the sporting life;
Here in the UK we love our football – in fact, it’s probably fair to say that it’s the national sport – which is why the collective disinterest that presents itself whenever the prospect of playing it at the Olympics rolls around may strike the outsider as something of a surprise, particularly in this year when we’re playing on our home turf. Much of that disinterest (it’s probably fair to say, in some cases, approaching hostility) probably relates to the fact that the Olympics is the only tournament to play a “British” team rather than the four national sides. Here in Scotland, by all accounts our national footballing governing body actively discouraged our players – none of whom were picked anyway – from getting involved, probably muttering something about “the integrity of the game” alongside running the risk of diluting the Scottish team’s identity, which I will leave you to make of what you will given their recent conduct in other arenas. I don’t know how I feel, given that I rarely identify as “British”, although I doubt you can take any reputation away from a national squad that never wins anything anyway.
For the most part, the Olympics leaves me cold. I’m not massively interested in sports, and I’m even less interested in overwhelming displays of Britishness, but I’ll follow the medal tally and stuff and I do well up when I see athletes, particularly Scottish athletes, crying on the television. But then the other night we had a couple of friends round, and they were keen on watching the match, so we had it on and I really enjoyed it. As you probably already know that night Team GB recorded a triumphant victory over none other than the mighty Brazil, although I suspect it might have received a little more publicity had the spoils gone to “our lads” rather than “our lasses”.
The last time I went to a professional football match was the summer of 2011; a pre-season friendly at my beloved Parkhead between my Celtic and the other half’s Wolves. That night I was called a “Wolves cunt” by the home support, who evidently couldn’t see past the Old Gold I was wearing and the vagina I was sporting. In the away end a vocal, if small, element of the visiting support performed an impromptu recital of The Famine Song, something which I am sure means fuck all to people visiting from the Midlands but is about as offensive as you can get to anybody of Irish Catholic stock. When Stringer raised the offence I inevitably took on a message board he used to frequent, daring to suggest that perhaps real football fans may not wish to tolerate such behaviour in their name, he was told that his wife maybe shouldn’t go to football matches while she was “on the rag”. Although I hope to experience another triumphant promotion day at Molineux in eight or nine months time – menstrual cycle permitting – for some reason I haven’t been able to muster up the same enthusiasm for club football since.
However, this game on Tuesday night was fantastic. I was in great, enthusiastic company; I felt more emotionally involved with a game than I had done in ages and even on Twitter people – albeit a self-selected group statistically likely to share many of the same interests and views of myself – the atmosphere was something to behold. I rediscovered my love of the Beautiful Game, and all that was necessary was to swap out the gender of the participants.
Guys, I know fuck all about football that involves women in this country. I don’t know if there are leagues, or cups, or how international competitions go outside of the Olympics (although I suspect that, regardless, the Scottish national side is generally on an early bus with the ring of glorious failure in their ears). While some of that is no doubt a result of my previously-admitted disinterest in sports, I don’t remember ever seeing football with female players (I really don’t want to say “women’s football”) featured on the 6pm Saturday night bulletin or in the back pages of the Super Soaraway Sun. As we chatted the other night we pondered the likelihood of the magnificent Hope Powell being offered a coaching role with a prominent team or even being offered the opportunity to pundit on Match of the Day or something next year – she obviously knows her shit, so I can’t see how anybody would consider it a bad idea and it would increase the visibility of the game. I want to know where I can find out.
One of the images I took away from the £27 million Olympic ceremony, well, other than the Queen and James Bond parachuting out of a helicopter, was that of smiling 17-year-old footballer Jade Bailey speeding towards the stadium with the Olympic torch. Admittedly she was overshadowed, at least in eyes and mouths of the commentators, by the Cheshire Cat grin of Olympic ambassador and all-round East end born-and-bred cheeky chappie David Beckham (shame on you, Hazel Irvine!) but it was really, really heartening to see her being held up as one of the sporting stars of the future. Of course it doesn’t take away from the fact that female internationals – as least, according to this letter in today’s Guardian – must all work other jobs as they do not get the lucrative sponsorship opportunities and ridiculous salaries afforded to their male colleagues, but is it far to suggest that perhaps the tide is turning?
I hope so. It seems to me that the time is right for a football-loving nation to set aside their disinterest and wholeheartedly get behind the eleven women “playing for the jersey”, and other football bingo cliches, against Canada tonight. It’s what I’ll be doing, and I hope you will be too.