Womens athletic football pursuit
For years I confounded myself as to why I wasn’t more drawn to the women’s game, when I could see their optimism, their skills. More recently it suddenly dawned on me. It’s because the game has no culture. No history. No grandfather and father and generational thing. It performs as an athletic pursuit – like many Olympic events – it could be played anywhere. The ground on which whatever womens team plays is not that important. Arsenal could easily trade Borehamwood for Barnet and back again and no one would care much.
I photograph my football because it smacks of ‘the struggle’, through all weathers, including winter. A season-long when the outcome in Spring is that most teams don’t win a thing. They don’t grow any silverware. The winning isn’t really what was being tested anyway. The women’s game has now even been moved to the summer, to try and attract a new audience that is not necessarily the mens audience.
So it is today Arsenal Ladies trot out (at Borehamwood, next to a bowls club and a recreation field) to a crowd of less than a thousand to win the SUPER (not even Premier) League for the umpteenth time in a row. They are clearly very good. But few come to watch them. The Doncaster Belles bring a few – the supporters ring their bells under cover of an old wooden Borehamwood FC stand – and that starts to smack of culture to this photographer. But it could take years and seasons to get the shivery feeling going. Not just on account of it being cold. Years to invoke ‘culture’. Right now it is a merely athletic pursuit. Arsenal Ladies Athletic Football Club might be their true title.
What a game nonetheless. Belles, the original womens football force (post Dick Kerr Ladies of Everton) scare the stunning and safe hands that is Arsenal’s Emma Burns (a Pat Jennings of her ilk) only for a wayward Belle to blast the ball past her own goalie. Then ‘the goal of the season’ from the half-way line to level it up. Then a second own-goal to hand Arsenal a title which was already theirs prior to kick-off, slightly spoiling the drama for ESPN relaying it live to… thousands, if not not the desired millions.
Yes, the crowd do play their part. But each womens football club needs to get their own ground with their own graffiti.