Jean Williams on the global consequences of professional women’s football in Europe

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Mattias Melkersson
Dept. of Sport Sciences, Malmö University


Jean Williams Globalising Women’s Football: Europe, Migration and Professionalization 183 sidor, hft. Bern: Peter Lang Publishing Group 2013 (Savoirs sportif–Sports knowledge) ISBN 978-3-0343-1315-5

Jean Williams
Globalising Women’s Football: Europe, Migration and Professionalization
183 sidor, hft.
Bern: Peter Lang Publishing Group 2013 (Savoirs sportif–Sports knowledge)
ISBN 978-3-0343-1315-5

In Globalising women’s football – Europe, Migration and Professionalization, Jean Williams sets out to deliver an overall image of women’s football in Europe by describing, conveying and investigating how women’s football has been affected by significant events, happenings and historical notions in a multifaceted European setting. Williams starts by stressing the importance of understanding historical backgrounds in order to be able to say anything about contemporary settings. Williams therefore provides an extensive and detailed tutorial of how Europe in its modern days has been approaching a unifying agenda despite opposing strong forces and infected conflicts. In this respect, the formation of the European Union is a significant manifestation of the unification of the European countries, starting with trading and business incentives and moving further on to policies and legislation. In the light of the European amalgamation trends it is fair to say that the European football stage has had its fair share of the unification, or more so, it has certainly developed extended affiliations.

In the introduction part of the book, Williams moves rapidly over concepts like commercialization, migration, globalization and professionalization combined with rich historical examples neatly interwoven and presented in an adequate and interesting way. However, the well composed introduction sets out an ambitious agenda in trying to understand and explain a very complex issue in a relatively limited space, leaving the reader with more questions than answers given. This however, shows the intricacy of the topic of women’s football as an issue in dire need of more research, which is also something that Williams highlights. Some of the questions that Williams is addressing show not only an intertwined relationship between European unification and women’s football, but also how this can lead to specific migration patterns for women football players. As Williams sets out to answer questions like; “What can patterns of individual migration to earn a living from the game tell us about the status of women’s football now and then?” it becomes evident that she has sufficient material to do this. This is particularly obvious when Williams presents her methodological and theoretical framework.

In viewing women’s football, Williams explains and analyzes the setting from three intersecting stages of professionalism; these are the micro, meso and macro stages. The micro stage focuses on individual players’ experiences and stories. This section aims to explain how and why migrating patterns and circumstances occur the way they do. The micro stage also entails how women’s football has been trying to advocate and stress different pathways for being able to participate and get recognition in professional football. The meso stage focuses on the establishment of official settings for women’s football participation with, among others, the inauguration of the first official European championship (1982-84). This stage subsequently provides a continuation point for further recognition of the women’s game whilst enforcing and documenting events, activities and games under an official umbrella. The last stage, macro, further pinpoint a gained official status as a means for recognition and potential prosperous development by, for example, the inauguration of the first official world championship (PR China, 1991) and the creation of a European cup for club teams (in 2000), which later was re-named the Women’s Champions League (season 2009/10). Williams further stress that there is also an underlying gender issue that permeates professional football, which is suggesting that women football players need to justify their football existence and that they actively have to define how women’s football can be a justified and saleable product, in comparison to men’s football where the men players are seen as an established product ready to be consumed.

Though it might not be an express purpose of the book, it would have been interesting to get some notions of how this unification of women’s football can be achieved.

As empirical data Williams uses interviews as well as observations and existing survey data for pinpointing and highlighting important and significant notions and considerations for understanding women’s football in a European setting. Consequently, Williams combines qualitative interviews with quantitative data to produce an image of how the game has developed in a European context under transformation. As always with empirical data it is essential that they accurately convey a message that is understandable and used in a manner that strengthen’s and support’s the direction of the research. In this aspect, Williams not only provide a clear image but she also stimulates and encourages further research on the topic by addressing central issues. Williams discovers that a lot has happened in women’s football since the official inclusion in governing bodies (national and international football associations). However, there is an existing complexity that entails that different countries need to develop or stimulate different issues. Consequently there is no homogenized women’s football in Europe, since some leagues, clubs and national associations survive on external philanthropic funding while others struggle under insolvency threats. It is therefore, according to Williams, important for women’s football to strive towards developing a  collective agenda to promote the women’s game. Though it might not be an express purpose of the book, it would have been interesting to get some notions of how this unification of women’s football can be achieved.

According to Williams, a consequence of the above mentioned heterogeneity in European women’s football is that migration patterns are often based on the individual players’ opportunities for playing the game and developing their own personal skill level. A second migration motivator is the opportunity to support themselves financially exclusively by football related activities. This heterogeneity combined with divergent national recognition of the women’s game, subsequently produces different migration patterns and structures between countries and leagues. Williams stresses that these push and pull factors for migration are important aspects for understanding European women’s football. Furthermore, the establishment of international cups (World and European Championships) together with international club cups has been a significant motor in the professionalization of the women’s game following increasing prestige and an increased number of participating nations.

In her book Globalising Women’s Football: Europe, Migration and Professionalization, Williams not only conveys a wide-ranging historical overview with in-depth empirical data of women’s football in Europe, she also provides a quantitative encyclopedia with important evidence, events and dates which will work as an excellent point of departure for further research on the topic.

Copyright © Mattias Melkersson 2014

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