Guys, it's time to stop dunking on women's sport

There are many men out there that need to hear this. If you get your kicks by making fun of footballers that have been discriminated against, underfunded, and discouraged, you need to re-evaluate the values of your life.

Every now and then, something like this happens in women's football. It does the rounds on social media, and inevitably, many of men the world over seize the opportunity to punch down, I suppose, as a way to feel better about their sad lives. Despite the score line, which we'll get into shortly, this woman is representing her country at international level. She's likely the best current Latvian goalkeeper. She's already achieved more than 99.9% of men that are laughing at her.


The comments are full of your typical kitchen jokes, references to equal pay, copious use of laugh-cry emojis, and one guy who shared a TikTok of a man using an oven hob to crown his girlfriend Queen of the Kitchen. If ever you require a large sample size of men with issues in the trouser department to conduct some research, plenty of them can be found in comment sections laughing at women's sport.

Hilarious. Well done guys.


What many men neglect (often deliberately), is the many hurdles female participants have to jump over in order to just play. It's far easier to just laugh at and make fun of as a means to regain some semblance of control over your sad pathetic lives than to understand, appreciate, and support. Have you ever been told you can't join in because "football is not for boys?" If so, you're already ahead. These men try to use women's mistakes and failures as justification for discrimination, when in reality, it's a sad indictment of the lack of support structures and opportunities for female players. Players like the Latvian keeper don't make mistakes of that nature because they are female, they make mistakes like that because of the lack of development. How sad is it that Latvia's goalkeeper, a full international footballer, struggles with goal kicks?


As we're all well aware, there are tons of male goalkeeper mistakes, which are funnily enough, never attributed to their gender.

When I look at a football culture, I try and look at it in three ways; Coaching, Environment, Opportunity. Let's see in which ways these perhaps differ for female players compared to male. Most women will be fully aware of the following, and I apologise in advance for oversimplifying what is a complex issue. I will also be generalising a lot, and realise it's not a linear path for everyone, as there is a lot more nuance.


Coaching:

"I will never coach in women's football. It's just not football." - A former colleague of mine that I thought of highly as a coach.


Due to sheer numbers alone, most of the best coaches out there are male. I would have to check, but I estimate that BFCN membership is around 98% male. I could count my past and present female coaching colleagues using just my two hands. Even in the NFS South with the Aztecs, out of the eight teams, only one has a female coach. Naturally, if you're pulling talent from two groups, and one of those group significantly outnumbers the other, most of the high achievers are going to come from the majority group. Much like a GB football team is made up of predominantly English players, because the population of England is several multiples of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland combined.


Not only are women vastly outnumbered when it comes to coaching, but they also have several hurdles and even a glass ceiling to contend with that men don't. There's a perceived level of competence that comes with being a man. I've seen first hand, and heard anecdotally, instances of A and Pro licence female coaches being talked down to by considerably less qualified men. They just assumed, due to gender, that she didn't know what she was talking about. In Kuwait, our head coach was female. The parents out there thought we were joking and always assumed it was one of us men in charge. In the US, coaches would walk right past female head coaches to speak to male assistant coaches, because the assumption was the man was in charge. A woman on the touchline must just be a mum taking photos or something


With the majority of top coaches being male, many of those men still hold discriminatory views about taking roles within women's football. It's seen as an inferior game, a waste of time, a doss. Now, not for a second do I think we should try to change the minds of these idiots, because we don't want misogynists in women's football. The harsh reality though, due to their sexist views, is that the talent pool of coaches in the female game is considerably more shallow. It's seen as a stepping stone, a side project, something to do to build up your skills to get a job in men's football.


Women's football, and girl's football, can also tend to get a lot of the reject coaches from men's and boy's football. Before anyone jumps in, there are excellent female coaches, and there are excellent coaches involved in women's football. I'm generalising. But with inferior coaching, development slows. That's not a hard concept to grasp. For example, most academy jobs in boy's football require at least a B Licence, with many wanting an A, plus the FA Youth Award. In girl's academies, a C Licence (FA Level Two) is the minimum, youth modules are not a requirement, and many even scrape by on just an FA Level One. Certainly, higher licensure does not always signify higher coaching competence, but there is certainly a positive correlation. If all else is equal, and the U12 boy has a B licence coach, the U12 girl has a C licence coach, which player is more likely to reach their potential?


Environment:

Recently, we have seen scandal after scandal in the NWSL. Abuse, aggression, gatekeeping, insults, racism. Just pure toxicity. At the youth levels, girl's football is often seen as a hobby or a pastime, and is treated as such. With boys, parents often make football the priority, but with girls, it's something they can do if there's nothing else going on. There's a lower level of commitment and expectation. That, on the whole, has a detrimental effect.


