I just want to play football

Alex Molton is sad to find that, despite alleged advances in equality, football appears to remain the realm of boys.

Children playing football


So, here we are, back into the depths of football season. Rainy Saturday mornings spent on the sidelines, car journeys here there and everywhere and a constant stream of mud in the hallway. We love it.

In our house it’s our daughter who is the footballer. Having only started kicking about with me during lockdowns, she has quickly built up her skills and is now a renowned goalie in her club, proudly playing for our town’s U9’s team and earning the admiration of many a coach and parent of opposing teams. On several occasions strangers have come over after matches to tell us that she is ‘actually really good’. The sad bit is that the other half of that sentence, what they aren’t saying, is ‘for a girl’.

Why shouldn’t girls play?

Despite winning the Euros in 2022 and a blistering performance by the Lionesses at the World Cup this year, which has raised the profile of the women’s game, and lots of initiatives aimed at encouraging girls into football (or any sport, actually), there is no denying that football remains the realm of boys.

Some of the teams we play against have girls in their squad and they appear to be treated equally on the pitch, but they remain very much the minority and it is often remarked upon by parents on the sidelines. But why is it so remarkable? According to the rules of The English Football Association, girls can play in mixed teams right up to the age of 18, so there is no reason why teams shouldn’t be made up of both boys and girls. Surely, you just want the best players in your team, whatever gender they happen to be.

Being a confident and curious girl, my daughter has often asked me why more girls don’t play football, why she is criticised more on the pitch by boys in her team (thankfully less so now) and opposing players and, ultimately, why she has had to prove herself in order to be accepted into this male-dominated world. There is no denying that she is one of the best in her team, and she has saved many a penalty or critical shot to bring her team to victory, or at least deny the other team a win. So why does she need to keep proving her worth to be allowed to play?

Far from equality

We’ve been reading a book about the Lionesses this week, and it’s full of stories from female football legends like Ellen White, explaining how her journey to success involved lots of proving herself on the pitch – not just as a footballer, but as a female footballer – and overcoming obstacles that just don’t exist for male players. The saddest part is that I can see that my daughter is starting to just accept that this is the way it is; that if she wants to play with the boys she has to compete on a different level and hope they will let her into their world. It’s pretty bleak though – if even children playing a game can’t find equality on a football pitch, what hope is there for us adults out there in the world, seeking equality in the workplace?

When our daughter was born I hoped that the future world would be different for her than my own generation, but with record numbers of violence against women, a giant chasm in pay levels and most women still doing the majority of the household tasks, I can’t see we have moved on very much at all.

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