During my 10-minute journey to the train station, I witnessed several fights, one of which ended in a young boy being knocked out into the road with an audible crack, where his head began to bleed as he remained unconscious. I was then cat-called by three different groups of middle-aged men and overheard another girl in a Halloween costume being told that she deserved to be stared at because she was ‘practically naked’. And what do these events have in common? All the perpetrators were wearing the same stripey top. So, there we have it: it took me 19 years to like football because I never, ever, feel more unsafe than I do when walking through town on a match day.
In my experience, football has always had a misogynistic undertone. We’ve all been asked to explain the offside rule whenever we’ve shown a vague interest in the sport – the gatekeeping against women is insane. But unfortunately, the issue runs much deeper than that.
A bartender in a Newcastle-based sports bar said on working match days: “I have to deal with unwanted touching, disrespectful behaviour and my biggest pet peeve – the nicknames. Love, pet, darling… the list goes on.” Ultimately, what is already an incredibly scary world for women (especially female bartenders) becomes even more terrifying when football happens.
In fact, a 2014 study found that reported cases of domestic violence increased by 38% when England lost and by 26% when they won – whether England win or not, women always lose. As horrifying as this figure is, a report for the national office of statistics found that there was actually no increase in non-alcohol-related domestic abuse. It seems then that this culture of violence is curated outside of the stadium, rather than within it, especially given that alcohol in the stands has been banned within football stadiums since 1985.
So how do we tackle the violent, alcohol-based culture that football perpetuates? I wish I had an answer. It saddens me that so many of my friends would engage more with the sport if they didn’t feel so unsafe in its presence.
Unfortunately, the issue doesn’t start and end with misogyny. Everyone witnessed the horrifying racial abuse that Rashford, Saka and Sancho faced after missing penalties in the Euro 2020 final. I find it absolutely baffling that football fans turned against their own team within a matter of minutes, resorting to disgusting racist comments to express their anger.
Additionally, a Gay Times and Paddy Power survey with YouGov found that a third of fans believed that LGBTQ supporters weren’t made to feel welcome at matches – a statistic that hits particularly hard in the wake of Josh Cavallo’s coming out, making him the only openly gay active top-flight footballer in the world.
One thing’s for sure, until the football community becomes a welcoming space for everyone, the frequent resentment towards the sport will understandably continue. I hope that one day everyone can feel safe at the pub, Wembley, or in the train station on a match day.
Someone who really, really, wants to like football.