Returning

Here I am again.

It’s been a few months, I’ll admit, and I’ve been thinking a lot about this space and about my writing practice.

September was rough, as the stars had a lot of things in store for us. There’s also been quite a comedown from the World Cup to adjust to, as well as the leagues kicking back up. Furthermore, it can be difficult to write, especially about sports, when working through anxiety or battling depression. If you’re a Tottenham fan right now, it tends to be even worse.

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But I think that there is also a certain assurance to be found in creating that space, (for me) this space. As someone that needs to write to keep sane, and in order to understand the world around me.

I bear no illusion that much of anything I put out makes a whole lot of sense or resonates with people, but you know what? That’s okay. People, myself included, have become so entrenched in the idea that we should be able to monetise off of everything we create, to the point where the potential of money has become the primary reason to create. We’re extremely hard on ourselves too, holding ourselves to ridiculous standards. No more. I’m re-claiming this little corner of the Internet as my own.

Much like Tottenham current form, there’s not a lot of things that are vibing at the moment. But it will, and I’m just gonna have to write through it.

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Survival Guide: When Your Partner Is Not Into Football

My mother always asked me what I would do if I fell in love with someone who was not interested in football. I always waved her off, “pfft, it’s not possible”, yet here we are 10 years later and I’ve been happily coupled up with my non-football-fan for three years now. It’s funny how that works sometimes, as I’m sure I was not the only football-mad teenager who saw myself in a relationship looking a bit like this, having worshipped the likes of Bend It Like Beckham (watched on the plane the other week and cried like a baby, it’s still such a good movie) and She’s The Man. Unfortunately, all the examples used are picturing heterosexual romantic relationships which is far from actual reality, but that’s what was available in the 2000s.

There are both positives and negatives when it comes to the partner (or another close person in your life, like a best friend) not sharing your biggest passion and, for some of us, work. In the list below you can find a wee potpourri of different advice that can be good to keep close on days when you feel misunderstood or things are getting messed up and you’re frustrated – “uuugh, they should’ve known not to book XYZ for the same night as that important game.” We’ve all been there, and sometimes it can be hard to remember that not everyone’s world revolves around game days, silly season and everything in between that you choose to include in your football fandom.

  • Look at it from the bright side: you are relieved of any bickering with your significant other about which team is the best, instead, you can just force your team upon them.
  • Take charge of all holiday booking from now on. Otherwise, you might end up with catastrophes like your other half having booked your flight to Barcelona on the NIGHT OF THE MEN’S WORLD CUP FINAL.
Watching the World Cup final 2018 at the airport
We managed quite a sweet set-up after all …
  • In fact, this gives you another upper hand, as you can sneakily suggest vacation places that coincide with a big game/stadium you want to visit …
  • To make life easier, you should keep a shared calendar, or print out a match schedule that will cover all of the must-see games for the next few months. That way they can’t book in dinners/pub rounds/trips if they haven’t consulted the schedule – and if they still do, it is actually their fault.
  • Communication is key, a cornerstone in any relationship but still worth mentioning, as sometimes it’s easy to forget about something as simple as putting words to your feelings. Let them in on what your feeling after that player transferred to the rival club or your team suffered a really terrible loss. Your person has passions too and can understand what it feels like to really care about something. Which leads us onto the next point …
  • Find their football-equivalent. For example, my partner plays the guitar and performs occasionally, and guess who’s always on the first row? Just because there’s a whole culture around football, and it tends to take up a lot of space/interest, doesn’t mean that people cannot be equally passionate about other things. This is important to remember, and if you want your partner to occasionally engage with/understand your football fandom, you need to show them the same courtesy regarding what they’re really into.
  • It’s easier to engage people during the World Cups, Euros and Copa America, simply because a lot more people find it more tangible to relate to a country rather than a club.
Strike a pose!
For carnival, we were dressed as the qualifying game between Sweden – Italy
  • Write a little guideline book that summarises things such as rules, a short history of the game, which team to cheer for (yours, obviously) as a way to invite them in. In many cases the people who claim that they “don’t get it” are not really disinterested, it’s just that they have never been allowed a “safe” entryway into the game (for example an environment where they feel safe to ask questions without fear of being ridiculed #ReleaseYourInnerBadFootballFan)
  • Remember – it’s all about balance. It can actually be very healthy to be with someone that is not invested in football, as they can offer much-needed switch-off time, something that is vital in today’s ever-faster spinning world. As frustrating as it can be when others can be all in and you’re feeling I want to as well, it many times also makes you really good at appreciating everything, and it gives you different perspectives.
Me and my boyfriend celebrating Tottenham's Champions League win over Ajax
In the midst of realising what just happened and celebrating the hardest I ever have

