Genesis of a Gooner

Posted: July 24, 2012 by oranjesky in Exile in London
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Following on from yesterday’s  introductory blog on female fandom, today I sit down with some ladies I’ve come across on Twitter to get their insight into matters.

The one question I often get as a female supporter is: “how did you become a fan?” Often this is in an inquisitive manner, but sometimes it is asked to question my knowledge or judge if I have been a fan ‘long enough’. The worst-case scenario is when it is asked in the sceptical, “I bet she’s just here for the pretty players” type of way. I asked some of my fellow female Gooners to share their experiences and we spoke of how we became fans of football and what it’s like when people question our beginnings.

Kajal – When people say: “It’s so cool that you’re a girl who is into her football”, my only ever response to this comment is that I am not into football, I am into Arsenal. This results in some rather odd looks or uncomfortably toned answers such as: “Yeah but you still know your stuff”, as if to somehow mark me ‘credible’ in their eyes again.  My love for Arsenal derived from my mother who is your more unconventional football supporter. As a schoolgirl she had an affinity with the (dirty) Leeds, just as my peers toyed with a brief love-in of Manchester United because it was seen as fashionable to do so.

She also has a soft spot for Leicester but I’m more forgiving of that as she used to live there. Her true love, however, is Arsenal and all credit goes to Arsène Wenger for making her fall for his beautiful and more-than-digestible style of football, and not before long, so did I. I got some stick for beginning to follow Arsenal at a time when they were doing well as opposed to attending games from the age of 5 and watching the famous ‘1-0 to The Arsenal’s under George Graham (never by Arsenal fans, mind you) but I didn’t care. I loved everything about The Club from Highbury to the detail on our home socks.

Sandra – I’m 52 years old and originally from Brazil and grew up in Massachusetts in a heavily Portuguese area. My Brazilian family kept their love of football when they moved to the US but it was hard to keep up with it at that time. We emigrated in 1964. My uncles fostered a love of football in me so they had no issue about me being a girl. From an early age I grew up with a divided family in terms of football clubs – the Rio side being strong Flamengo supporters, and the other side being strong Corinthians supporters.

In 1970, my family (my uncles mainly) and Brazilian friends wanted to be in Brazil for the World Cup because Brazil had a strong chance of winning it. They planned to travel there. I really wanted to go but my mom couldn’t afford it so one of my uncles lent her money and we spent a month in Brazil watching the World Cup on small TVs. It was a family thing – though clearly it was men who knew the game better.

But I learned from them.

Later as a teenager, college student, grad student and post-grad school I traveled and worked in many countries around the world and went to many football matches.  I  have experienced several encounters in which a male would doubt my knowledge about football but I’d just shoot back with the amount of stuff I did know and then their attitude would immediately change, and they’d take me more seriously.

Jules – Many of today’s female fans grew up playing football. For me, I idolized the US Women’s National Team of the 1990s. They were female role models excelling internationally far more than the Men’s team.  In my personal experience I’ve been in love with the game since I started playing as a child. It frustrates me that there are people out there who consider me a dilettante just because of my gender.  And they almost certainly believe that I shouldn’t wear a jersey as I can’t be a “real” fan. I can’t possibly appreciate the role of a defensive midfielder, or gasp in awe at the beauty that was Andrea Pirlo’s free kick. That’s a false premise based on stereotypes rather than truth.  When I look at my Twitter timeline or the readers of my own blog, I know that there are a lot of female fans. This community has basically live tweeted matches all season and continued to do so for the Euros. Clearly women are still a minority among football fans, but we’re vocal. We’re blogging, podcasting, v-casting, and submitting pieces to magazines. It’s anything but passive.

I think about the female bloggers that I regularly read. I don’t choose to follow blogs based on the gender of who is writing them, but on the quality of writing. Discounting strong writing and analysis just because a woman wrote it would be ridiculous. There’s no reason to close yourself off from different perspectives. I don’t care if a person is from Mars, if they’ve got insight I want to know about it. Don’t worry guys, I read y’alls too. If I’m reading you it’s because I like you, and what you have to say. There’s no quota of types of football blogs that I read. If you’re good, I want to see it.

This past spring MLS suspended Simon Borg for 7 days after he made comments regarding passionate female fans being unattractive to the opposite sex. There were two issues present. One: All men think women who really like sports are unattractive. That’s easily disprovable by going to a professional football (soccer) match. Many men welcome the female presence, as having interests in common is typically a good things for a relationship. Two: Why does my interest in football have to be viewed through the lens of “will a man find this attractive?” It’s incredibly self-centered and heterocentric to think that women at sporting events are mostly worried about how they will appeal to men. This discounts lesbian and bisexual fans as even being considered fans, and also again takes the point of view that women are there to be enticing not cheering on their team. Guess what? We buy merchandise too, and teams like selling merchandise.

