This is a guest post from Geo July, who is a LaDIYfest organiser.
This post was originally written in summer 2014, but I got self-conscious (cos patriarchy innit) and didn’t publish it. Also, the whole Ched Evans shitstorm hadn’t reached Peak Silage at that point, and when it did I was a bit reluctant to write about football – even to think about it, frankly. There’s a lot more I could say here: about football operating as a self-enclosed masculine fantasy, about watching football with a man who has obvious disabilities, about the form of comradeliness you find playing team sports, about the notion of being ‘sportsmanlike’ – but they’ll have to wait for another time.
I started playing football recently. With some friends, mainly boys, some girls, in a local park. This post is about doing that; about inhabiting what is undoubtedly, even in the world that I move in, the most man-dominated space I’ve been involved in. I thought that I might write a bit about this, because I’ve seen a lot recently about other male dominated-environments – hardcore punk, the music scene more generally, antifa groups, the left in general, cycling – but I’ve not seen anything about football.
So: the first thing I notice is that, with the possible exception of cycling, football is by far the most *visible* world of this kind that I’ve ever participated in. Unless you and your mates are pretty serious, prepared to spend money, and to commit to playing two or three times a week, you play in a park. In public. You walk down there in your jogging bottoms and your trainers or, if you’ve got a bit more serious, your football boots. You realise that even though you’re a committed feminist, you don’t shave your legs, you post about fat-activism on the internet – you can’t remember the last time you went outside without thinking about what you looked like. You’re thinking about it now. Intently. And you can’t shake the feeling, even though you’re trying with all your might – that everyone else is too, and not in a good way.
This feeling is quadrupled when you actually start playing. You’re not very good. You know that, and so do all your team-mates. Even when you’re playing with a group of dudes who largely identify as feminists, who are all delighted that you’re playing, who are all rooting for you from start to finish, you know that you’re not very good. You’re not very good because you didn’t spend every lunchtime, or a few afternoons a week, or even once in a while when everyone else was – kicking a ball about to pass the time. It never once, ever in all the years of childhood and adolescence, occurred to you that you could stand in the middle of a field with a football and say ‘This is mine. I am playing here.’ Not once. So you didn’t play, ever, and you didn’t learn.
And, miraculously, you learn not to care that much. You learn to stop apologising every time you fumble the ball, every time you make a dud pass, every time you let an open goal go to waste. You start to learn that other people make mistakes too. You learn that running into people doesn’t hurt them as much as you worry it will. You learn that being run into doesn’t hurt as much as it looks like it would either. You learn that it hurts for a few minutes, and then you stop caring. You learn that when you start to play football, your legs change shape – your thighs are thicker, the calves chunkier, more muscular. You trust that at some point you’ll stop caring about that, too. You learn not to care if every fucker walking past the pitch can see how poor your ball skills are.
But you can’t help but know that, because you’re the only girl on the pitch, it shows. You might not even be the worst player on the pitch (in fact, one of the ways you keep yourself playing is by pushing yourself to not be the worst person on the pitch) but you still know that any mistakes you make show three times as much. Even amongst people who you know full well passionately wished that they didn’t. Maybe especially amongst them, because you can feel them willing you to succeed, and maybe because people willing you to succeed makes you worse, not better. You don’t know yet if that feeling ever goes away, if you ever do get to a point where you can truly play a game of football and really, genuinely, feel that being a woman doesn’t matter. But you really really hope so. And you think more than anything else that the only way that can ever happen – if not for you then at least for your children, if you have any. At least for my cousin, who’s nine now and already neurotic about her weight, already neurotic about how her body looks to other people – is to keep fucking doing it. To keep going out there and making yourself visible, and learning not to care, and learning that this stuff is actually really *fun* – and to take those spaces back.