I hope that this wee survival guide is able to offer you some perspective on sharing life together with someone that is not necessarily that into football. In fact, I would go against my younger self, who couldn’t believe that there was anything other than a day-to-day life with someone who’s as mad about football like me, and say that life is BETTER together with someone that is not a mad hatter about people kicking a ball around. It allows me a place and a pair of arms to come home to, that is not going to ask me about how the London derby went.

Image featured at the top is by Moazzam Brohi.

Sweden Next To Demand Equal Pay

“I thought that Sweden already was equal!” Around the globe, Sweden is often portrayed as the sanctuary of equality, it’s a country that everyone looks up to and there is often a feeling of Sweden, due to other countries falling short, is infallible in these areas.

You thought wrong, pal.

Yes, a lot of things are good and really advanced in the countries of the north, like societal structures regarding health care, education etc. As a young girl, there are often options to play and the players in the top women’s league do get paid in Sweden (albeit very little and they still have to have studies or a job on the side.) A historic moment came in 2018 as Norway started paying their male and female national teams the same amount of money.

But I think a lot of people still don’t understand the reason why Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg did not play for Norway at the World Cup this summer.

every generation of players has had their fights to take, regarding everything from training times, material, lost earnings, broadcasting times etc. and now salaries and compensation. Previous generations have achieved amazing results on the pitch but never received any economic compensation worth the name

Just because a lot of things might be better in the Scandinavian countries, or sound better on paper, doesn’t mean that it is actually good, or that there is no room for improvement. Yes, equal pay for the Norwegian national teams is great, and it goes a long way. But the Lyon-striker chose not to play for her country because there are still things that need to be developed, like the way that the athletes are being treated, and she felt like she was being held back in the team. Kosovare Asllani has expressed similar concerns regarding the professionality and level of the Swedish top league Damallsvenskan, and the midfielder should know, having played in both England and France. Euro 2017 silver-medalists Denmark had to go on a strike only months after having placed second at the Euros when the Danish football association failed to present them with an improved collective agreement, as the players amongst other things were asking for – you guessed it – better pay.

The Swedish women’s national team just returned from France where they claimed a bronze medal after a fantastic run in the tournament, and they were greeted by thousands of people in Gothenburg where they were all celebrating together. But once the celebrations died down, questions remained. Just a few days ago, the Swedish football association was reported to the Equality Ombudsman, accused of discriminating against the Swedish women’s national team based on gender, which was followed up two days ago by an open letter, signed by over 50 female players, former national team and elite players, that have been representing Sweden (or been close to) since the ’70s onwards. In the letter, they’re demanding equal treatment and equal pay for the same amount of work, arguing that every generation of players has had their fights to take, “regarding everything from training times, material, lost earnings, broadcasting times etc. and now salaries and compensation. Previous generations have achieved amazing results on the pitch but never received any economic compensation worth the name.” And although these players have hung up their boots, they want to continue the fight for the national team of today.

Sweden women's national team
The Swedish team gives thanks to their unwavering support. Source

They’re defusing the old argument that “the men generate more revenue than women”, simply stating that “if the men’s team now generates so much more off of their games, then that’s good for Swedish football as a whole, right?” According to the letter, the FA are pitting the compensation for the men’s against the women’s, meaning that in order to increase the compensation for the women, they would have to decrease the compensation for the men, ultimately putting the male and female players against each other.

The Swedish FA has refused to go out with any numbers regarding the contracts and the compensation that the men’s and the women’s teams are receiving, shutting down like clams and only referring to the contracts being classified. The answer received from the football governing body on the matter is simply that they perceive their division of compensation to be “fair“.

