It’s been a big month for women’s football. Both the English and Scottish teams qualified for next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019. It’s the first time that the latter will have reached the final stages of the tournament, and the first time that the BBC in Scotland has struck a deal to cover the matches. The FA anticipate that this will boost viewing figures and lead to an influx of girls taking up the sport.
But here in the Human and Cultural Practice, we’ve noticed that the influence of football has been spilling beyond stadiums and pitches: this long male-dominated sport is trickling down into broader culture, expanding into a multi-faceted, vibrant cultural phenomenon. Gone are the days when the sporty girl was a tokenistic member of the crew, (Spice Girls, we love you, but the narrow vision of Mel C didn’t help this). We’re now seeing football being recast into a myriad of shapes: no longer a physical activity that’s discrete and contained, the sport is colliding explosively with other parts of culture, creating new and exciting spaces.
Take Romance FC, where FC stands not for football club, but football collective. The team-come-social scene evolved from a casual kick about between a group of friends that met through broadcasting music platform Boiler Room. Creativity is as central to the collective’s identity as the sport that brought them together, the website explains: “On the pitch, they are stern defenders and shrewd attackers. Off the pitch, they are film-makers, DJ’s, coders and artists”. Events run by Romance are made up of multifarious activities. At their tournament last week, ‘Playing For Kicks’ attendants bobbed heads to DJ’s and sipped on craft beer while watching the matches. It’s also a charitable endeavour, as the event was in support of Imkaan, a UK-based, black feminist organisation dedicated to addressing violence against women.
And it’s being written about in new ways too. Flick through a copy of Season, a zine that champions all things football and fashion, and you’ll see women who have perfected football-themed nail art, or the work of an artist who paint footballs on Agent Provocateur corsets. Rapper Stefflon Don’s video to her most recent release, ‘Pretty Girl’, shows fierce, fashionable women on football fields; at one moment burying the ball in the bottom left hand corner of the goal, the next shaking their hips and strutting across pitches. It’s not overly serious or high-pressured; it’s just fun, communal, high-spirited and inclusive.
Women football players and fans have spent lifetimes battling against the outdated, unaccommodating conception of football as a men’s sport and it’s refreshing to see that these explosions of football culture are encouraging people to finally reform their ideas of what it is to be a sportswoman. As we anticipate the women’s World Cup of 2019, it’s now in the hands of brands to take this on board, and communicate to this inspired community of women.