Football has kept me sane during a difficult part of my life. There have been weeks in the past two years when the only place I’ve left my home to visit has been Craven Cottage. I know it’s just a game. I know much about it is excessive and perhaps a little crazy, but if I couldn’t be bothered to use my season ticket, that was a warning sign to family. They always asked about the game for that reason. They don’t care about Fulham, but they know I’m hanging in there if I still do
If your game is cricket, golf or rugby or even tennis, then good luck to you. Mine is football. It takes me out of myself and gives me something to believe in and hope for. Please don’t make me think about how trivial that is or how little it really matters. It’s mine and it matters to me.
I am obviously delighted if someone shares my enthusiasm. Who isn’t? I don’t care who or what they are. If they’re football fans, and especially if they’re Fulham fans, I’m inclined to think better of them. It made me smile to learn this morning that Margot Robbie of Barbie fame is of the Fulham faithful. It wasn’t a movie I was going to watch, to be honest, but maybe I will now I know she’s one of our own.
So the growth of the women’s game is great. I’m all for it. I don’t watch it, just as I don’t watch school football. I would have done if my daughters were playing, but they never did. So I didn’t. And that’s my relationship with the women’s game. I would show up to support any female friend or relative that played, but not strangers. I even might go to a match with a friend who supported a women’s team. If I had any. Just like you, probably, I don’t. I can’t name a member of the Lionesses and neither — if you’re honest — can you (probably).
I was therefore surprised to fall out with an old friend on the subject. It came up during a day we spent at the Oval watching that other game. I mentioned how irritated I was by the way women’s football is being forced on us by our clubs and the media. There are pages of it in my daily paper, which I swipe by as quickly as articles about tennis. My own club relentlessly promotes its women’s team, when the difference in attendances and ticket prices confirms that nothing has changed — except for yet another political drive to make us all pretend something is true that isn’t.
My stance on this is Bill Burr’s. I’ll take it seriously when women fans show up. The men’s game is subsiding the sport with my money. Not that anyone asked my permission. I’ve done more than enough and it’s just “not my job” to watch it for them too.
It’s partly Australia’s fault for not batting well enough to engage our interest, but my friend at the Oval went off on me about this (though he’s watched as many live minutes of women playing as I have — i.e. zero). He’s not woke in any other way but he’s really bought into this narrative. He’s even taken to texting articles at me in a spirit of maaate!! to correct my thinking. Then responding like a humourless wokester when he gets a humorous reaction.
The culture war of identity politics is being waged on so many fronts that reasonable people find it hard to resist on all of them. I used to play mind games in business negotiations by structuring agendas to create long sequences of concessions by my side so that I could argue when it came to an issue that really mattered to us that “it was time they gave us something too”. Such is the human desire to be fair that this trick often worked.
We are of a generation that doesn’t need submission as a condition of friendship. We’ll get past it, I hope. If stadia fill with fans to watch women play our beautiful game (he’s a fan too, albeit of the Villa) I will be as pleased as he is. Perhaps more so. Because it will then be real and worthy of celebration, rather than just an opportunity to signal not “virtue”, but submission.