Women’s football in a man’s world – a never-ending story of subordination

Lise Joern
University of Southern Denmark


Gertrud Pfister & Stacey Pope (red)
Female Football Players and Fans: Intruding into a Man’s World
319 pages, hardcover.
Basingstoke, Hamps.: Palgrave Macmillan 2018 (Football Research in an Enlarged Europe)
ISBN 978-1-137-59024-4

Football has traditionally been male defined, controlled and dominated. Yet, women’s football has developed rapidly over the past 20 years. As more and more women and girls get involved with football it has become increasingly important to investigate how they gain access to and experience the game. Female Football Players and Fans: Intruding into a Man’s World,edited by Gertrud Pfister and Stacey Pope, seeks to understand women’s complex, and sometimes contradictory, relationship with football and the male structures that surround and govern the game.

The book is broadly divided into two parts. It primarily includes original contributions;t some of the articles are, however, reprints (Chapter 2, 3 and parts of Chapter 8).

The first part, Chapters 2-7, looks at how women become football players and how they encounter the challenges they meet by entering the sport. In Chapter 2, Sheila Scraton, Kari Fasting, Pfister and Ana Bunuel investigate national similarities and differences with respect to how top-level women footballers in England, Germany, Norway and Spain gained access to the world of football and how they experience gender conventions. Pfister gives a brief introduction to the part of the FREE (Football Research in an Enlarged Europe) project that examined female players and fans’ attitudes and practices in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 by Markwart Herzog explores the origins of women’s football in South-Western Germany. In Chapter 5, Marie-Louise Klein offers insights into the structural and organizational dimensions of women’s football leagues in Europe. In Chapter 6, Jo Welford offers an analysis of the problems and advantages of the relationship and cooperation between women’s and men’s football clubs in England. Stacey Pope examines female fans of men’s football and their attitude towards watching women’s football in the following chapter.

The first part of the book shows the rise and progress of women’s football in Europe but it also highlights that the barriers and challenges women must face in this sector are still numerous, e.g. sexism, homophobia, the lack of media coverage, low salaries of female players, financial issues of women’s clubs etc.Although women’s football has flourished and transitioned from being an amateur to a professional sport, with work opportunities for female footballers from around the world,it cannot compete with the established structure and culture of men’s football. Women’s football has still not overcome the prejudices that have always accompanied it: ‘the games are not as good’,’ the players are not as good’, ‘the game is simply incompatible with women’s nature’.

Some of the chapters in this book show that many women in order to be accepted and welcomed into the world of football fandom feel that they have to conform to male norms.

The second part of the book, Chapters 8-13, moves on to discuss the significance of female football fans. Chapter 8 by Pope and John Williams focuses on the role of female English football fans from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, a period they refer to as the ‘golden age’ in the history of football spectating in England (p. 157). In Chapter 9, Pfister and Verena Lenneis discuss the way in which female Danish fans balance watching football with family and work obligations, while the socialization into the role of the female football fan in Denmark is the focus of Chapter 10 by Pfister, Svenja-Maria Minter and Lenneis. In Chapter 11, Aage Radman and Susanna Hedenborg explore female football fandom in Sweden. Ramón Llopis-Goig and Helena Flores analyse women’s football peñas (fan associations attached to clubs) in Spain in Chapter 12. Chapter 13 by Cornel Sandvoss and Emily Ball examines the way in which female football fans negotiate and actively contest and transform gender conventions and conflicts.

Despite the large amount of extant football fan research, there is a lack of studies concerned with the practices, experiences and pleasures of football fandom for women. Some of the chapters in this book show that many women in order to be accepted and welcomed into the world of football fandom feel that they have to conform to male norms. By paying attention to the meanings women ascribe to their fan practices, many of the chapters reveal women’s fan experiences to be varied and complex and they debunk the myth that football is not a sport for women. Especially chapter 13 sheds light on the polysemic nature of football fan practices, and the extent to which female participation disrupts conventional gender ‘performances’. In contesting dominant gender discourses, the ‘naturalised’ dichotomous male/female discourse indicates the capacity of women to assert their own ability.

Overall the various chapters in the book point at a range of issues and obstacles for women entering the ‘man’s game’.The book provides insight into the complex network of gendered experiences that can be part of playing and spectating football. The marginalisation of the female game makes it easy to dismiss it and not take it seriously. As Stacey Pope shows in Chapter 7 even female football fans that have a high level of involvement in football have negative perceptions towards female players and present stereotypes about women’s football. They prefer men’s football. That seems to make the attempts to increase the profile of women’s football in a sustainable way and promoting women’s football as a sport in its own rightdifficult. The rise in female players and fans is apparently doing little to elevate the position of women’s football out of the inferior and marginalised status it has held throughout its development. Female Football Players and Fanstherefor is an important contribution to increasing the knowledge and raising awareness of women’s football, and perhaps encouraging people to question their own preconceptions and understandings of this sport.

Copyright © Lise Joern 2018

Table of Content

  1. Introduction
    Stacey Pope and Gertrud Pfister
  2. It’s Still a Man’s Game? The Experiences of Top-Level European Women Footballers
    Sheila Scraton, Kari Fasting, Gertrud Pfister and Ana Bunuel
  3. Women, Football and European Integration: Aims, Questions, Methodological and Theoretical Approaches
    Gertrud Pfister
  4. The Beginnings of Women’s Football in South-Western Germany: From a Spectacle to a Sport Event
    Markwart Herzog
  5. Women’s Football Leagues in Europe: Organizational and Economic Perspectives
    Marie-Luise Klein
  6. Outsiders on the Inside: Integrating Women’s and Men’s Football Clubs in England
    Jo Welford
  7. ‘Who Could Name an England Women’s Footballer?’: Female Fans of Men’s Football and Their Views of Women’s Football in England
    Stacey Pope
  8. A Socio-Historical Account of Female Experiences of Football’s Golden Age in England
    Stacey Pope and John Williams
  9. Is There a Life Beyond Football? How Female Fans Integrate Football into Their Everyday Lives
    Verena Lenneis and Gertrud Pfister
  10. ‘One Is Not Born, But Rather Becomes a Fan’: The Socialization of Female Football Fans—A Case Study in Denmark
    Gertrud Pfister.Svenja-Maria Mintert and Verena Lenneis
  11. Women’s Football Supporter Culture in Sweden
    Aage Radmann and Susanna Hedenborg
  12. Challenging or Accommodating the Football System? A Case Study of Female Football Supporter Communities in Spain
    Ramón Llopis-Goig and Helena Flores
  13. Gender, Play and Identity: A Longitudinal Study of Structure and Agency in Female Football Fandom
    Cornel Sandvoss and Emily Ball
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