Although one could argue that the absence of numbers speaks loud and clear for them.

Looking at the way that the two Swedish teams have performed historically, the women’s team has done a lot better than the men’s team. In a mere eight World Cups (for which they’ve qualified to every single one) they’ve gotten four medals, whereas the men’s team has qualified to 12 out of 21 editions, and has three medals to show for it. And let’s not even start on the Euros, where the women have one gold medal, three silver and one bronze, and the men have won … nothing.

This is a similar story to the one of the US women’s national team, who sued their employer US Soccer Federation earlier this year over gender discrimination and then went and won their fourth World Cup (so, you know, a few more gold medals than the Swedish team but, the point is clear), further underlining how superior they are to the US men’s national team who despite this get paid a lot more.

We have yet to see what will happen in each of these cases, but one thing is clear. Equal pay might not solve all of the equality issues in the world, but it would give the patriarchy a kick in the balls.

Quotes are from the open letter published in Expressen, translated by me.

Redefining What It Means To Be a Star

Me getting into goalkeeping is sort of an oddball story, and I would lie if I said that being a goalkeeper has ever been a dream of mine. It hasn’t. Like most kids I wanted to be up the field where things were happening, dribbling away, hitting those longballs into the box or being the one that finished them. Not be the one that has to stay behind and watch, to then have everything hinge on you if the opposition break through the defence. There’s an attitude around goalkeepers from a young age, they’re usually perceived to be the most unfit and least talented players on any team, and being forced to go in goal was a pain, every time. Well, that’s until this summer happened.

They’ve proved that it is most definitely not the unfit and less talented players that go in goals, nor that women need smaller goals

This year the goalkeepers in the World Cup have risen to the occasion and showed the world exactly what a goalkeeper is, in 24 different editions. They’ve proved that it is most definitely not the unfit and less talented players that go in goals, nor that women need smaller goals (it is a healthy discussion nonetheless). They’ve redefined what it means to be a star player, proving that ‘boring’ defensive players can pull off exhilarating moves. There’s been a lot of new influence to adhere to in this tournament, not the least the introduction of VAR (which was being used for the first time ever in a women’s game with no previous test-tournaments being held) which put a lot more pressure on the goalkeepers and whipped up a huge penalty controversy. The rules state that the goalkeeper needs to keep at least one foot on the line when the penalty is being taken, which has always been the case. But with the introduction of VAR, it’s become easier to examine the extent to which the goalkeeper abides by the rule, and even an inch off the line means that the goalkeeper gets a yellow card and the penalty is retaken.

This happened several times during the group stages and proceeding into the knockout rounds, the International Football Association Board and FIFA decided to change the rules, and that there would be no cards given if there’s an encroachment by a goalkeeper in a penalty shootout (as you’re not allowed to make substitutes at that time and can, therefore, be left with no keeper), but that the rule still stands in normal time. IFAB states that they still: “fully supports goalkeepers being penalized for not conforming with the Laws of the Game and gaining an unfair advantage.”

It is very debatable whether a goalkeeper gets that much of an unfair advantage going one inch off their line facing a penalty, like one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Hope Solo, argues. It’s also funny talking about unfair advantages for the goalkeeper in penalty circumstances, considering that the shooter has a lot (like, a lot) more advantage.

Still from video with Glasgow City
Watching aspiring goalies over at the Glasgow City practice. See whole video here

But all the controversies aside, it’s just been so fantastic seeing goalkeepers getting so much attention, and a lot of good press. We’ve had the privilege to see close-up saves, top-corner saves, penalty saves, reflex saves and countless others. We’ve seen Nigeria’s Chiamaka Nnadozie, 18 years old and still a teenager, step up between those posts, as we’ve seen 39-year-old Ingrid Hjelmseth do the same for Norway, both of them putting in superb performances. We’ve seen Vanina Correa, the 35-year-old who had retired from football in 2012 after appearing for Argentina in the 2007 and 2011 World Cups but returned six years later on the request of manager Carlos Borellos, to go on and help Argentina secure their first-ever point at the World Cup, with their draw against Japan. She also gave birth to twins during her time off. Chile’s Christiane Endler was widely accoladed as the best female goalkeeper in the world and she pulled off some absolutely stunning saves, silencing everyone.

