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.
"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?
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.
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