Stop telling my daughter that football is just for boys!

I've had a bee in my bonnet about this for some time now.

I was never a sporty child or teen. I hated hockey and was an average netball player but would much rather have been curled up indoors with a book than playing out on the field.

But I'll let you in on a secret.

Only if you promise not to laugh.

The one sport I really do wish I could do. Is play football.

Isn't that crazy? You wouldn't think it looking at me or hearing me chat on a regular basis but deep down, under layers and layers of low self-esteem, nervousness, poor body image and a severe lack of confidence, is a 19 year old who is thinking of joining a football team.

That was the closest I got. A university student with a passion for medieval history and a secret desire to grow my love of football. I had a football loving boyfriend and we lived just round the corner from Highbury. I'd grown up in a household of fans, my Grandad worked for Millwall FC and would sometimes have footballers lodging with us. But just after six form is the one time in my life that I took a real interest in the sport, soaked up the atmosphere in the pub and at the odd match, discussed players and stats with friends and cheered on my team (Arsenal, obviously).

I toyed with the idea of joining a team but was never sure if I could do it. At school, the only choices for girls were netball and hockey. Rounders in the summer. The one girl in another year group who wanted to play football and cricket was teased mercilessly by both genders.

And then, after my Dad died and I threw myself into the Lion Rampant and the world of re-enactments, after I split with my boyfriend and moved to a new area, the idea of playing football passed. There were a few reasons, convoluted and thought-provoking but the one that stands out to me today is being teased for, essentially, being a girl.

I didn't want to stand out from the crowd.

Girls don't like football.

Women don't know the offside rule.

Ladies football is boring.

Girls only care what players look like.

Women don't know what they're talking about.

Football is for boys.

Girls who like football are not 'ladylike'.

Blah blah blah.

It's all rubbish. I know it's rubbish. But combined with an inner-voice that tells me I'd never be good enough anyway, that I'm not sporty and that my opinions don't count, those stereotypes have led me to where I am today. For better or worse, I couldn't say.

But, like Molly Weasley in a furious outburst of motherly love, I find myself wanting to yell out:

"Not my daughter, you bitch!"

Cause, you see, Lily loves football. She has enjoyed playing with her Daddy since she was a toddler and stands proud in her Crystal Palace football kit. She's tried a couple of different clubs and we've finally found one that suits her. At training last term she received 'player of the week' and she chose to spend her Christmas gift money from family on a new pair of football boots.

So it breaks my heart when she comes home from school upset because the boys won't let her join in. When she tells me that she can't go to training because 'girls don't play football'.

I'll defend her and fight for her to take part and enjoy it as much as anyone else. Boy or girl.

I don't know who told her but the problem isn't really with one person. It's common misconception that is everywhere. Football is still considered by many to be a boy's playground activity.

For example, last term, the school sent a football team from Lily's year group to a tournament.

All boys.

Depending on who you talk to, the reasons behind this range from naive to blatant stupidity.

"It's cause the girls aren't as good" - Says who? And if this is the case, how are they meant to learn and improve when they're not given the same opportunities?

"It's because the boys go to football club on a Friday" - As do the girls! And at least one boy in the team had dropped out of the club because he didn't like it. How is that fair?

And yes, other schools did send mixed teams.

Incidentally, the boys did great and won the tournament. That's amazing, they worked hard and they deserved it.

It's just, as the Mum of a little girl who deserves the same opportunities, I felt let down. It's not an issue with the school. If there is one thing Lily's school does really well at, it's providing plenty of different sporting opportunities for both boys and girls, at all ages. I just felt disappointed for Lily and her friends who now say they can't play because they're not as good as the boys.

The idea that girls and boys can't play the same sports are ridiculously outdated. Especially when the children in question are 5 or 6 years old.

When a group of Mum's questioned why girls weren't included (Lily isn't the only girl in her class that likes football) we were told that the girls would have a separate opportunity in the spring term.

I'm waiting.

I'm not 'one of those mums'. I'm not a 'feminist' pushing for treatment in favour of my daughter and her female friends. I just don't want to hear that "she's good enough for a girl".

She's either good enough or she isn't. She can learn, she can try hard and she can get better.

She can't change her gender.

So don't you dare crush her enthusiasm.

Stop telling her that she can't play football because it's just for boys!
Unknown said...

Perhaps you could show Lily how well English ladies football teams are. It's sad because I know how much she loves it xxxx

Ken said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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