I guess the short version of what I’m saying is that I’m a fan. A kit wearing, tv yelling, euphoric from wins and despondent from losses fan. I know and like the game, so please don’t discount me because I’m a female. We’re all on the same side as long as you don’t consider club loyalties.

Does being a female fan mean being different? Is there an invisible line that separates us from male supporters?  As I wrote yesterday I rarely think of myself as being anything other than an Arsenal supporter. My gender has rarely come to mind but yet it impacts everything in life. Here we discuss what the implications of being a female fan has meant to us as individuals.

Kajal – One comment that really struck me as a female fan (I don’t advocate the use of the word Goonerette – if you don’t want to be seen as different to male supporters, why use it) was the failure to understand how I could appreciate the way that Arsenal play without having played football myself. This was actually a valid point, and one that I had thought about on a few occasions. I played football at school when we had to in P.E, tried to join in with the lads at break time at Lower (Primary) School on a few occasions because we thought it was ‘cool’ and practised penalties with my brother when we were younger but I never really understood things such as the mathematics and precision behind free kicks or the weight of a pass in a practical sense yet these are amongst many things I appreciate and fawn over when done well. How is that so? I don’t know the answer to this but I also don’t know how any fellow human in this planet (whether they love football or not) could not be overawed by the magic and trickery of my one true idol, Thierry Henry.

Even discounting his many, many goals, it was his presence on the pitch, the way he was so strong yet ran so gracefully, his nutmeg of Danny Mills, the Trompe L’Oeuil pass to Reyes, his sarcastic goal celebration towards Mr ‘I’m A Celebrity’ Poll, who had given him a hard time about the placing of the ball for *that* free kick. I could explode just talking about this man! I can’t leave this paragraph without the inclusion of his solo goal and celebration against Sp*rs – now the desktop background of many, many Gooners, including myself.

No Arsenal-related, French love-in could be complete without a few words for Mr Wenger. I love the man. That is all. Well, it’s not really all. I look on the social networking sites and see our very own fans calling him derogatory names and I want to throttle the whole lot of ungrateful [insert profanity here]. I just about understand that the man is not infallible but I just cannot fathom why he is subject to abuse from fans, and I’m not just talking about our own ingrates but we know not to expect an ounce of morality from that lot down the road, and that other lot over in Fulham, and that other lot three hours up the M6. The media have to take a large portion of the blame but it’s 5.45am and I’m having to remind myself why Jess kindly asked me to participate in this blogging session so no more on that!

Onto Twitter. The joy and bane of my life. Not only have I had the pleasure of meeting other female Gooners (they really know their stuff y’know! ;-)) but also other Gooners from around the world. This has been extremely eye-opening for me as to how much worldwide recognition and admiration we have but also the dedication and unconditional love from our friends in different countries. The effect Arsenal have had is special, but not as special as the effect these fans have on the Club.

My Twitter followers will know that I do love a good moan so I’ll try not to deprive you too much on here. One of my pet hates on Twitter is a female using their affinity towards Arsenal to get attention from men and use it as a dating service. All female Gooners I follow are beautiful, funny and shame me in my knowledge of Arsenal – past and present! I think we’ve worked pretty damned hard to change the perception of female fans so therefore am vehemently against being tarred with the same brush as those wanting to use Twitter as Match.com (or Shaadi.com for any Indian readers!)

Sandra – In Brazil and other Latin American countries, the stereotype about women and football is typical of the old stereotypes of women and sports here in the US: women don’t get the rules, they’re not interested, they get annoyed that their husbands or boyfriends spend so much time with it, they don’t get the passion involved with supporting a club, etc. And much of that is true – a lot of Brazilian women don’t share their men’s passion for the game.

But at the same time there are always a strong, loud representation of women fans in nearly every game in Latin America. Certainly men are more predominant but women are always there. I’ve been to games in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador, Mexico. I’ve seen a lot of bad behavior among fans and certainly have been called misogynistic names by drunken male fans but whenever that happened I received support from other male fans who defended me.

