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Football

Sexism Still Rules in British Football

It's 2015, but it remains impossible for a woman to work as a physio at a football ground without receiving a barrage of sexual vitriol. Do we still live in the dark ages?

Emilia Bona

All photos by PA Images

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.

In a star-crossed day of serendipitous sexism, August 8th witnessed two high profile acts of flagrant misogyny against women in British football. Chanting East Fife fans and an egotistical Jose Mourinho both made it their mission to obstruct the righteous path to a feminist utopia. When two women at opposite ends of Britain are verbally abused and publicly belittled on the same afternoon, it's tricky to dispute that football has a huge glaring problem with gender equality. Women still aren't welcome on Britain's pitches, and a significant group of thunder-twats are making it their mission to ensure that football grounds continue to be hostile and degrading work places.

There's a notion, largely propagated by the kind of douchebags who legitimately believe in 'men's rights', that feminism is destroying every consecrated space that once belonged exclusively to men. This can be most hilariously illustrated by the man-can revolution, which bases itself around the idea that men should reclaim spaces where they can be men. This conveniently overlooks centuries of history where women were shut out of all the best places, like governments and sports clubs and abortion clinics. If you're one of the hateful homeboys that want football to continue to be a male protectorate, then a great strategy is to be overtly hostile to women trying to work at the side of the pitch.

When you support a team as far down the ladder as East Fife, there's a chance you'll run out of opportunities to deploy motivational chants and ultimately be forced to revert to whatever occupies your brain at the time. Kind of like every single dude who has ever acted like a complete psychopath after a woman rejected him, the East Fife fans in question operated like a bunch of bitter fucklords when their team's poor performance reminded them of their own doleful impotence. During this particular slow march to a defeat at the hands of East Stirlingshire, the fans got so bored of watching a shitty team of losers that they decided to engage in a form of male escapism as old as time itself: hurling sexist abuse at a woman who is trying to do her job. A group of East Fife fans spent the match launching slurs at East Stirlingshire's physiotherapist, and from what I've gathered on football forums, the majority of it came from pissed up under-agers. Highlights included fans shouting that they wanted to fist the physiotherapist, or alternatively, do her up the arse. Cute.

East Fife playing Fulham in a pre-season friendly last year.

People sometimes chant horrible shit at football matches; this isn't a lone performance by a legion of oafish cockwombles. But contrary to common belief, this isn't just harmless banter from a bunch of 'lads being lads' – it's a male voice choir reciting the greatest hits from centuries of sexism, and it vocalises every attitude that stands in the way of football's gender equality. I've trawled the unofficial East Fife fans' forums, because I'm a sucker for self-inflicted suffering, and the results are as soul destroying as you'd expect. To quote from one noteworthy contributor, who I can only assume spends every minute between East Fife games wanking to barely legal porn from within the confines of his sex offender perimeter agreement: "The physio will need to get used to the verbal and there will be plenty. Maybe get a big [jacket] and a grey wig would solve things. Or maybe she likes the compliments? The main thing for me is that seeing the result alone was depressing beyond words." As miserable as East Fife's performance was, I'm more inclined to find a woman being forced to endure violent gender-based vitriol slightly more depressing than watching a Scottish League Two squad get turned over, but whatever.

In a bold public statement, East Fife condemned its own supporters for 'deplorable, rude and sexist' chants, saying that they'd brought 'embarrassment' on the club. It's really good that the club have publicly acknowledged and apologised for what went on in the stands that day, especially considering that sporting bodies have a tendency to shirk responsibility more vehemently than a post-coital Ashley Madison subscriber.

However, much like any chivalrous prick who ardently seeks to protect the second sex, East Fife made themselves look like a bunch of antiquated chumps by including the choice phrase: "We are a family club with ladies and child supporters... they should not have been exposed to this type of language and behaviour." Using the same undifferentiated category of 'women and children' that's used on baby-changing facilities and the Titanic, East Fife undermined their own apology by suggesting that the main reason the chants were so deplorable was because innately weak women with fragile sensitivities were exposed to poor language. That's dumb and it totally misses the point. As a rule of thumb, no one should be exposed to misogynistic vitriol because the views that underlie it urgently need to be stamped the fuck out. The issue isn't that a bunch of women and kids had to listen to this stuff being said: the issue is that these attitudes exist and are often unchallenged.

On the same day as this shambolic display by East Fife's covetous cunt brigade, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho criticised the club's first-team doctor Eva Carneiro for running on to the pitch during a close-fought match against Swansea to treat Eden Hazard. The side were already down to 10 men, after Thibaut Courtois was sent off in the second half because I picked him for my fantasy football team and that's the law of the universe. Mourinho criticised the medical staff for being 'impulsive' and 'naïve' and claimed that they didn't understand football; because it's not as if naivety, impulsivity and a lack of an understanding of the offside rule are tropes that are disproportionately levelled at women.