Factor in pressures and social stigmas. I've had many girls at participation level and in PE at school telling me they don't want to sweat. Never in my life have I ever heard a boy say that. If girls at school are good at sport, it creates tensions with the other girls. I hear them say things like "She's too competitive" or "She's just like the boys." What they are referring to, with negative connotations, is a girl that tries hard and takes PE seriously. These girls can be stuck in No Man's Land. Too much like a boy to be accepted by the girls, and too much of a girl, so will never be truly accepted by the boys.


So much of this attitude unfortunately filters into kids at a very young age. I heard a girl in year five say that football wasn't for girls. Assuming she must not have had many strong female role models in her life, the teaching assistant informed me that her mum was a high ranking pilot in the Royal Air Force. How can a girl who has a mum that can kick ass while flying around in a fighter jet also hold such backwards views on sporting participation?


I use this example a lot to really hammer home the point. Back in Mexico, working with girls from U10-U16, I would occasionally be approached by other girls who wanted to play. We were a private members sports club. There was swimming, tennis, a gym, and lots of other sport going on. Some girls would see the football and ask if they could join. Many had the same story. This one in particular came up to me and told me she wanted to play. She said she loved football. She was sixteen, very fit, and was doing a lot of physical activity. I asked her about her playing experience and she said she had never played football before. Why not? How can a sporty girl who loves football have never played before? "My dad wouldn't let me." What a waste. Committed, switched on, fit, enthusiastic... completely wasted. Why? Because of one dinosaur parent. I experienced it a lot in Mexico. This same story can be told millions of times the world over.


Opportunity:

From my roles in the development of young female players at Southampton, Portsmouth, and Bournemouth, I feel like I can add a lot of insight here, which is unparalleled in boy's football. We would lose a lot of highly talented female players around the age of eighteen because life made them make a choice; football career or professional career/education? Do I leave this team at a good level to go to university? Do I give up the training commitment because I need a job? Do I drop down a level because I can't afford it? Teenage boys, if they have a chance of playing high level football, are often encouraged to go full out to make it. For girls, their families adopt a more cautious approach. Why? Because the rewards are greater. Males can make a decent living in football at a low level. Females, even in the top divisions, struggle to make ends meet from football alone. Why risk it all for such little reward?


When you're having to work a job in the daytime, it's hard to become the complete footballer that you can become. Female players have distractions that male players do not. How good would Premier League footballers be if they could only train twice per week, and only one of those sessions were they actually well rested? How prepared would they be if one of the sessions only had half of the team there because of some missing due to family reasons, work commitments, and also just feeling tired? There's so much for female players to wrestle with in order to make it that I have seen many drop out, forget their dreams, and just play at a lower level for fun. They can't live the life they need to live to survive, and train at the level they need to train at to compete at the level they wish to play.


Even when starting the futsal team this past year, a relatively new and developing sport in England, the men's game is lightyears ahead. I can barely even put into words the gulf between the two. It's not that hard to find a local men's football team. But for us, as a women's team, we currently have to travel an hour to our closest competitor. Hampshire is a well populated part of the country, and yet Reading is the nearest team to Southampton.


There are less teams for girls. There are less playing opportunities for girls. There is less funding for girls. There are less pathways for girls. There are less paid football player opportunities for girls. There is less likelihood a woman can make a career from football than a man. So why even try? It's remarkable that many still do. But how good could women's football be if it didn't start so far behind men's football? You also have to remember that women were banned from playing football in England for much of the 20th century. When not banned, there has been little support from professional clubs and governing bodies. Women's football is likely 50-100 years behind men's football. And look at how good it is already despite those constraints.

I'd pay good money to see the men in the replies try some of the acrobatic moves of Molly Clark.


Ability = Potential - Interference

I think the best way to handle this is to do a stark comparison between boys and girls. Again, these will be generalisations, and not truly representative of all experiences.


  • Boys are encouraged to play football. Girls are not.

  • Boys have prominent footballing role models, girls have lacked those until recently, but are still outnumbered when it comes to media attention.

  • Boys get funding, girls don't.

  • Boys academies are free. Girls academies are typically "development centres" which require funding from the parents. This also makes it less accessible for girls from lower income families.

  • Boys play socially with their friends in the park, in the street, in the garden, after school. Finding girl groups of friends that play football socially as kids is rare.

  • Boys play FIFA and Football Manager with their friends. Girls don't.

  • Boys watch games on TV with their friends and family. The event is often the highlight of their week. Many young football playing girls watch very little football at all.

  • Boys are taken to stadia, often as a means of bonding with older males in their family, creating positive and long lasting associations with being involved in football.

