While grinding an old axe against fellow (former) NME fixture Danny Baker (“possibly the punk rock equivalent of Antonio Salieri”), the Guardian’s Steven Wells has determined who’s at fault for England’s 3-0 defeat to the U.S. in the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup. “It’s you – football-playing, male Guardian reader” accuses Wells.
This insight came while watching a DVD of the first series of Prime Suspect, followed by the Iranian soccer movie Offside. Prime Suspect starts with lady cop Helen Mirren becoming the first ever female head of a Scotland Yard murder squad. The boy cops do not like this. They fear having a lady in charge will interfere with their booze-sodden lifestyle of boxing, blue jokes, chips wi’ everything and sex with prostitutes (charmingly known as “slags”).
FLASHBACK: Regents Park, 2002. A football game. Several of the Guardian-reading players on my Guardian-reading team have stopped playing and are staring at a player in an adjacent game. “Look!” says one, pointing. “A woman!”
Back in 2007 we’ve finished Prime Suspect and are now watching Offside – a movie about Iranian women trying to get inside the stadium to watch Iran’s 2006 World Cup qualifier with Bahrain. This interests my wife greatly. She’s written several papers, based on hundreds of fan interviews, about how women are accepted or excluded from the “carnival” of football fandom.
There’s a scene in Offside where a squaddie on security duty explains to a female fan that women are excluded because of all the swearing and cursing. Earlier on a middle-aged male fan talked ecstatically about football being the only place where he could say whatever he wanted. “That right there,” says the wife, ” is everything I’ve been writing about in a nutshell.”
Back in 2007, it’s now Saturday morning and we’re watching the quarter-final of the women’s World Cup – England v the USA – live from China. England are considered the underdogs, and with good reason. In the USA girls and women play soccer in their millions. Boys and girls play together well into their teens. Even after that, the best female players frequently train against male opponents. Co-ed (mixed male and female) pick-up games take place in parks and playing fields across suburban America. The general skill level of the American female park-footballer is so high (they’ve been playing this game en masse since the 1970s) that any chap who objected to “playing with girls” would immediately be suspected of humourously imitating a fresh-off-the-boat English idiot.
When she was eight, England winger Rachel Yankey called herself Ray and played in an otherwise all-male team. When the FA found out they banned her from playing with the boys. Can anybody explain to me why this was anything other than a totally stupid thing to do? (And how it’s in any way less reactionary than the Iranians not letting women into stadiums?)
In little Britain – as Alyson Rudd revealed in her brilliant park-football biography Astroturf Blonde – we’re stuck in a genteel Victorian time warp that would be comic if it weren’t so wasteful of talent. You want to know why our women’s team is rated 12th in the world, while the Americans are No.1? Why they’ve won it twice and we’ve yet to get past the quarter finals? It’s because of you, park-football-playing male Guardian reader.