Five Ways To Be… Your Daughter’s Football Dadvocate by Karen Dobres
You like the footie, right?
You’ve been known to play the game; stadia and managers have special places in your heart; you follow the players, chat about the clubs, cuss and rate other fans, and you know who scored what and when and exactly how they did it. A weekend kickabout is up there with a Sunday roast, a pint of best, and watching Match of the Day. And now you have kids whom you love to the ends of the earth, and you’d like to share your love of the beautiful game, and your weekend diary.
Easy, you might think. Take your boy to the match on Saturday, make sure he’s playing for the local junior team, bond over keepie-uppies down the park whenever you both can. But what about your girl?? Do daughters even like football? Can women really play? Or, if they have a place in the beautiful game, is it restricted to the sidelines – always the WAG, never the main act?
Watching footie on the telly, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was only for men. Women’s matches are rarely aired on terrestrial channels. They’re under-reported in the papers, teams are under-resourced, and matches usually take place at inferior grounds, a leg away from town or the main (men’s) stadium. Yet they do happen*.
Research has shown that Dads are three times as likely to encourage their sons to play football than they are their daughters.
But what could be in it for the girls?
It’s been reported that women in leadership positions benefit from having played team sports when they were young. Women footballers are famous for their resilience, and the women’s game for values like inclusivity, sacrifice, effort and respect. If you want your girl to play football, if you’d like her to build character through the most popular sport in the world, then you’re going to need to follow the women’s game as well as the men’s. A popular saying goes, ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it’, so to increase your girl’s chances of being assertive, fit, willing to put in the work, and in charge of her own physicality, you might want to introduce her to the women’s game. As Baroness Sue Campbell, head of the Women’s FA, has said, ‘we can’t underestimate the importance of representation for girls’: they need to see female heroes to feed their aspirations.
Football can do more than simply mirror society (think gender inequality, racist abuse, homophobic chants); it can lead society out of the mire – it can be exemplary.
We can teach our daughters (and sons), through football, that women are more than just pretty and men more than just strong. And, for football Dadvocates, this all happens quite naturally!
The first – motivational – step is to understand that you have what might be called ‘Male Football Privilege’. You have this, (as with any privilege of course), through no fault – or effort – of your own. As a modern man you were simply born with it because the FA imposed a ban on women’s football in this country in 1921, (when women were playing to bigger crowds than men), and didn’t lift it until 1971. This destroyed the women’s game overnight and gave men’s football a complete monopoly of resources, media attention, cultural importance and, ultimately, sponsorship and TV money.
Women’s football was, in fact, banned in many countries around the world, from 1921 onwards, including France (1932), Spain (1935), Brazil (1941) and Germany (1955). As recently as the 1980s, four of the twenty-four countries involved in the 2019 World Cup had imposed outright bans on women’s soccer.
Tell your daughter this piece of history. Read her stories** about it. She might get cross – and that might just lend an extra oomph to her game!
So, now, you know the benefits, she’s fired up, and you’re both clued up on the history… what to do next?
Five Tips for ongoing Football Dadvocacy:
- Mind Your Language – if you’re talking about ‘women’s football’ make sure to ‘gender’ men’s football too, so that the game isn’t male by default. If you’re talking about the Women’s World Cup, no need to say ‘Women’s’ – it’s clear from the year. If she’s hearing sexist abuse at football matches that implies women are weaker than men (‘she fell over’, ‘oh, come on Ladies’ to male players, or worse) explain that this is old-fashioned thinking and not ok. Loudly, if possible.
- Take her to women’s matches as well as men’s. The atmosphere at women’s matches is different to men’s, and she can see her own gender dashing around the pitch, supporting each other, challenging each other, working together. She can imagine herself charging around in their boots, no mere decoration, but a woman in her own right, with agency, with power.
- Watch football on the TV with her, and talk about the game and the players. Her socio-cultural world will not assume she likes football, so your knowledge and passion are doubly important for girls. Football’s a great connector and she’ll be forever grateful for the insight into your heart, and that you valued her enough to share it… even if she never ends up liking the game.
- Play football with her in the park or the garden. Help her encourage another friend to play with her. Make an offer to her friend’s parents to include said friend/s in your football kickabouts – a lot of girls don’t get the chance, and she’ll need a friend to play football with – those goalposts want two jumpers!
- Follow women’s teams and women players on social media – they are great role models who have often had to overcome obstacles to follow their dreams. Female ‘ballers have dug deep and can show our female children a thing or two about determination, authenticity and leadership. And, what’s more, every female player I’ve ever spoken to WANTS to BE a role model! As striker Jess King raps ‘I’ve had a few role models that I did aspire to, and now I hope that my life can inspire too!’. Players in the WSL and Championship always make post-match time to chat to fans and sign autographs. Make sure your daughter’s ready, whether the team’s won or lost, with a pitch-side invitation to high-five it’ll mean the world to both player and fan!
Written by Karen Dobres
Co-director Lewes FC
**Book Recommendations: https://www.waterstones.com/book/girls-with-balls/tim-tate/9781782197720