Football is a Feminist Issue*

It started with a routine event on the pitch, during our first home game of the season against Reading; a player picks up an injury and the medical team, including Dr Eva Carneiro run on to attend the wounded hero. Treatment completed, Dr Carneiro made her way to the West Stand side of the pitch, and from there, to get back to the dug-out, walked past the Matthew Harding Stand. And then it happened. A chorus of ‘Celery, Celery…’, clearly aimed at her.

I thought nothing more about it at that moment, due to  the sheer joy of being at our first match of the season at Stamford Bridge, and the copious amounts of vodka and lemonade which followed after. But I remembered it the next day, when one Tweeter described the incident as ‘quality’. I responded by saying that I thought it was out of order. The tweeter in question said that Dr Eva had been laughing. Let’s be honest, Dr Carneiro is hardly shy and retiring. Firstly, in her role at the club, she couldn’t afford to be. Secondly, there are pictures out in cyberspace which show her only wearing lingerie.

But, as a woman, I felt offended on her behalf. I discussed what had happened with some of my male friends in our favoured SW6 hostelry prior to the Newcastle game, one of whom described it as ‘the biggest compliment that they could have paid her’.

Really, boys? You think that the best way of complimenting a female member of the medical staff at our club is by serenading her with a lewd ditty based on the Chas & Dave classic ‘Ask Old Brown To Tea’?

Would it not have been possible to start singing ‘Eva, give us a wave’?

As it happens, although I was in SW6 I didn’t actually go to the Newcastle game, as one of my closest friends was having her hen do in Kensington. And the single biggest reason I didn’t go was because I didn’t want to turn up to a match wearing sparkly sandals and a frilly dress. Those who’ve met me will attest that like Eva Carneiro I’m not exactly shy and retiring. But though I’ve usually got more front than Brighton, I didn’t feel equal to turning up at the Bridge dressed for a night out. And why? Because I wasn’t appropriately dressed. Even though I look about as much like Eva Carneiro as Samantha Brick does (i.e. not very good looking at all), I knew there’d be a possibility I’d get smartarses – and they’d be smartarses who didn’t know me from Adam, or, more appropriately, Eve – singing ‘Celery’ at me, or making comments of a similar, ribald nature. And I don’t go to football for that. I have never worn a skirt to a game, even when it’s been a midweek after work. A woman at football should be there to support her team, and blend in. Not to wear what Helen Chamberlain once referred to as ‘trotters’, or flash acres of flesh. My idea of blending in is dressed as, and behaving like, a bloke as far as possible.

The role of women in football is a work in progress. Julie Welch became the first female football writer as long ago as 1969, meeting with almost unanimous hostility from her male peers, an experience which she incorporated into the screenplay of her most renowned work, the Channel 4 film ‘Those Glory Glory Days’ (if you haven’t seen it, try and catch it in one of it’s occasional repeats on Film4. It might be about Spuds, but it’s still a great film). Women football journalists are now an accepted part of the press industry. In 2007, Jacqui Oatley, having previously been a match reporter on BBC Radio Five Live, became the first woman to commentate on Match of The Day.

It’s 20 years now since the first woman Chief Executive of a football club was appointed, when Karren Brady took the helm at Birmingham. She recalled that when she had her first meeting with the players, one sad individual piped up ‘I can see your tits in that blouse’. She responded, sharp as a knife, ‘Well when I sell you to Carlisle, you won’t be able to see them from there’. Ms Brady has been followed into football administration by the likes of Vicki Oyston at Blackpool and Heather Rabbatts at Millwall, and in 2011 Ms Rabbatts became the first woman appointed to the board of the Football Association.

On the pitch the women’s game is becoming increasingly high-profile, with the FA Women’s Super League now semi-professional, and large crowds supporting the team at national level, especially during London 2012. Judged on ability alone, the England women’s manager, Hope Powell, has the qualifications and experience to become the first woman to manage a men’s team.

One sphere of football which is lucky enough to have strong women in prominent positions is, ironically enough, fan politics. The legendary Monica Hartland was for many years the face of the FSF (Football Supporters Federation) until her retirement as President in 2011. Dame Pauline Green was the Chief Executive of Supporters Direct for three years until she stood down at this year’s AGM. Pam Wilkins of Portsmouth is one of the major players in the Pompey fans’ bid to take over the ailing club. And at Chelsea we are lucky enough to have the redoubtable Michelle Shaw and Trizia Fiorellino at the Chelsea Supporters Group, and in July Michelle was elected to the National Council of the Football Supporters Federation, giving Chelsea fans a voice at national level for the first time.

But let’s go back to Dr Eva. Amongst those of you singing the celery song, I’d ask two questions. Firstly, would you have sung that to her if she looked like a bag of spanners? And secondly, chances are a large number of those singing it were husbands and fathers. So the question I would ask is this. Would you like someone singing that at your wife? And more crucially, would you like someone singing that to your daughter?

During the course of writing this article I’ve discovered that there is a body called Women in Football, which is a network of professional women working in and around the football industry who support and champion their peers  and you can find out more about the Women’s Super League here 

As always, you can follow me on Twitter @BlueBaby67


*This is of course a corruption of the title of Susie Orbach’s celebrated book  ‘Fat is A Feminist Issue’.  When I first came up with the idea of writing this article over two weeks ago, it was going to be called ‘As Andrea Dworkin Said To Me’, but I didn’t think enough people would get it.

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