Do you know the offside rule? I have actually been asked the question a number of times even after having told the person (often a man) I am talking with that I have played football competetively for some 15 years. Sometimes I have probably even mentioned that I used to play in central defence and was the person in charge of said defence. I guess that the fact that they even ask me the question says more about them than about me.
I grew up watching football and in the dressing rooms of the team my father at that time coached, there were the U16 boys, the first division ladies team and the 3rd division men’s team. So, by the time I started playing football myself I already had a good grasp of the laws of football. The fact that many women know the laws of the game and even the tactics of football seem to threaten some men. We recently had a highly public situation when the assistant referee Sian Massey’s knowledge of the offside rule was questioned by two Sky Sports commentators (Richard Keys and Andy Gray)http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12263398 .
What happened to Sian Massey and discussions I, over the years and especailly more recently, have had with men about football made me think about how and why men respond the way they do when I talk football with them. (I also get it to a smaller extent with rugby).
I get the ones who ”give up” early and admit that even though they go to the Pub to watch football every week they don’t actually know football, it’s just an excuse to drink beer, which is fair enough. They express amazement that I am genuinely interested in the game and tend to be impressed by the fact that I have played football.
However I also meet the Mr Keys and Mr Grays. These are the men who for some reason seem to believe that not knowing as much about football as a woman will somehow make them less of a man. At least is that the impression I get. Recently I started to talk football with an acquaintance. I later remember that earlier I had made a mental note to avoid talking football and rugby with this man. It usually starts off fine, but as soon as I start to get more technical, talk tactics and more knowledgeable than he, the jokes/slights meant to put me down starts. Things like ”you should join the FA and sit on a committee and sort these things out”, when discussing referees. (If you have read my previous article in Swinging Balls you know that I have strong feelings regarding the way players treat match officials.) All said with a smile but the undertone is always there. Should I be offended, I don’t know? Similar things happen often, is it worth the effort. Also as I said earlier, it probably says more about them than about me. This might sound a bit arrogant, but I am confident in my knowledge of football and don’t have a need to prove myself to anyone.
Something which is quite interesting is that the offside rule often comes up in discussions with men . When I then start to mention that I played with a slightly different interpretation of the law and how it has changed etc, it becomes obvious that I know much more than some of them about the offside rule and once again the jokes start. The start of the jokes has become my cue to understand which category a particular man belongs to when it comes to talking football. I do want to ensure you that many of these men are perfectly normal and nice people when not talking football with me:-). What I can’t understand is why the offside rule has become some sort of watershed, if you know it you know football. I would say that we all disagree much more about when it is a freekick or a penalty, when a yellow card should be given etc.
I also meet men whose common nominator is that they love football just as much as I do and they don’t think they become less of man if a woman knows more about football than they do. There are also lots of men who know more than me especially since I have had around 10 years with small children and at that time football has been on the backburner.
A couple of years ago I started to talk football at a party with two brothers. One of them knew me from before and had never started with the jokes when we talked football even though he’s a Manchester United supporter and I am a Liverpool supporter. The three of us started talking football with all of us supporting different Premier League teams and ended up talking about World Cup football from the 90s. The discussion was interesting and lively. At the end, the brother I hadn’t met before expressed how impressive he was with my knowledge, maybe to some extent because I was a woman but also in general terms. Another recent incident comes from my son’s football training.
As you do when watching the little ones train, we talked football. This time we started on Spanish football as it was just after Barcelona had won against Arsenal. We then ended up talking about Italian football. People who know me will now that I love Italian football as I find their defensive play fascinating and Franco Baresi is my all time favourite footballer. Everyone knows what Italy will do if they score a goal but there are not many teams that can do anything about it. When I started to talk about the defensive tactics of Italian teams he gave me a strange look held his hands up and admitted that he loves football, to play and watch but tactics is not his forte.
I meet many people who know more about football than me which is great as it helps me to learn more. Being ”new” to rugby one of the ways to learn more for me is to discuss rugby with others who are interested. I stay away from the discussions that go over my head and try to learn by reading/listening. However there are quite a few Mr Keys and Mr Grays out there. The big question then being ; why are there so many men who feel threatened by women who are knowledgeable and love sport?