  • Boys are usually introduced to football when they can walk, around age two or three. Girls are introduced, mostly, when they ask to be, likely around aged eight. Girl involvement in football often follows reluctance from parents, due to the Tom Boy/lesbian stigma.

  • Boys are included by their peers if they play football. Girls are stigmatised.

  • Boys rack up far more hours per week than girls do due to the opportunities to play, either formally or informally.

  • Boys have a deeper and wider talent pool, meaning they get to sharpen their tools on the regular by playing and training with other strong players. Girls are often included in wide ranging age groups, with wider talent and motivation levels. Due to lack of talent, players who aren't up to scratch are drafted into competitive teams for girls, meaning there are too many weak links.

  • Boys have plenty of paid opportunities to participate in football, which means they can devote themselves entirely into trying to make it as footballers. Girls have to make a choice between football, education, or career. They cannot devote themselves entirely to honing their skills, and many drop out or drop down a level.

How close would you be to your potential if you had encountered that much interference?

It's the multiplier effect. Think of it like a snowball. The size of the snowball represents the ability of the individual player. Boys start younger, are supported by their families, play more hours, have better coaching, have a deeper talent pool to contend with, have more opportunities, can make a career out of the game. Of course they're going to be better when adults, because they are given all the advantages.


Any football fan should want to see growth and development around the world of women's football. Imagine having a World Cup and Euros to look forward to every year. Imagine having two opportunities to support your favourite club each year. Following women's football gives football fans the opportunity to do this. It's pretty cool. Personally, I will be attending the upcoming women's Euros in England next summer, including tickets to the final. I went to the men's final this past summer. How cool is that? I get to attend two Euro finals at Wembley, two years running!


What I suppose irks me the most about all this is seeing that some men clearly take a lot of joy in seeing the failures of women's sport. Like it defines them, and proves them right regarding key aspects of their existence. They really need women to be in their place and below them. It's true that mediocre men are scared by competent women. And all they have to fall back on is their gender, which an outdated society has deemed as being an advantage. They're genuinely scared that if ever we reach true equality, they might actually have to put some hard graft in, because doing the bare minimum of simply being male will no longer be enough to do well in life.


If we want change, it's not enough to simply agree that this is wrong. We can't just be not sexist. We have to be vehemently anti-sexist. We must be actively calling people out, actively educating, and actively creating opportunities.

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?


Sport is to be enjoyed. If you don't enjoy women's sport, fair enough. Don't watch it. Shut up and move on with your life. If you didn't care, you wouldn't be seeking such a badge of honour from internet comments sections.

Ever notice how the comments come without solutions? It's never...


"BRO!!! u see this Latvia keeper?!?! OMG!!! Anyway fr tho what Latvia need to do is..." It's punching down. It's dunking. I'm amazed these guys can't see what a sad indictment it is that one international team can score twenty goals past a rival in World Cup qualifying.


"Wow bro!!! Latvia clearly not investing in development for girls rn!!! Need 2 up there game and start investin some serious cash bcoz its embarrasin how far behind they r. Sexism must be bad there!!!"


Sadly, these stories aren't unique. Women's football faces the same struggles all over the world.


Colombia's female soccer players fight for level field

How Argentina's women took on blatant sexism to reach the World Cup

Pay disparity and poor conditions in the NWSL

Rory Dames accused of verbal, emotional abuse after resignation as Chicago Red Stars coach

Ballon d'Or: DJ Martin Solveig sorry for Ada Hegerberg 'twerk' question

'Heartbreaking': survey reveals extend of gender discrimination in football


To close on this piece, let's just remember that football is the world's game. It is for everybody. As a football fan, the more football we can get, the better. Young girls should be able to have the same hopes and dreams as young boys. We need to do all we can to provide opportunities for women to play, grow, and compete. Much of the change we need to see is men getting out of the way. It's on us as guys to do much of the work there. As coaches, teachers, dads, fans, players, we are in a position to change the minds of other men. To correct them when they are wrong. To fight back against the stigma. To call out the sexism. It's not enough to simply not agree with sexism when we hear it. We have to call it out and stand up against it. Being neutral or non-confrontational is of no use. Maybe all you can do is shut someone down when they start to ridicule. Or be firm when watching women's sport and someone wants to turn over because "it's not real football." Try following your favourite men's club's women's team on social media. If your favourite team doesn't have a women's team, get on their case. See if you can get to a game. It's a better day out than you'd think. Maybe like and retweet their highlights. Or even get yourself along to the women's Euros next summer in England.


There's lots of things you can do to help. Dunking on women in comments sections is not one of them.

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