Hedvig Lindahl makes a magic penalty save
Hedvig Lindahl – not all heroes wear capes

Hedvig Lindahl showed why she’s still an integral part of the Swedish national team, her crucial and spotless penalty save against Canada being a complete masterpiece. Scotland’s Lee Alexander had a great tournament and did a great job saving a crucial penalty against Argentina in their last group stage game, only to have it retaken and receiving a yellow card for having been one inch off the line. England saw two of their keepers, Karen Bardsley and Carly Telford, both have big games and manager Phil Neville chose to rotate in the group stages, only to be forced to go with second-choice Telford for the semifinal and the third-place match, as Bardsley injured her hamstring. Finalists Netherlands saw their keeper, Sari van Veenendaal, who’d been a doubt for first-choice before the tournament kicked off, have an amazing time and she was awarded the Golden Glove for her performance throughout the tournament.

Thank you for your tireless work that is so unthankful so many times, for all the hours put into self-improvement on and off the pitch, away from all the fancy shot-stopping and all the superman saves, with so few resources available to you

Seeing goalkeepers take centre stage just makes me down-to-my-core happy. For me, finding goalkeeping after over 10 years in the game has been so liberating, it’s like being set free when I’m in between those sticks. I can enjoy playing football again, and with my Capricorn personality, I’m striving when I get to work hard and commit to the practice which has brought me so much in terms of confidence, joy and strength, physical and mental, even as I’m not a ‘promising teenage talent’.

So thank you, goalkeepers of the World Cup 2019, as well as the rest of you out there working away on yourselves at this moment. Thank you for your tireless work that is so unthankful so many times, for all the hours put into self-improvement on and off the pitch, away from all the fancy shot-stopping and all the superman saves, with so few resources available to you. Behind that is a lot of willpower and a wish to do better but also just a huge love for the game. With your dedication, you are not only paving the way for our future goalkeepers but you’re also giving current goalkeepers hope and inspiration.

Issues Of a Minimalist: Keeping Up With Consumerism In Football

In the football world, we’re constantly reminded of how much everyone wants us to spend. The clubs themselves spend obscene amounts of money to buy top players, that they then pay crazy wages in order for them to play. The players themselves oftentimes have very luxurious, spending lifestyles that are impossible to avoid if you happen to follow them on social media. Clubs also need to invest to build new stadiums, or expand their stadiums, for their teams to play in, (taking on sponsors that they plaster everywhere in an often not so good looking way in order to be able to finance it), and it’s all a hamster wheel, in order to keep up clubs need to spend more and more each year, and the spending charts and transfer records break each year (except for at Tottenham #Minimalists).

The excessive spending doesn’t stop with the multi-million-pound companies/clubs on the football market though, as the football world puts increasing pressure on the everyday football fan to spend more and more as the years go by. To keep up, if you’re a local of your club you should really have a season ticket (which are outrageously priced in the men’s game in England, somewhat better in the likes of Germany but still a big cost) and if you can’t, you should at least be able to go to as many games as possible, which holds true even if you’re not a local – the ‘real’ fans take the time and the costs to travel to see their team. If it’s really too far to travel to see the team often, there is the expectation that you should still watch all of the games, which would require a subscription to a broadcast service, something that does not come by cheap. Even if you’re only watching it at the pub, you’ll need to consume something there in order to be allowed to stay and watch the game.

Football shirt collection
My football shirt collection is not that extensive …

There’s also the expectation that you keep up with the latest match kit, shirts that range from £70-90. No matter if you’re a kid or an adult, something that can seem quite trivial, like having a match shirt from your team, becomes painfully vital in the exercising of one’s fandom. It’s a rite of passage of sorts. Then comes things like scarves, t-shirts, key rings, phone cases, books, and other quirky things that can further emphasise what a fan you are. And it’s not as if you can get away with having only one shirt either, most football fans have a minor collection of different shirts, both past and present.

