Never a Rose without a prick: Toxic Football Culture and the Women’s Game

Over the last decade few football teams have enjoyed such an accelerated rise in reputation as Manchester City. From relative obscurity on the global stage, City have quickly established themselves as the prize scalp to claim from English football. 


No longer does it come as a surprise that the blue half of Manchester is attractive to the world’s finest players. Though, even accounting for their sudden surge in clout, City announcing the signing of a World Cup-winning superstar in the prime of their career is not something you would anticipate to be greeted with replies such as: “didn’t ask” or “not interested.” 


Unfortunately, this seemingly bizarre reaction has a simple explanation: the player signed by Manchester City was Rose Lavelle – a woman

It’s no secret that women’s football is yet to capture the hearts and minds of most ardent supporters of the men’s game. This is somewhat reasonable, it’s not to be expected that every football fan should follow all branches of their team with the passion they dedicate to the men’s senior squad. When it comes to women’s football, some may not even support the same club – many Celtic and Rangers fans already pledging allegiance to UWCL quarter-finalists Glasgow City, for example.


It’s a demeaning analogy, but some might draw a comparison between their club’s women’s team and under-23 squads; the players are affiliated with “their team”, but won’t necessarily play for a side that will gain the fan’s attention. Of course, in January, when Liverpool signed Joe Hardy from Brentford B, it was plain to see that his role would be to fill a gap left by Rhian Brewster in the reserves, with zero prospect of him ever exerting any tangible influence on the first team. If the Football Twitter mob are to be consistent, then surely the announcement of his transfer would be received with the same derision that welcomed the 2019 Women’s World Cup Bronze Ball winner to Manchester City?


Obviously, that was never going to be the case. Hardy was rightly welcomed, and any ignorance as to who he was or why this transfer was happening was born of genuine curiosity, with clarity offered soon after. Announcement of the demonstrably more famous Lavelle’s contract, despite generating a positive reaction, wasn’t to be met with the near unanimous sentiment of “well in, congrats” or “dub”, but a ready-made barrage of “who?” and “don’t care”. 


It’s asking far too much to expect any semblance of decency from Football Twitter, but their spewings reflect the wider objective of many to degrade or disparage the women’s game in a way you seldom see in any other sport. To put a relevant spin on Godwin’s Law, as any discussion on women’s football grows longer, the probability of FC Dallas getting a mention approaches 1. 


The above phenomenon owes itself to a 5-2 loss suffered by the US Women’s National Team (world champions, and unquestionably the best international side in women’s football) to the U-15s of an MLS side. Of course, the match itself was utterly meaningless, completely informal, and more of a fitness exercise than a fixture – not accounting for the fact that the supposed children were physically dominant in any case. Needless to say, that hasn’t stopped the masses from applying the very logic that dictates Bradford City would have won the 2014/15 Premier League, and arguing earnestly that 14-year-old boys could win the Women’s World Cup.

With any other sport, that kind of assertion is rightfully laughed out the room, but modern football discourse still seems to have a lot of time for such takes. One in eight men may think they could win a point off Serena Williams, but do any of them truly have the audacity to believe they could win Wimbledon, if only they were allowed to enter the Women’s Championship? Despite the fact that Serena will have, at some point in the last 25 years, conceded an unofficial point (or even a match) to a man with far less in the way of skill than her, misplaced public confidence that she is beatable by any Joe Bloggs with a racquet could never come close to dulling the shine of her stack of trophies. 


Perhaps it is the unrelenting competitiveness of the football fandom that is to blame, rather than thinly-veiled misogyny. Maybe this hostile culture is created by the same insecurities that see Premier League fans labelling Ligue 1 a “farmer’s league”, or cause some followers of English Championship clubs to denigrate the Scottish Premiership as no better than the Conference – a fear that, somehow, validating another competition in any way is to undermine one’s own. The consequences of the hostility remain the same, and are damaging regardless of their origin. Young girls are told repeatedly that there isn’t a place for them in a sport they may love, all because someone who has never shown even a passing interest in the women’s game thinks he could see better quality football – whatever form it may take – at his local park.


To clear an unpleasant smog that lingers around women’s football, and much of all football, fans need to abandon the compulsion to reject that which doesn’t interest them as loudly as possible. The most vicious haters of the women’s game are the people who have never watched a match, and have never genuinely considered how much it has to offer. For better or worse, it currently provides a welcome refuge for all those who have grown disillusioned with a sport corrupted by the influence of vast amounts of money.


In signing Rose Lavelle, Manchester City have made a statement of intent to the rest of the Women’s Super League, and rest assured, no matter what @UnrealAguero has to say, she will be a joy to watch.