Women’s Football Is Intense, Man!

(watching picture-in-picture on a pixellated stream, however, is more impossible than anything else)

It’s an inevitable consequence of boundaries – sexual, ethnic or whatever – being removed or made flexible in our modern society, that people doing stuff traditionally considered ‘not for them’ will be compared to people who were once deemed ‘appropriate’ for doing those things, when it comes to doing them. This is a roundabout way of saying that women’s football will be compared, in terms of quality, entertainment value, etc to the men’s game, itself a roundabout way of me saying that I’m trying not to make these comparisons, and enjoy the sport for what it is – people playing football (that paragraph now has more roundabouts in it than the entire continent of Antarctica).

Basically, I just watched the nail-biting conclusion to the Women’s Super League season (a climax so heart-stopping that football journalists haven’t been able to formulate their reactions into coherent articles, and so there are no pages I can link you to) in which literally half the league could have won the title on the last day and where, for half an hour, three teams could have all been crowned champions by scoring a single goal. It was so engrossing that I stopped playing Football Manager, put my plans to read The Aeneid on hold, and actually drank some Diet Coke to keep myself sufficiently alert to the minutia of the changes in goal difference, points, and levels of understanding of BT Sport commentator Lucy Ward.

And while I’d love to close my laptop after watching these games, and try to imagine the despair of the Chelsea and Birmingham players, and elation of the Liverpool ones, I keep comparing the end of the season to similar events in men’s football. While Manchester City’s first title win was stunning, scoring twice in stoppage time to beat QPR and take the league lead from Manchester United, other seasons have ended less dramatically, such as United winning the league the following season with all the difficulty of an eighteen-year-old playing rugby against a ten-year-old without legs.

Perhaps there are reasons for this that involve the sports themselves; the money involved in men’s football, both regarding commercial benefits and investments into professional contracts and training regimes, has elevated the sport to the levels of Greek Mythology, where athletic demi-gods pit their awesome might against each other, while we mortals have to watch from the stands, in awe of their multicoloured boots and hamstrings resilient as rock. Conversely, women’s football appears to be played by human beings, who make poor passes and get caught out of position, and whose fans are geographically local enough to ensure that Manchester City home games are played to the sound of ‘Cit-eh!’ being shouted in an appropriately Mancunian accent.

Also, the expansive nature of the men’s game – i.e. at twenty-team league – means that there are defined strata within that league; the title challengers, top-four hopefuls, Europa League contenders, mid-table Capital One Cup runners, relegation candidates, and Burnley Football Club are all separate divisions within the league. As a result, there are many storylines to follow over the season, but only one or two teams ever have a shot at winning the damn thing, meaning that the interest in the other eighteen sides amounts to ‘will our season be a failure, yes or no?’ as they don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell of a league victory. Conversely, the tiny eight-team league of the WSL means everyone is basically in the same boat; Arsenal’s manager resigned at the start of the season, but they still finished fourth; Liverpool were 6-1 outsiders to win the title today, starting in third, but walked away with the trophy, and the only link to Greek gods is the Mercury-like messenger dispatched to shift the trophy from Manchester to Liverpool, although they probably didn’t have winged sandals.

The finale of the WSL may have also been more interesting for my own selfish reasons; as someone who thinks that gender is a meaninglessly superficial social construct, intended to marginalise half the population for the selfish aims of the other half, and ideally that anyone who entertains the existence of a meaningful gender divide is not any more intellectually developed than reindeer vomit, I’m always going to be more enthusiastic about things that invert this hierarchy than I might be for things that reinforce or simply don’t challenge it (and I know this is probably a bit sexist on my part, so I guess I’m reindeer vomit then).

But whatever the reasons, I’ve had a bloody great afternoon. And whether men or women are playing, isn’t that the point of sport in general? Roll on England Women vs Germany women at Wembley next month!

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