I don’t know why I started liking football. I know I started supporting Tottenham thanks to Glenn Hoddle and his skills, and I know I started supporting York City because they were my local team. I could have chosen any sport really, but it was football.
At the time I was at an all-girls school in York, a school I spent four years in, and played football once, so there was no influence from school.
It just happened. I liked football and it suited me.
Fast forward several years, Shaun comes to the UK and he has no choice – he has to like football. Having never played it in Australia, but being very much aware of it, he had to support Tottenham. He rebelled and chose Hull City of all teams – though soon changed his mind (you’re allowed to change once, those are the unofficial rules). Before H was born we’d spend all our money and weekends up at White Hart Lane, fulfilling my dream of seeing several games there. My first ever game, my friend lent me her season ticket, and I did it on my own, meeting friends before and afterwards. When I sat down for the first time at White Hart Lane I wanted to cry with happiness, and it wasn’t long before I was dragging Shaun along too.
That all had to stop when H arrived. But she has no choice now either, she has to like football. Luckily she does, and I’m making sure she has the opportunities to play the game which I never had. Every weekend she trains with Carshalton Athletic, she used to have lessons with Crystal Palace. She wants to go to a game, and most excitingly of all, she’s following the England Women at the World Cup, and fancies herself as the next Fran Kirby. She had a training session with Casey Stoney back in May which has got her back into playing the game.
Has there ever been a better time for a girl to be into football? I’m not sure. Things feel like they’re getting better all the time. We had tickets for England v Germany at Wembley, but that morning H was sick so we couldn’t go. We’ve got tickets for the FA Cup Final at Wembley on the 1st August – and actually, women’s football is a great, affordable starter level for the game. Most importantly of all, it’s the best way to stick two fingers up at anyone who thinks football isn’t for girls. Sure, the games might not be held at the main ground (boys still get priority), but they’re happening, and if they keep getting popular like they are, then who knows where they’ll end up.
H has already had the comments a few times. “Girls can’t play football!” she’s been told, and I want her to be able to run rings around those who say it, score a goal and just run away, having proven her point, sticking a metaphorical two fingers up at the world. Enjoy the game – that’s the important thing, because that’s what it’s all about.
When you read the story of Fran Kirby and how she gave up on football after suffering depression when her mum died, before regaining her love for the game, leading to her being England’s youngest player at the World Cup, experiences like that help children like H know that it’s okay to stop. That you can start again. Good things can come, and if you love it, you’ll find a way once you get that love back.
But it’s also kind of depressing too. England threads about the Women’s game, and lots of sexist comments. I even saw a photo with an England player celebrating scoring a goal while being photoshopped onto a kitchen. Why is it so difficult for some people to understand that football isn’t just a boy’s thing. It’s for everyone. It’s exciting.
If we’re really going to compare the male vs female game, I feel right now the women are much better ambassadors for the game than quite a few of the men. Maybe it’s the fact they’re earning less money so they don’t do stupid things. You can wait around after a game and get their autographs (to be fair, we did that a few times at Tottenham, but often the players didn’t have time for everyone).
So yes, it’s a much better time for H to be playing football, she’s happy doing it, and I hope that happiness continues. The female game continues to grow, and I’m hoping one day she’ll play for a local girl’s team – they start a bit later than the boys ones – but that can change the more girls that get involved.
I’m loving that she’s at the age where comments like I’ve overheard don’t get to her. She just wants to play football, score goals, and that’s all. Long may it continue.