Jules – Being female in what is traditionally considered the domain of males is interesting. For most people it’s not a problem, but for others my mere presence somehow cheapens the importance of their interest. Especially in sports culture, women have long been passively set to the sidelines as casual observers. Time and time again we’ve been told that we don’t understand the game, and football matches are often considered a perfect time for boyfriends and husbands to tell the ladies to go shopping. Those old standards don’t hold true anymore. All one has to do is look on Twitter to see that it’s changing. There are tons of female fans, and it’s a good thing.

There is the immediate assumption that if a female is a fan, she’s only there because she thinks the players are hot or is trying to win over a guy. I don’t really understand this argument as all of us have eyes. We can all see that someone is conventionally attractive.  Just because I might find a player handsome, doesn’t mean I rate him as a player if he doesn’t perform on the pitch.  The argument about shallow fangirls who only like the looks is annoying since from the Olympics of Ancient Greece, the athletic form has been revered by our culture. The ESPN Magazine Body issue continues that celebration. Furthermore, there is distinctly a difference between a women who fakes an interest in sports to attract a guy, and women who are fans. The unwillingness to note those distinctions and place all females in one category doesn’t address the personality variance that occurs across genders. There will obviously be fakes who are there for the eye candy, but they aren’t the female fans who watch all the matches, and fret over injury lists. It’s offensive to be considered vapid and ignorant just because I’m female.

Any memories that you would like to share, be it Arsenal-related or more general?

Kajal – Highbury was a special experience that I never fail to want to relive. The magic of attending your first match and have the coach pull up outside and Mr Wenger standing less than six feet away from you is something pretty indescribable. That’s something I miss at Ashburton Grove, it feels like the players are now too exclusive for their own good and your only chance of seeing your heroes off the pitch is if you wait long enough for them to drive out – and that’s if their chosen car that day doesn’t have blacked out windows.

Sandra – Two of the worst encounters I’ve ever had was in England – involving a couple of Spurs fans and one Stoke fan. All three treated me and my two female friends appallingly. With the Spuds it was outside White Hart Lane; with the Stoke fan it was in a pub watching an AFC-United game. They said we should go back home and start cooking, we don’t know shit about football, we’re ruining the game, etc.  They were drunk of course.

Most of the time I’ve found men to be incredibly happy and impressed that they’ve found a woman who knows the game and loves it as much as they do. But there are always a few who feel like we’re intruding into their space just by being at a game or at a pub watching it with them. Most men I find are also tolerant when we express sentimental attachment or physical attraction to players. That’s been my experience, anyway.

The one thing I’ve always had some trouble dealing with in football being around drunk men. Wherever I’ve gone, very very few women are drunk and a lot of men aren’t but a lot of men always are. Especially in England and the UK generally – it’s a massive drinking culture there. And I’m not much of a drinker (this always was a topic of jokes in my time in England). It’s not a moral issue with me, nothing like that. I just don’t drink a lot. I don’t mind a little now and then but it’s just not a big part of my consumption habits. Over time I’ve gotten used to it and a lot of guys are perfectly funny and pleasant when they’re drunk. But it’s something I’ve never been crazy about. Never stopped me from attending games, though :-)

Jules – I spent Easter morning 2012 at a pub in Brooklyn, NY watching Arsenal play Manchester City. Initially I was the sole female there, and my husband playfully teased me about being the only girl in the pub. I ordered a cream ale and ignored him. It was nearly match time, and all I could think about was how it was a must win match for the Gunners. Many a weekend morning has been spent watching matches with the boys. It’s amazing how the moment you prove yourself as knowledgeable the anti-girls attitude pretty much disappears. It’s not much different than the experience a new guy in a circle of soccer fans would find. You have to size people up and determine how much they know, which really isn’t different from any other interest on the planet. I don’t have any problem with that as I can hold my own, but I distinctly have been questioned about my knowledge of football spanning from the offsides rule to how I believe Messi would fare in a cold wet night at Stoke. I’d really like to see that match.

A big thank you to Kajal, Sandra and Jules for their contributions and insights. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s finale where Mimsie will share her experiences and thoughts

Jules’ blog can be found in it’s entirety here

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Comments
  1. Jules says:

    This was really interesting. I’m glad to have been a part of this. xx

  2. Sandra says:

    goodness, I didn’t have any idea how my comments (and the entire blog, incl part 1) would come out – this was a great read!! Quite honored to have been a part of this. Thank you so much for including me. Enjoyed both parts.

  3. mimsicality says:

    BRILLIANT and such an important read. All you ladies inspire me. And thank you, Jess, for putting this together.

  4. Naveta Magar says:

    I absolutely am in awe of this site. totally gonna have to add this to the list.

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