The Crowd

You may have heard that yesterday England’s women won the Uefa Women’s Euro 2022 2-1 at London’s Wembley Stadium over Germany’s (excellent) women’s team.

There were plenty of men (and boys) visible among the reported 87,192 in attendance, but based on what could be seen in the television coverage the bulk of the crowd was clearly composed of women (and girls).

I have been to men’s soccer/football games here in England and more than 90 percent of the crowd is men and teen boys. Soccer among predominately male crowds seems to play to male “tribalism” and, in the international game, serves as an expression of nationalism and even a stand-in for warfare. A tiny minority of those mostly male attendees are also given sometimes to engaging in ugly and thuggish behavior: fights in the stands and outside the grounds, throwing objects onto the field (and sometimes at players), yelling abuse at opposition players (and sometimes even their own team’s players), and confronting the other team’s fans seated nearby. (Excessive alcohol consumption does not help either.)

[The Dutch PSV Eindhoven fans section at a Tottenham Champions League match. Wembley Stadium. Photo by me, 2018.]

Contrast that with the women’s international game yesterday – indeed the games all through these women’s Euros. Over 87,000 present yesterday and I have read no reports of any major misbehavior. In fact, unlike what you would see (indeed what is not allowed by authorities) at an international men’s match, based on what could be seen also on television quite a few Germany supporters appeared to be seated among the (by far majority) England supporters… and yet no one was throwing punches.

Why? It is by now well-known in history that when women have been deeply involved en masse in anything as equals alongside men, the women’s presence tends to lead the men to behave better. While certainly fiercely competitive – yesterday there were plenty of fouls and yellow cards and backtalking the referee from both sides’ players – the women’s game has developed both on the field and among fans (women AND men) largely without the “tribal” viciousness of the men’s and into a “family event” to which you would not hesitate to take your young daughters… and, yes, your young sons too.

The sport’s governing authority here in England, the Football Association, better known as the FA, and dominated, of course, by men, while now unsurprisingly saying all the right things about the women’s game, has for decades been decidedly cool toward it. And in that we are not talking about “the 1970s” here. That attitude has “low key” persisted pretty much up to the present despite, in comparison, the explosion in popularity and support since the late 1990s in the U.S. for their women’s game in that male-generally-non-soccer-playing country. (Indeed you could almost hear English male footballing execs over the years watching the U.S. while privately dismissing the English women’s game: “Yeh, well, we gotta give the girls here something now, don’t we.”)

[Photo by Jean-Daniel Francoeur on Pexels.com.]

For instance, during yesterday’s BBC post-game discussion, retired men’s England star and analyst Ian Wright criticized the scheduling of women’s domestic English Premier League games at 7pm on Sundays – a time the Premier League men do NOT play, but which is certainly not the best time for anyone to watch a game on television or go to a match (especially with kids who may have school the next day). That timing almost guarantees smallish TV audiences and smaller crowds. It is difficult not to conclude that such “afterthought” scheduling is almost certainly based on a desire not to have the women’s games “compete” with the men’s – while professing publicly such is in fact necessary ”to support” the, uh, growth of the women’s game. (“See, lads, we give the girls games too, but no one goes or watches, but you know we can’t really say that, mind you.”)

Well, we just saw a huge and paying crowd – the biggest ever for a Euro match, men included – and massive television audience for England’s women. Given what we have also seen during this tournament the sport’s governing body here seems to need to keep the women’s game “second tier.” For with those England women having done what the England men have not been able to do in a final since 1966, if women’s league matches were played equally among the men’s on the weekends those women’s games could well prove far more appealing for millions than the men’s.

Have a good Monday, wherever you are in the world. 🙂

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