Football has had its horns locked in a fierce battle with its sexist prejudices for decades, with the sport keen to be able to tell the world that it does not mind that women want to be involved, nor does it mind that they want their opinions aired. But in the cases of Shelley Kerr and Sarah Winterburn it has highlighted that although sexism cases are less frequent, they are still occurring – but not all females in football experience this negativity, as proved by Irish international Stephanie Roche.
BT Sport presenter Lynsey Hipgrave was lambasted with sexist abuse for expressing her thoughts on a football incident during a La Liga match between Barcelona and Celta Viga in February 2016. She gave her opinion like many other followers of the sport did, but because she was a woman, she was told to “get back in the kitchen” and “make some sandwiches”. The case only managed to highlight the fact that football still has a sexism problem, whether the sport as a whole believes it has moved forward or not, it is still there.
A survey conducted by Women in football indicated that of the 661 women who were interviewed, and were involved in football in roles such as coaching or being a match official, 35% believed they were underpaid in comparison to males conducting a similar job, whilst 28% thought women were unfairly treated in the organisations they worked in.
Shelley Kerr is largely a success story for women in football. She became a pioneer for women in football in August 2014 by becoming the first female in Britain to manage a men’s senior team. Capped 59 times by Scotland during her playing career, she was appointed as the head coach of Stirling University’s football programme, who play their matches in the Scottish Lowland League.
Kerr said she had the utmost respect from her players from day one, which shows the strides that football as a sport has made in exiling sexism, but mentioned that for all of the positives, there have still been the negatives.
“There was a lot of profile around my appointment and I even had some photographers come and ask me if I’d wear high heels for pictures, which was just ridiculous.
“There have been a few occasions where from the touchline there has been sexist chants made, but I have to say it hasn’t been from football supporters, but more so from other sports teams that have been watching at the University. On the whole though, I have to say it’s been very good.”
Football needs more high profile cases where women are accepted and judged on nothing more than the credentials they possess, the way they want their team to play, and not the gender they are, just like Kerr has experienced.
“That was the one area that I would say was extremely positive from the first morning that I was introduced to the guys. The players were very receptive to me as a coach and to my philosophies, so my gender has never been a problem.”
In 2015 the Women’s World Cup took place in Canada, and the hype centred on the English team in this country helped to raise the profile of the ladies’ side of the game. Then, on the back of the World Cup, women’s football took another step forward as FIFA 16 was released with 12 of the women’s national sides included in the game for the first time ever. Although on the larger scheme of things it may not be seen as something that shows victory for the girls and the end to sexism, what it does do is help to show the sport is moving in the right direction.
It’s not uncommon to hear a female voice on match highlights these days, but when Sarah Winterburn first took an interest in reporting on the sport 20 years ago, she was seriously outnumbered in the press boxes at games, and experienced first hand what is frankly frowned upon today.
“In press conferences it was quite common to have managers dismissing questions from women, or answering the question and putting ‘darling’ on the end. But if that happened now it would be on Twitter in five minutes, and there would be an uproar.”
Within five minutes on the phone with the editor of the hugely successful Football365 website, you got a sense of her relief at the way the attitudes towards women have changed since she first started in the industry. But one thing she did stress was that the amount of females taking an interest in reporting on football is still fairly low in comparison to males.
“You get used to there being maybe one other woman there now, but I’m still probably outnumbered by 10/1 at least.”
Sunderland-forward and Irish international Stephanie Roche was in good company at the FIFA Puskas award ceremony in 2014, when she was nominated alongside James Rodriguez and Robin van Persie to have scored one of the top three goals in that year. The 26-year-old even received compliments on her finish at the dinner table from legendary Italian Allesandro Del Piero, who’d “recognised her from the video of the goal.”.
Roche eventually came second, but her experiences at the event prove that sexism is slowly being banished from the association of football.
“In Ireland it was a huge thing, because not only was I the first woman to be nominated for the award, I was the first Irish national to do so, too. I think everybody was proud so that made me proud to represent Ireland and women’s football.”
Roche admits she may be one of the luckier females to play the sport, as she struggled to recollect any negative experiences from her career to date.
“Women are doing a lot of things that they wouldn’t have been doing 30-odd years ago, so it just shows how altered things are now. I’m happy it’s now accepted that women are going to play football, and generally do all the things that men can do.”
After hearing from three credible voices associated with women’s football, it’s easy to see that the positive experiences the ladies are enduring out shadow the negative, misogynistic views of the minority, and that football should be proud that together it is doing a good job of silencing sexism.