While the English men’s EURO final against Italy was marred by ugliness at Wembley last year, the Lionesses’ support was one of sportsmanship on and off the pitch
While supporters praised the “inclusiveness” and “family-friendliness” of women’s football, they were outspoken about the gladiator nature of such money-slingers as the Premier League – “angry”, “hostile” and “scary” were among the more common nicknames .
When fans of women’s football were asked by scientists ahead of Euro 2022 why they would rather see the beautiful game of women than men, the answers were scathing.
Notwithstanding the unexpected ability of the back of Alessia Russo’s right heel to send millions of England fans to wonderland, one of the questions that’s fast to be asked at the Women’s Euro 2022 tournament is what men’s football fans can learn.
Proponents of women’s football can point out with some scientific certainty that the game is less putrid and has fewer tantrums than its testosterone-fueled counterpart – a German study found that female players spent an average of 30 seconds less on the ground after being fouled.
It’s a courtesy that strongly suggests it will be reproduced in the stands. Viewer separation beyond major tournaments is rare, and dictionary compilers looking for new spitting expletives to throw at umpires and opposing players will likely leave Women’s Super League games disappointed.
The study, released last year by researchers from the University of Durham and Mississippi State University, examining what attracts fans to women’s football in England and America, pitted the accessibility and friendliness at the highest levels of women’s football against the far wealthier men of the game.
English and American fans spoke of the fact that women’s football players tend to stay after matches for selfies and autographs, while many spoke of the feeling of hospitality, particularly to members of the LGBTQ+ community.
In contrast, a study by the Football Supporters’ Association last year found that 34 percent of women had heard or received sexist comments at a men’s game.
Professor Stacey Pope, co-author of the study at Durham’s Department of Sport and Exercise Science, said I: “Fans in England in particular pointed out what they saw as ‘safer’ women’s games with less vulgarity, drunkenness and aggression than they might experience at a men’s game.
“I think there are many characteristics of women’s football and the atmosphere at Euro 2022 that should be looked at from men’s football. If you look at what happened in the riots during the men’s Euro 2020 final last year, you could see a lot of problems.”
Indeed, it is difficult to resist the argument that the crowding problems seen at Wembley before and during the England men’s defeat by Italy last summer simply do not exist in women’s football.
It’s hard to imagine the unpalatable scenes outside of Wembley that day, whose legacy includes footage of a man spending 12 hours before the game consuming 20 cans of cider and a ton of cocaine before having fireworks in his butt, this could be repeated for the Lionesses in Sunday’s upcoming final.
Experts point out that when it comes to attitudes towards women’s football itself, a misogynist mindset still prevails. A separate study published in January by the University of Durham and Leicester University found high and persistent levels of sexism towards female football among male fans.
While many men welcome and support the development of women’s football, the study found that others see it as a challenge to masculinity and question whether it should be played at all.
John Williams, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Leicester, said: “The increase in media coverage of women’s sport on both the BBC and subscription channels has been openly supported by some men. But it also poses a visible threat to others, an attack on football as an arena for “doing” masculinity.
“This comes at a time when there are widespread fears among men about how to establish and exercise satisfying masculine identities.”
No doubt to the relief of Lioness fans, Sunday throwback holders are unlikely to make the pilgrimage to the Wembley stands.
The question remains whether there is a danger that, as women’s football develops, it will resist the urge to resume some of the bad habits in the men’s stands.
In the meantime, however, regular fans seem to have a lot to admire. A young male Stoke City supporter who took part in the Leicester and Durham study spoke of the “general sense of respect and humility” among England’s modestly paid internationals.
He added: “The fact that if they’re lucky they’ll be paid a living wage to do what any athlete wants to do, unlike their male counterparts who are paid extortionate amounts of money to do it, often far, far too achieve less.”