As a writer, I am often called upon to tackle subjects which could be deemed at best controversial and at worst, downright provocative. Similarly, as an observer of the male of the species, I am frequently asked to comment on or even explain things which, whilst obvious to me, might be considered slightly bizarre or even irrational to those on the outside.
It is for the most part, a fabulous and privileged position to be in. After all, my opinions are my opinions and to have them considered worthy enough to have placed in the public domain is a huge honour. More so if they kick start debate or even argument which is, in the main, why I do it anyway. After all, as a confirmed ‘grump’ what greater pleasure can there be than to get other people fired up!
In recent weeks, many of these requests have related to football and in particular, the World Cup. In the main, they have revolved around the now wholly out of date idea that England fans travel to tournaments with the express intention of rebuilding the empire by causing widespread destruction but occasionally, they touch on something more sensible.
Now as anyone who has ever read my book, The Geezers Guide to Football will know, when it comes to the great game, I am old school. Indeed, my opinions are so firmly entrenched that when the day comes for me to depart this turbulent world and head for whatever fate Mr G Reaper has in store for me, the coroner unfortunate enough to carry out my autopsy will find them engraved in the numerous layers of skin currently struggling to keep the blubber together. They are however, my opinions and as such, remain central to my relationship with a sport I have spent most of my life adoring and despising in equal measures.
I mention this not as any defence, but as a warning for what is about to unfold. You see I was recently asked to write something on the issue of women and football and I am of the firm belief that the two don’t mix. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that never the twain should meet.
For me, going to watch football is about escapism. It’s where we men go to forget the day to day drudgery of life, put aside any worries we might have and simply be ourselves for a few hours. More importantly, it’s where we go to spend time in the company of other blokes in an environment which is specifically designed to allow us to let off steam and give free reign to our emotions. Many a man has shed many a tear on the terraces of England and I’m certainly not ashamed to say that I am one of them.
It’s also fair to say that football is where some men occasionally do things they not only shouldn’t but certainly wouldn’t anywhere else! Not that that applies to me of course!
Now whilst this could be construed as childish behaviour, it does have its benefits. After all, women are always telling us to get in touch with our emotions and whilst football might not be the ideal vehicle for that, it has to be better than nothing doesn’t it? Surely it’s better to let rip outside the home rather than in it and whilst it’s true that football has the power to depress (ok, manically depress), it also has the power to elate. All of which can only make us nicer to be around. Indeed, I tend to be more concerned that men who don’t like football have far more issues than those of us who do!
All of which is fine until such time as a women enters the equation. For when a female enters the dynamics of the terrace, everything changes. I for one will never swear in front of a woman if I can avoid it and I certainly wouldn’t utter some of the more colourful words I tend to use at games.
Furthermore, for whatever reason I tend to moderate my behaviour if a female is near by because like most men who attend games, I know I act like an idiot and whilst it’s accepted behaviour amongst my peers, I don’t particularly want or need a woman to see it. In short, the presence of a woman dilutes the match day experience for me and kind of negates the whole point of going. And don’t think for one second I am alone in that thinking. Ask your other half if he would prefer to go to football with you or with his mates. On second thoughts, don’t. We’ll discuss that later.
To be honest, I have never really understood why women have latched onto football anyway. Fair enough, most football grounds are enveloped in a testosterone frenzy every Saturday which must have an attraction of sorts whilst I also have an inkling that since most female football fans are more HAG than WAG, it’s crystal clear that the terraces are almost certainly the only place where they will ever find themselves surrounded by hundreds of men! Let alone find themselves in close proximity to millionaire footballers!
There is even a school of thought that the main reason why this has happened is that it’s a spoiling tactic. The thinking being that in the same way that marriage is clearly an institution invented by women FOR women, football is a game played by men for the enjoyment of other men. And since all men know how much women like to stop us enjoying ourselves, what better way of doing that than by invading our sanctuary.
To make matters even worse, we now have legions of women claiming to ‘love’ football. Er… no!
Women can’t love football, at least not in the same way as a man can. The reason being that since she can never have played the game (and no matter whatever anyone says, women can’t play football) she can never understand the anger and frustration that comes from knowing that if we’d have practised more, we could have been out there playing instead of on the terraces watching. So with that element missing, when a woman says she loves football, what she really means is that she likes it. She can’t really do anything more.
Equally, the fact that they have never played the game removes any degree of authority from anything they might have to say on the actual game. How can anyone possibly comment on a player’s inability to deliver a 30 yard pass when it’s unlikely they could ever even kick a ball 30 feet with any accuracy?
