So here is the thing. My daughter likes playing football. She is good at playing football. Better than good. Excellent.
So has played in Saturday clubs since she was 5. Very successfully. Her current club are brilliant and have always been very supportive of all their players.
But she is also very good at hockey, netball, running- in fact most sports that don’t involve a racquet!
This causes us issues. School wants her to play for them and she wants to as she likes to play sport with her school mates and represent her school with pride.
Unfortunately this means she has to miss football matches for her Saturday league club or has to let the school down.
Fed up of trying to juggle fixture lists I decided to bite the bullet and try to find her a Sunday football club where she could train this season and play matches, assuming they had space, with a view to signing for them properly next season.
The FA, who provide her elite training, helped me find some clubs. And told me how to phrase the email to try to get them to respond. They were all ‘boys’ clubs. Which was fine she is used to that. Girls leagues don’t seem to play on Sundays.
The FA guy said my main problem would be getting them to see Youngest in the first place. He said that once she was in front of them actually playing football she would sell herself…
Alarm bells started ringing.
I sent emails off to about 9 managers.
A sum total of 1 came back. I did not even get a ‘thanks but no thanks’ or ‘we are full try in June’; just silence.
The one who did reply was a bit cagey but suggested he assess Youngest ‘over a few weeks’ reiterating that they were a 1st division side and playing at the ‘highest level’. I knew that, that was why I had emailed his club. The intimation was that he was sceptical but at least he had replied so that was a big thumbs up to him.
We rolled up on Tuesday to training. Youngest did her thing and the manager, coaches and training were great, the boys were lovely and she had fun.
After the hour was up the manager pulled me over and said how impressed he was with how well she played and that he definitely wanted her in the team for next season and this season if a space became available, that she was welcome to training for the rest of this season and that he was convinced she would settle in extremely well.
When I told him he was the only manager who had replied to my email he was not surprised. He said most coaches would have read the word ‘girl’ and dismissed the idea out of hand. He, however, was glad he hadn’t. As he said ‘Their loss!’
Maybe all the other recipients of my email are horribly busy, I know they are all volunteers with more important things than football on their plates but even so how long does it take to write an email? Certainly not the 2 weeks I have waited.
And I wonder how many of those coaches would have emailed me straight back if they had read ‘boy on an England Talent Pathway’ rather than ‘girl on an England Talent Pathway’… probably all of them.
This situation is indicative of the slight under current of sexism in grass roots football. It is not overt (most of the time) but it is there, subtly.
Youngest doesn’t play well for a girl , she just plays well. She should not be picked out for special mention because she is as good as her team mates, she is as good as her team mates and deserves only the praise they all get unless she does something above and beyond. It gets tedious when people raise their eye brows and then say something along the lines of ‘oh when the boys start growing she’ll have to move to a girl’s team’. Have they seen Kante and Shaqiri? Height isn’t a pre requisite to playing good football.
She doesn’t get ‘pushed off the ball’ and she isn’t going to ‘lack in physicality’. She is not ‘more likely to get hurt’. And anyway why is it worse if my daughter gets hurt as opposed to the person standing next to me on the touchline’s son?
She should not ‘concentrate on girls’ sport’ as was once said to me by a (male) PE teacher. She should just focus on the sport she loves.
Her team and most of the opposition she meets don’t see her as a girl, they see her as a player. It is a shame that some of the adults surrounding football find that so hard to grasp.
In fact I think all grass roots youth football teams should just be mixed. Not ‘girls’ football or ‘boys’ football. Just football, with success based on participation, attitude and commitment and, eventually at the right age, ability; but certainly not gender.
The fact that my child does not have a penis should not mean she is dimissed out of hand or treated any differently. Talent, hardwork, commitment, coachability and desire don’t care what genitalia you possess.
Anyway she will be playing for her new side next season (and hopefully before) against most of those clubs who didn’t reply. Their loss.