Everything in football is geared towards consumption. This whole consumerism focus feeds into the idea of ‘true fans’ and only being able to uphold this image if you can commit financially. That also means that it’s easy to buy yourself into perceived ‘fandom’ if all it requires is that you look like a fan from the outside. Which, in turn, takes away the whole beauty of fandom.

Instead, I became a minimalist.

It’s important to note that minimalism is not only a less materialistic lifestyle but a way of life that seeps into everything you do. Consumption does not only concern material things but also energy and focus, and it’s very important to be intentional with where your focus and energy goes.

I’ve not only started to consume way less in terms of material football things, like acquiring fewer shirts and read fewer football books, but I’ve also become more intentional with how much energy I put into football. Before I would spend a whole weekend watching game after game, Premier League, Bundesliga, throw in the occasional La Liga game too. I would keep myself updated on Twitter at the same time, and write to friends that were fans of the teams playing and we would exchange reactions of the game. Sometimes I would make a night of it, go out (with my Tottenham shirt on, of course) to the pub with a friend and interact with other fans. All of this, for an introvert like me, takes a lot of energy, but I think it would be draining for anyone in the long run.

Now, what I do is simply choose. I choose which games to invest myself in, I choose to limit my time on social media, I choose not to vent with my friends about every single game and the pub nights are few and far between. I forgive myself for not being a devoted “enough” football fan that watches all games, keeps track of the whole transfer market and can recite what tactics the coach should use for XYZ. When I was in Paris and Lyon for the Women’s World Cup, for example, there were many temptations. Everyone knows how many beautiful football shirts were released ahead of this World Cup, and I allowed myself to get one – of course, I got the France shirt with the hexagon dots (drool!) but made sure to get it online, so as not to get stuck in the Nike shop and come back out with a full bag.

France 2019 Away shirt
Outside of the France – USA game with the famous France shirt on

I also frequented the Copa90 Clubhouse quite a bit and they had a lot of beautiful merch that I wanted to get, as well as things for free like totes and stickers. Again, I restrained myself (well, I got a tote and a few stickers, okay!). This is just my personal situation: if you love Copa90, by all means, go crazy and get it all, but I knew that no matter how cool these t-shirts, shirts and caps looked, I wouldn’t use them enough for me to justify keeping them in my wardrobe. No matter if things are for free or you have to pay for them, it can be helpful to have a mental process, a checklist to go through. Retail therapy is very real and it can be good to know if you’re buying something because it will add value to your life, or because it looks cute and you’re in a funk. It’s also good to remind yourself that you are not valued as more or less of a fan because of what you have or don’t have.

Football is so much more than just a sport, for many of us it’s an integral part of our identity, and we all choose to practice and display our fandom in different ways. Some fans are like collectors, and what they have to show for their fandom is of the highest importance, and I get that. But the culture around consumption in football, the brands constantly pushing out more things for us to buy at higher and higher prices and the clubs that charge more and more for a game of football – it’s unsustainable and pushes a lot of people, that can’t afford to keep up this mad cycle, away from the game that ultimately originated amongst the working class. When you can’t afford to go to the games and can barely afford to watch them, then what are we left with?

I think that overcrowding our wardrobes, bedrooms, apartments, lives, putting ourselves in debt for a season ticket and feeding this consumption frenzy that is so ingrained in society, is a big contributor to why we never feel satisfied. I mean, look at all the money that Arsenal spends and they’re still playing Europa League on a regular basis.

When Women Support Women

“Now that I know about it I will be watching the Women’s World Cup.”

“Even though I’m not a football fan, I’ll still be watching the Women’s World Cup.”

These are the responses that echo back to us after we’ve grabbed random people on the streets of London and asked them to tell us about the Women’s World Cup. What is so noticeable is that while the men we managed to talk to were all football fans to some extent, and a lot of them knew that there was something going on this summer, not a single one of the women we met were fans, nor did they have a clue that there was going to be a Women’s World Cup on. But what was so remarkable was the fact that they all answered in similar ways, very openly admitting to not knowing anything about football to then go on, matter-of-factly, to say that they would follow it now that they knew about it.