But just as importantly, one of the worst things about those women who do see fit to invade the football stadium is that far too many of them seem to feel the need to behave like we do. Given that half the time we’re doing the very things that seem to provide so much irritation to the female of the species, I don’t understand why they do that and I certainly don’t want to watch them doing it.
It is for these very reasons that I actually prefer women NOT to like football. Not simply because there is no real chance of them ever wanting to come to a game with me, but because I don’t feel the need to have to discuss it with them.
That said, I do think that all women should have some inkling of how important football can be to their man. They can’t go on about us being devoid of emotion and then take the mickey or moan at us when we are upset after a bad result. Furthermore, they might understand why we get so upset when they utter that most horrific of sentences ‘it’s only a game!’ I mean, no man in his right mind would ever say that the £750 Mulberry handbag his wife or partner was swooning over was ‘only a bag’ would they!
This is where television plays such a vital role. I might not be keen on women on the terraces but I have no problem with them watching games in the comfort of their own home. Not because I think they provide a handy waitress service to their chap (perish the thought!) but because given that the duty of television is to inform, if the average female can learn just how dire the England side have performed in South Africa, they can also appreciate just why we have been so depressed in recent weeks.
However, for us men the fact that women are watching the game on television does have inherent dangers. Not only do you run the very grave risk of your partner actually wanting to indulge in football related conversation but more horrifically, they might actually ask to accompany you to a game.
In my experience, the former is most easily dealt with by indulging in patronising responses or simply agreeing with everything they say but the latter has the potential to place the average male firmly in ‘relationship minefield’ territory. This is one area where compromise is not just a dirty word, it’s pure filth and so my advice would always be to pre-empt the situation by pointing your woman in the direction of the sign in the corner shop which reads ‘do not ask as refusal often offends’. Because if you’re a real man who has any respect for his mates, that’s exactly what you will do.
Of course, if you’re not a real man and do not have the power to stand up to your partner, then you there are three ways to step off what will undoubtedly be a very rocky and downward sloping road. One which will inevitably lead to you both wearing matching coats, bobble hats and carrying flasks of tea to drink at half time.
Step 1. When that fateful day comes, never, ever take her to your usual haunt. Not only will her presence detract from the experience (see above) but you must avoid her meeting your mates at all cost. If she meets them, not only will you (quite rightly) incur their wrath for bringing a female into the matchday environment and inevitably spoiling their day (again, see above) but if she’s not much of a looker, you will open yourself up to all kinds of piss taking. The kind of piss taking that goes on forever. Alternatively, if she is a looker…. well you don’t need me to tell you. Furthermore, meeting your mates means that she will suddenly be able to put names to faces and that’s never good.
Since the aim should obviously to ensure that this will be strictly a one-off, it is vital that you take the time to pick a game which you know will feature the poorest quality football imaginable (a look at the Watford FC fixture list is a good starting point) at a time when the weather will be at its worst. An evening game in November is perfect as it’s the stuff of nightmares for any first timer let alone a female and will almost certainly guarantee a swift exit. I know this tactic works because I used a form of it on my own daughters.
Step 2. If she does pose the dreaded ‘can I come?’ question, then the next time she is asked to attend any kind of ‘girlie’ event you must insist on going and do not take no for an answer.
Often, this in itself will be enough to have her backing off (which makes you wonder what they get up to at these things but that’s another blog) but if she doesn’t, then you must stick to your guns. If you’re really lucky, you’ll be Anne Summer’s party or hen night bound. If you’re unlucky, it’ll be Tupperware, candles or jewellery. But whatever it is, you MUST attend and you must make a knob of yourself. It is imperative that you spoil her night if only for revenge purposes.
Step 3. If either steps 1 or step 2 fail and she not only attends a game but asks to go again, then you simply have no choice but to stop going altogether. Not for your own sake, but for the sake of your mates. It’s all about taking one for the team and besides, if you start turning up with a woman week in and week out, chances are they’ll soon disown you anyway.
The one and only silver lining to this particular cloud is that should you find yourself in this most horrific of situations and simply cannot bare the thought of not going to watch football in the flesh, it provides one of the few occasions where a male can legitimately begin following (but not supporting) another club. Obviously it has to be one of a lower standard than the one where your heart will always lie as moving up the football scale not only lays you wide open to accusations of being a ‘glory hunter’ or even worse a ‘new breed’ but it actually goes against the basic unwritten rules of fandom.
So, if you can’t stomach the idea of watching non-league football week in and week out in the company of your significant other, best you don’t let it get that far.
A version of this blog was previously posted on www.moanaboutmen.com