Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Pitching Women's Football

David James just wrote another good column ("Next Time Just Ask the Women") about sexist attitudes about women and football (see also his earlier "Keeping Up With Part Time Rachel"). It's worth a look. It made me think perhaps I should share the following:

I just pitched a story to Observer Sports Monthly (the guardian's monthly magazine) about Clacton-on-Sea's 7s tournament. It is the longest continuously running women's football tournament in the UK. (I'll be playing with the Hackney ladies!) I of course think it's a great story - how the tournament came into being, who plays, the tournament dramas, etc. - and who better than yours truly to write a story about the women & girls who play for fun on the weekends, just like their fathers, brothers, etc? This is the response I got:

"Hi Jennifer,

Thanks for your pitch. We have just done a big piece on women's football in general and Arsenal Ladies in particular for our next issue ("The Invincibles"), and so I don't think we will be returning to the subject for a little while.

Best, Tim"

I can accept that my story idea might not have been right for the magazine . OSM's a monthly and space is limited. My argument is with this reasoning - that women's football shouldn't be a regular feature - and with the fact that they have no embarrassment about saying this in as many words! If mainstream outlets don't report on the game in all its variety - if we don't in fact regularly write about women athletes - we tell readers that these stories don't matter. We let reader assumptions stand unchallenged. (Pictured, Ludlow knocking in one for the lady Gunners in Monday's game.)

In that one article about "women's football in general and Arsenal ladies in particular", you'll find passing mention of a dozen really juicy, hair-raising stories: e.g. Charlton & Leeds divorce from the men's teams with which they'd been affiliated, and Man U's treatment of its women's team (see my early blog entry "Red Card" for a very polemical take on the latter).

Have we had real investigative journalism in mainstream media on the relationship of men's clubs to the women's teams they've adopted? Why ARE Arsenal so dominant even though their manager and players aren't being paid? How do clubs respond to women's involvement in the game? Which clubs are the most sexist? Which are the least? How much does it cost to support one of these teams anyway?

What little reporting we have in this neighborhood takes the hardships faced by these women and turns it all into a feel-good story about underdogs who win championships in spite of it all. But we still come away totally ignorant of how things got this way.

The story I pitched was more of a feel-good thing: A story focused on the grassroots game, about the culture of women's football here in the UK - which is, IMHO, way rock-and-roll. Partly because you have to be pretty bad-ass to put up with the crap people dish out here (e.g., the comments to James's column!).

Anyway, at the very least, I'll report on Clacton here - and cheers to David James for his ongoing work as feminist secret agent. Surely karma has something to do with the fact that the star of yesterday's match was Carly Telford - who used everything from the tips of her fingers to the tips of her toes to keep a clean sheet during the first half of the match, in spite of Arsenal's relentless attack. You Go Girl!


  1. More important than having a great season as Pompey's keeper, David James is a class human being. His commitments to literacy and the environment are impressive, as are his thoughtful Guardian columns (all fees donated to good causes).

    I've sent and posted his article, "Will a gay footballer ever come out of the comfort zone?" http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2007/apr/15/sport.comment2, many times.

    Ah, to have a sports celebrity as intelligent, articulate, and caring as Jamo in the States! Oh, and as a former keeper, I'm always pleased to see a fellow goalie who doesn't perpetuate the stereotype that we're all insane and angry. Keepers and rock drummers take a bum rap that way.

    Thanks again for another great post, Jennifer.

  2. I believe that in the Guardian article ('The Invincibles'), the author did mention the fact that it's not really good that Arsenal wins everything (or, this season, almost everything). As a fan of Arsenal (both ladies and men), I love that my team is winning everything. But I understand that it isn't necessarily good for women's football (both in England and the world) to have one team dominating.

    As an American fan, I can't wait for the new women's league over here.

    It's also really too bad that the Observer dismissed your article idea so quickly. I think it would be a fun an interesting read.

  3. I have only just discovered your site, via the American 'Women's Sports Blog'. I was actually supposed to be writing a letter to the 'Yorkshire Post' about cricket. Great to have discovered you. I will be back to catch up on reading. Katharine Sinderson

  4. yes - arsenal's dominance is a problem - and i have yet to see a good explanation of it. are there UK women players reading this with insight into this?

    and lena - goalies rule in my book, always. james has been amazing on a range of issues - and somehow he doesn't seem to get hounded for it. i think if i could meet any man playing in the premiership, it'd be james.

    i like the goalie/drummer link. so true on so many levels.

  5. Have you heard about the payment of arsenal ladies if they win? I readf that they would get 30 POUNDS!

    I myself as a football player know that many people are stil sexist, especially when it comes to use ladies playing football

  6. Just read this on the SkySports site:

    In better news, our dear sweet David James is fit to play in the FA Cup. Good for him, he certainly deserves to be on the pitch for that match.

  7. The scariest thing about the reply you got was the clear belief behind it that women's football is getting as much if not more coverage than it deserves/people want. Astonishing when you consider it is the fastest growing sport for women in this country. It's almost (tho not quite) worse than no coverage at all, which would have least be a bit more honest.

  8. the observer's article on Arsenal ladies was very interesting and informative however i agree with the consensus that there should be a regular feature on womens football in the mainstream, and in this regards i would like to point out that coverage of Arsenal ladies means that alot of what i know from womens football stems from Arsenal. What about other competitors in the league such as Everton, or Leeds? Jennifer you should try pitching the article to When Saturday Comes (wsc)Good article as always, i look forward to reading about Clacton on Sea 7's tournament where ever its printed

    kind regards


  9. hi georgine & zappata,

    thanks for your comments. the situation in the UK media is even more grim than in the US - where coverage of the women's game is at least varied (you'll get coverage of women's college teams, the youth game, and the NWT). z - i did pitch the story originally to WSC - i agree it's the best magazine out there. they thought OSM would like it - the pitch wasn't quite right for them. i should probably go back to them, though, with a different idea. or, just go to clacton & have a great time!

  10. Hi Jennifer,
    I'm a fellow footy-player over in London (might've seen you in previous Clacton 7s tournos!), and just stumbled on your blog - GREAT STUFF.
    I wholeheartedly agree with everything you (and David James) say!
    Cannot believe it is still acceptable to state that the women's game 'only warrants monthly coverage'.

    I also thought - in the spirit of raising the trampled profile of women's football here in the UK - you might be interested in a little venture of mine:
    - we'll be going live soon, and it would be GREAT if you'd like to join and write/share some articles for the News section from time to time..?

    Polly Courtney

  11. Nice Blog. Keep posting more



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