By Sam Brocklehurst
I’ll kick this off with a few facts about myself. I’m new to all of this and we don’t know each other yet, so it’d be good to get better acquainted.
I like football (Liverpool, if you’re asking). I also have ovaries. I’ll grant you I don’t like it (football, not the possession of ovaries) as much as the TAW men who manage to find at least two hours a week’s worth of novel things to say about it across both the Monday podcast and City Talk, but I do like it.
I’ve watched games. I’m experienced. I’ve watched all of the exciting games – you know, the derbies and the cup finals – but I’ve also watched the truly bad, dull ones. The ones whereby you’re convinced that after watching Liverpool struggle through twenty minutes against The Kebab and Calculator FC, making a total hash of it, at least nine years must have passed. The ones whereby even as a sensible, rational human being I have been convinced that in that moment, even I could best the efforts of Stewart Downing. So I’m partial to a bit of football. I’m female.
What I’m not is apologetic about it. Unlike the female fans who insist on showing their support and solidarity by buying into the horrendous feminine merchandise – the pink hats, the pink gloves, the pink scarves with the club’s badge discreetly hidden away somewhere (don’t want to scare the horses, afterall). A quick look at the Liverpool FC official merchandise website tells me that the club doesn’t have much in the way of pink merchandise on offer at present because it’s all sold out. There’s clearly been a run on this madness which a stroll down Oakfield Road on match day will attest to.
Not to fan the flames of anything but our Goodison-based neighbours are bigger offenders: armed with (my fella’s) Visa card I could be the proud owner of at least three different styles of pink Everton FC hat, a pair of black and pink gloves, a choice between two styles and shades of pink scarf as well as a pair of fluffy white slippers emblazoned with the Everton badge in fetching hues of strawberry. You can even start the gender-separation off early by buying your newborn girl a little pink Borrower-sized hat just so that the world knows for definite that you – assuming you’re the proud father – are bringing the x-chromosones as well as the team choice.
For the record I’ll accept fitted football shirts, polo shirts, t-shirts etc. – these breasts have to go somewhere, you know – but I will not be happy with them depicting a liver bird post-mixed-wash accident. Just in case you’re one of these enlightened, modern men who goes in for a bit of pink from time to time, both sites helpfully nail the point home by listing them under ‘Gender: female’. No room for interpretation there.
The feminisation of football merchandise is tantamount to an apology for being a female football fan. Stop apologising for your ovaries. By marking yourself out with the pink and the gloves, that’s what you’re doing. You’re cowing your head. Why create that dividing line?
You turn up, you watch the matches, you pay the money, you know the players’ names, you experience the same highs, the same lows. You are equal in this. The man next to you in the red or the blue top with matching scarf and gloves is watching the same thing as you and likely has nothing more to contribute than you do.
All the pink is doing is screaming ‘I’m a fan but I’m also a girl. How zany. How note-worthy.’ Sport at its purest is a means of uniting people, of enabling them to put aside differences in culture, religion, class and yes, even gender, and come together for a period of time behind one common cause. (One common, broad cause. I’d like to think that when watching a game fellow supporters are with me on Liverpool scoring more goals than the other side. I would, however, not expect them to be with me as I will a hairdresser to invade the pitch and quickly sort Andy Carroll’s hair out.)
A kit is a uniform and merchandise a nod to that uniform. It’s how we show we are united behind the eleven men on the pitch. It’s how we show that we’re with them through the thick and thin, through the good times and the bad. You only have to look at shirt sales to see this is true: according to a German sports market research company, Liverpool sold an average of 700,000 – 900,000 shirts between the 2005 and 2009 seasons, placing them just behind former Adidas affliliates, Real Madrid. If you buy into the uniformity then you buy into the notion that this merchandise unites. It’s the link between you and that number eleven, there. It’s your battle gear – what you and the players strap on before you go to war.
By strapping on the pink over the red you’re marking yourself out, removing yourself that little from this process. Why do it? Why emphasise the divide between the sexes in a game which has a hard enough time as it is a) involving women in a capacity outside of the role of WAG and b) taking them seriously when they are involved (see woeful ticket sales for the Olympic women’s football team and dearth of coverage of women’s football full stop)?
This isn’t intended to read as a piece about a women telling other women where they’re going wrong. It’s intended as a gentle confidence boost, a kindly reminder that being partial to the odd game of football doesn’t mean you’re in danger of being mistaken for one of them – even if you do dress like it. If nothing else, these clubs make enough money out of us as it is. Saying no to the fluffed-up merchandise shuts down one tiny, exploitative revenue stream in a veritable tide of them.
So, ladies, whilst this isn’t quite a call to burn your LFC-embroidered bra, I wouldn’t be averse to a ritualistic bonfire of all your pink merchandise. How does that little grass verge by the incongruous cow, Kop-end sound? I’ll bring the matches.