A Vital Step For Football Equality?

Over a decade ago now when Venus and Serena Williams were at their true dominant peak, the rest of the women’s tennis circuit had no answer to their power and athleticism, and tournament after tournament, they slowly dismantled all competition.

Then at 1998’s Australian Open, in a show of pretty brazen arrogance, both sisters decided to individually challenge a player from the men’s tour, and up stepped 203rd ranked Karsten Braasch.

Remember him? No me neither, but you can be sure the Williams sisters certainly do, as he easily dispatched first Serena 6 — 1, and then Venus 6 — 2, without barely breaking a sweat.

Fast forward three years and walking hairpiece Donald Trump offered up virtually a bounty of $1 million to John McEnroe, saying that the world wanted to see him, as perhaps the greatest player of his generation, take on Venus Williams who at the time was half his age at 20. Big Mac was insulted by the concept, saying: “I wouldn’t waste my breath. Many times people have asked me whether I’d play Venus Williams, Steffi Graf or Martina Navratilova. It’s not something that interests me. Sure, Venus Williams is a great woman player but…anyone who knows anything about tennis wouldn’t do that.” He went on to say that you’d never hear “Marion Jones saying she could beat Maurice Greene” in a sprint either, because the idea was absurd, before a month later making these somewhat infamous comments to the New Yorker magazine on the issue: “any good male college player could beat the Williams sisters, and so could any man on the seniors tour.”

This ongoing tennis debate is for a different time but how about applying the same logic to football? Would literally the world’s best female footballer struggle to make it in your average Sunday league? Apparently not, as last month Chelsea Blues women’s club have signed 29 year old American ‘soccer’ legend Lorrie Fair, to act as ambassador and coach, as well as playing full time for the club. Where did they pick up this fine filly from? Professional men’s club the San Francisco Glens, where she reportedly more than held her own with the boys. If you don’t take American football seriously, the Chelsea link was also brought about through her time with the Lyon women’s team, where she attracted the attention of current Chelsea stars Michael Essien and Florent Malouda, who were concurrently at the French club and overly impressed by her ability.

It begs the question of just how far she could’ve gone several years ago in her prime, had she first started at a men’s non-league club for example. While this kind of hypothesizing conjures up images of Lindsey Lohan tying her hair back and putting on a gruff male voice for some weak Hollywood teen comedy, it’s an interesting thought. In Britain especially, football is very much traditionally a man’s game; whether it’s being played hungover on a Sunday morning kicking chunks out of each other, or being watched down the pub on TV, leering at chesty barmaids and downing Stellas.

Is the only thing holding women footballers back from recognition the sheer fact that they are women? There seem to be no physical obstacles other than potential muscular build, but someone of the size of, say Aaron Lennon, is no bigger or heavier than many athletic women. In terms of fitness, women can run just as long and as hard as men, and in terms of ball skills and balance, surely if anything, women are naturally blessed with superior flexibility and precision? It’s almost as if we, as men, are scared to be undermined at what is essentially one of our last bastions of masculinity. Football is a fortress of solitude to many around the country and try as they might, women will just never break into it, regardless of actual ability. For a man to openly respect a women’s football skill or even knowledge would be to surrender the post and declare himself a traitor to his gender.

To further underline the point, here are some closing comments from late last year, out of the mouth of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, expressing his opinion that the only way the general public in Europe will ever be interested in women’s football is if the players all start wearing tighter shirts and short-shorts. “Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball,” said the big cheese, “they could, for example, have tighter shorts…female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men – such as playing with a lighter ball…that decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?” After dropping this bombshell, Blatter’s eyes seemed to have glazed over somewhat, and as the room was hurridly emptied by security, he wondered out loud if it was possible to get enough KY jelly to cover a full size pitch for the girls to play on…

Written by Gavin of Sniffing the Touchline – your number one stop for football conjecture, mascot hi-jinks and general WAG stalking.

Editor’s Note: Also see our previous feature on CoEd Soccer as well as our slightly humorous works, “WARNING! Playing football with women can make you horny” and “What if football clubs were women?

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  1. Antimanu 21 February, 2008
  2. Graham Fisher 21 February, 2008
  3. russ wilkinson 23 February, 2008