WC interview collage Interview on the streets of London
HALFTIME LDN x BAD FOOTBALL FAN

This is the result of one day’s random questioning on the streets of London and in no way representative of anything that can be put in a journal. But in its randomness, there is a beauty to be found, the simple fact that all the women so naturally committed to watching the World Cup after learning about it, and I think that says a lot about women in this time and age, being so open to jump on board to support other women. It makes me very proud and happy.

You can check out the full video on my instagram @badfootballfan and over on @halftimeldn.

WC Countdown: Group F – Sweden

Onto the last team in the last group, which is Sweden! This is where I’m from so please excuse any potential bias. All jokes aside, this preview will wrap up my WWC Wednesdays, which I’ve taken so much pleasure in doing, and we’ll now be looking forward to an amazing month of football in France!

Sweden is a consistent contender at the World Cup, and haven’t missed a single tournament so far. They’ve always done quite well, but haven’t been very consistent. They’ve ended up with two bronze, one at the inaugural edition in China in 1991, as well as in Germany in 2011 and they’ve also hosted it once, in 1995. They struggled for good results at the last World Cup and the Euros 2017 wasn’t their year either, but they did grab a silver medal at the Olympics 2016, having beaten both the USA and Brazil on their way to the final against Germany.

Their qualification route to the World Cup was quite straightforward, and they won all of their matches except for a loss against Ukraine, but they beat Hungary, Croatia and Denmark to qualify for the tournament.

The Swedish team tends to play and exist in a very collective aura, meaning that they do not really have any players that stand out from the crowd as extraordinary, but their strength rather lies in the fact that they play well together, especially since the very unfortunate retirement of Lotta Schelin, one of the most outstanding forwards in Sweden but also in the rest of Europe. But even so, there are some cogs in the team worth mentioning. Stina Blackstenius is the young and energetic forward, with three goals in seven appearances during the qualifying, who was the top scorer in the U-19 World Cup four years ago and the only goalscorer in that quarterfinal victory against the US who also got a goal against Germany in the final. Other attacking players to keep an eye out for are Olivia Schough, Sofia Jacobsson, 21-year-old Julia Zigiotti-Olme and of course – Kosovare Asllani. Kosse, as she’s called, is the creative force that Sweden can rely on in the midfield, and she’s going to be an important source of goals.

Sweden women's national football team
Celebrating after beating Brazil at the Olympics, source

They also have a very strong defence, led by 34-year-old Nilla Fischer who still manages to perform on a consistently high level. Sweden only conceded twice in their qualifying and for her club, VFL Wolfsburg, she helped keep 15 clean sheets in the past season. Another rock in the Swedish defence is goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl. The 36-year-old is going to her fifth World Cup as the starting goalkeeper and it is thanks to her steady composure that Sweden can keep up their high-pressure playing style. She’s a good decision maker and her experience weighs very heavy here.

Peter Gerhardsson is the coach of the team since 2017 when he took over for Pia Sundhage. A former player himself, he represented several Swedish clubs playing as an attacker, before going into the role as a coach. He has previously managed several clubs, most notably BK Häcken, a male team in the top flight of Swedish football, for seven years before taking the job for the women’s national team. Gerhardsson seems to favour his team to play a 3-4-2-1, inviting that pressing style Sweden likes to play.

The Swedish squad played a few friendlies last autumn, notably beating England and Norway, but lost 0-1 to Italy. They also took part in the Algarve Cup in March, beating Switzerland but losing to Portugal and Canada which saw them end up in fourth place in the tournament. Their biggest clash in the group stages is without a doubt going to be against the US. The two teams have met on five occasions, which makes this game the most recurring one in the WC history, and Sweden won their last meeting as the two of them met in the quarterfinals of the Olympics in 2016. The Swedes beat them and Hope Solo went on a rant calling the team ‘cowards’.

That’s a wrap on the last team in the last group, and now all we have to do is wait for the whole thing to kick off! You can never count Sweden out, but undoubtedly a lot depends on what result they can get from their meeting with the Americans. Do you think the Swedes have what it takes? Let us know in the comment section!