Despite being given the opportunity to act like less of a reprehensible butthead at a later press conference, Mourinho stood by his criticism and Carneiro has since been demoted from the touchline. Now a month into her suspension from first-team duties, Carneiro is preparing legal action against the club. I will embrace the opportunity to pick a gender-based fight wherever I can find cause to do so, but in this instance it's almost too easy. Mourinho's behaviour and language throughout this whole saga have carried heavily gendered implications, and act as a stark reminder that women continue to be treated as outsiders in British football. Whether Mourinho felt she made a wrong decision or not, the correct course of action was not to publicly air his shitty attitude and undermine her professional authority. From original man Adam, men have scapegoated women for their actions. Mourinho exemplified a similarly disappointing pattern of behaviour after Chelsea's draw against Swansea. Rather than blaming himself for a shambolic performance, he opted to chastise Carneiro for doing her job.

That stance...

Carneiro is a qualified doctor working at one of the biggest clubs in the world, and while Mourinho might be the self-anointed special one, she knows her shit too. She joined Chelsea in 2009 as reserve team doctor, before being brought into the first-team fold in 2011 by Andre Villas-Boas. There was a lot of interest surrounding her initial appointment, as well as her promotion, because some people genuinely thought it was legitimate to question whether someone with ovaries could do a decent job. This blind sexist doubt conveniently neglected to register that Carneiro had worked at the British Olympic Medical Institute for the Beijing Olympics and with the England Women's football team, both of which would suggest her tits don't declare her entirely unfit for work. The problem is that women working in competitive masculine industries are subject to disproportionate levels of condescension and criticism. For evidence of this please consult trash-talking Ralph Rogers, who held Carneiro's job at Chelsea until 2011. Speaking to the Daily Mail (lol) Ralph called Carneiro a 'celebrity doctor' and a 'cheerleader', which is gross and definitely has nothing to do with him being jealous that a woman took his job. Throughout her time at Chelsea, Carneiro has been hyper-sexualised by fans and by the press, as well as being subjected to a sustained onslaught of abuse from opposition supporters telling her to get her tits out and show the world where she pisses from. This incessant objectification has enabled guys like Ralph to undermine her authority because she happens to have a great butt as well as a serious job.

The synchronised acts of woman-bashing that happened on August 8th weren't isolated incidents. The history of the treatment of women in British football is a demoralising microcosm of the treatment of women in wider society – namely that they get screwed over by a structural aversion to gender equality. Women have been repeatedly reminded to get back in their places and leave the football to the men: from referee Sian Massey being accused of not knowing the offside rule in 2011, all the way back to Alex Ferguson's 1994 rejection letter to a female physiotherapist, in which he stated that, "most of the players felt that football was very much a male sport and did not really like the thought of females being involved".

British football also sucks at attaining any semblance of gender equality at the highest levels of the game. It may be hard to feel empathy for Karren Brady, because she's a Tory who's so committed to social inequality that they gave her a peerage, but she's also got scars on her knuckles from punching through a lifetime's worth of glass ceilings. When Brady was only 23 she started working as managing director of Birmingham City FC, which kind of makes me feel like I need to try harder at stuff. The story goes that the first time she stepped on the team bus, a player shouted, "I can see your tits from here". I often struggle to think of sassy comebacks to dudes who shout at me on the street, but in a master class on how to throw feminist shade, Brady replied, "when I sell you to Crewe you won't be able to see them from there, will you?" As cosmic karma dictates, Brady went on to become vice-chairman of West Ham and the prospect of a future in Crewe continues to provoke more fear than the threat of chemical castration.

Karren Brady's achievements in the male-dominated football culture have been remarkable

In writing this piece, I spent a long time on hold to a lot of British football clubs, both big and small, as well as contacting individuals who have had some involvement in the game. Just like that time I had impetigo, no one would talk to me. Clubs either wouldn't give me access to their medics when I told them what I was writing about, or the individuals declined to comment and sounded about as uncomfortable as people do when I try making conversation about my mooncup. No one wanted to talk about the treatment of women in British football, either because it's awkward to get called out or because the women who work at these clubs didn't want to be quoted describing the abuse they have to endure to do the job they love. Hounding people on the phone for hours made it very clear that although a lot of clubs have female medics on their pay rolls, these women unfailingly face de facto discrimination because of their gender. Carneiro articulated similar sentiments at a 2014 Swedish FA sports medicine conference, where she said that women want to be leaders and to excel in male-dominated fields, but they are actively discouraged from a young age.

A lot of dudes want football to stay as a misogynists' outpost, like Australia or a titty bar. This is because they equate feminism with an infringement of their male entitlement to behave like pigs, just like in the old days. These guys may be total idiots, but they have realised that achieving gender equality means the hegemonic group has to give up all the fun privileges that having a dick previously reserved for them. Women may be allowed in to British football, but as East Fife and Mourinho clearly highlighted, the attitudes that oppose their presence still linger. Unless the ideologies that motivate these kinds of ugly behaviour are challenged, football will never evolve into a safe space for women.

Who's charged with challenging these attitudes? Don't ask me, I'm just a girl. I do think that East Fife made a decent start by publicly condemning their own shit-brained fans, and if only their apology wasn't dripping with overtones of chivalrous garbage then it would be admirable. Misogyny is prolific but football is an influential public arena, and if people actually give enough of a shit to start calling out crappy attitudes and patterns of behaviour, then there might one day come a time when a trained medical professional can do her job without being threatened with an anal fisting. Call me crazy, but stranger things have happened.

@emiliabona