’t really know much about football, but he got quite into it when he was going out with me. I think men like the fact that they can just sit down and chill out at the weekend. I also took him to Leicester when we were playing Portsmouth, where he’s from. We won 3-0, which I enjoyed!
Emma My ex-boyfriend was a Chelsea fan, so when Arsenal and Chelsea played each other, we’d spend the whole game arguing over every single decision.
Liz A couple of my friends can’t stand football and won’t even have it on in the house, which I can’t get my head around. Each to their own, I suppose.

Does the idea of dating a footballer appeal?

Rachel Not in any way.
Annika I agree.
Rachel I think they’re complete morons. I interviewed Ray Parlour once and when the pictures came back he was looking down my top in a lot of them.
Emma Obviously they look great in the flesh when they’re playing, all fit and healthy. Phwoar! But then you see them in post-match interviews…
Liz I’d be lying if I said it didn’t appeal, but more because of the idea of supporting him proudly from the stands, rather than the supposed glitz and glamour of it all. I did go out with a footballer years ago, but I knew him from school so he was a friend first.
Annika A small minority of footballers are decent blokes and quite intelligent, but you couldn’t hold a proper conversation with most of them.
Rachel Even then, I’d find the fact that they were a footballer extremely off-putting.
Emma It’s also the fact we know what most of them are like.
Rachel I wouldn’t say no to Jose Mourinho, though.
Annika Me either.
Emma Yeah, I’d definitely get involved there. And Freddie Ljungberg…

Have you ever donned a football kit in the bedroom?

Emma I can’t say I’ve ever been asked.
Rachel Men love it, don’t they?
Emma I can see why men find it sexy.
Liz I wore a Nottingham Forest shirt for an ex-boyfriend once.
Rachel I could never wear a Forest shirt! Or Derby!
Emma Yeah, it would definitely depend on which team it was. I could never wear a Spurs shirt. Or Chelsea. Any London team, in fact.
Liz What about Barnet?!

What do you make of Sepp Blatter’s opinion that female footballers should wear tighter kits to attract more male fans?

Rachel The Italy shirts at Euro 2000 certainly made it more interesting for me, so I can’t really have a go at him for saying that. But nobody takes Blatter seriously anyway, do they?
Liz I think what he says works on the assumption that women watch football because they fancy the men, and I don’t think that’s true in the vast majority of cases. It’s like beach volleyball: wearing tight clothes might make men watch for five minutes, but once the novelty’s worn off, it’s not gonna be enough to get them into it.

What about football on television. Would you rather watch MotD or Desperate Housewives?

Rachel Good question.
Emma Thank God for Sky+.
Liz Match of the Day every time.
Annika I never really got into Desperate Housewives.
Emma It depends what the main games were on MotD. Am I allowed to say that? I really like Desperate Housewives, so it’s a tough call.
Annika I don’t like watching football on TV that much, unless it’s an important game or QPR are playing. And I don’t like watching games in the pub – I’d rather watch it at home.
Rachel But there is that excitement when it’s a big game and the pub is packed. I watched the Champions League final with loads of friends and it was brilliant, a night I’ll never forget.
Annika When I worked in Spain, we used to go and sit in a bar on Saturday afternoon and watch the results coming in. I loved it.
Emma Football’s always on in my house at the weekend. You’ve got Soccer AM, then Soccer Saturday, then Match of the Day and any live games. I’d happily sit in and watch football all weekend.
Rachel I love listening to 6-0-6 on Five Live on the way back from games as well. Obviously most of the callers talk bollocks, but it’s kind of a tradition.

Female presenters, though, they’re a bit rubbish right?

Annika I don’t think so.
Rachel I think Gabby Logan and Celina Hinchcliffe [who presented the Womens’ Euro 2005 coverage on the BBC] are brilliant… then again I would say that, Celina’s one of my best friends from school!
Emma If it was just some bird sitting there talking crap, it would be rubbish, but it’s not.
Rachel I’m sure being an attractive female did Gabby Logan no harm, but she’s still great.
Emma I think Helen Chamberlain’s done a lot for women in football. I’m envious of any woman who’s got a job like that.
Rachel But when I worked for FourFourTwo, people used to ask me if I liked football before I got the job. How stupid is that? They’d never ask a man that.

Speaking of questions you’d never ask a man, can you explain the offside rule?

[Sighs, tuts and looks of derision all round]
Annika Do you really want me to explain it?
Rachel No, don’t do it.
Liz It’s hardly rocket science, is it?
Annika Although I didn’t know until recently that you can’t be offside from a throw-in...

Interviews: November 2005.