Five Lessons Goalkeeping Taught Me As a Female Football Fan

The first time I had to go in goals as an adult was at a futsal tournament with my university team and I was too hungover to run, so after 20 minutes I told my coach that I needed to go in goals or I would not make it. Which ended up being quite the successful initiative, and as my new team were looking for a goalkeeper I volunteered. One year into this journey I am loving my new position and enjoying myself thoroughly.

Along the way, I have evolved so much, obviously as a player, going from playing as a left wing for the better part of a decade to going in between the sticks, but also as a person and a female football fan. I was opened up to a whole new perspective, being positioned at the end of the pitch, and it forced me to view the game and my role in it in a totally different way. That, in turn, opened up to new views on my life, my fandom and my role in it, as well as how I want to practice it going forward.

The lessons that I’ve taken from goalkeeping are applicable in the game as well as in life:

1. Don’t Be Afraid

Fear limits you! This is the first rule, which is very applicable to the goalkeeper life (I mean, you are voluntarily stepping in as the last person between the striker and the goal) but it’s also a fundamental realisation that has huge impact on your life. I used to be so afraid; afraid of doing anything wrong, being wrong, fucking up – but what you have to realise is this: as a goalkeeper you are going to make mistakes and let in goals. Fact is, you’ll probably let in more goals than you keep out, and you have to be okay with that, it’s just part of it and you’ll learn from every mistake in order to be able to keep more goals out.

Same goes for life, where many people stay in their comfort zones and rarely makes mistakes. It’s comfortable but that’s not where the magic happens. What if I’d been too afraid to devote myself to Tottenham, my football team, because I was put off by the scrutiny present in the football community?

2. Be Demanding

As the person furthest back on the pitch, you have a unique view that no one else as, and you have to use that to help your team and guide your defence, who do not have the same advantage as you. That means that sometimes you will have to be very demanding and steer them to where you need them to be, which in turn means that you have to trust yourself to have the view and the skills necessary for it.

Also in life, you have to take command of your own ship and demand more of yourself, trusting yourself to know what is best for you. That includes knowing that you belong in a space (for example, a pub or a football stadium) even when the people around you make you feel otherwise.

3. Ask For It

This one is vital. In order to get anything you want – that promotion at work, the cute person you’ve been eyeing for a while, or the ball in the game, you’re gonna have to ask for it. In order to receive the ball in a position where you know that you can do something with it, where you set the tone, you’re going to have to ask your teammates to pass it to you. That way you take charge of the game, and the same rules apply to anything that you want – no one is just going to hand it to you. It’s yours for the taking!

4. Take Up Space

If you take up more physical space in the goal, the goal shrinks and significantly minimises the target for the striker trying to score on you. It makes a lot of sense when you look at it from the striker’s point of view, but when you’re in that goal it can feel counterintuitive to charge out towards a player that is running towards you full speed with the ball, but that’s what you have to do. Same in life, it can really scary, but it’s difficult to give opportunities to people that you do not know are there because they’re not taking up any space.

Note, it’s not just about taking up the space – you have to believe that you’re allowed to actually take up the space, and that you’re not just there because of luck or because someone wanted to be kind to you. The notion of being allowed to take up space is a belief that is hard for women, in my experience. I certainly struggle with it a lot. As women, we’re taught, from a young age, that ‘girls sit down and obey’ whereas the boys are rowdy and taking up space. Well, it’s time to change that and as adults we can lead by example.#GetBig as Karen Bardsley always says.

5. Use Your Voice

Your defence won’t know what it is that you want or need from them if you do not tell them. It’s worth repeating: as the goalkeeper you have the most special view on the pitch. There will be times when you’ll come from behind and your defenders won’t see you and you’re all just so focused on clearing the ball that, without the communication, it’ll most likely turn into a big mess.

It is equally as important to use your voice in life because you have a unique take on life just like everyone else, and you have to learn to speak up, for others but most of all for yourself. Especially in my fandom this has been a useful tool to gain, as I’ve come to understand that few people are willing to speak up for female football fans, in general in the media, but also when you’re in the pub/at the stadium alone. And nowadays there are so many amazing female football collectives and fans emerging, and recommending people to follow them is a great use of the voice, for example.

Also, remember to be kind, to yourself and to others, it goes a long way. And don’t compare your chapter three to someone else’s chapter 20.

13 Things Female Football Fans Don’t Have To Do

This list aims to highlight the (often invisible) pressures that female football fans have on them, especially when out in male-dominated football contexts in public. I mean, I have lived in Sweden, Germany, Spain and the UK, all football-crazy countries, and in every single place I’ve been, I can attest to having had to go through all of the following when at the stadium or in a pub watching.

As a female football fan, I don’t have to …

1. Look a certain way

Under absolutely no circumstances do I have to fit into your narrow expectations of what a female football fan should look like – you only need to google “female football fans” to get the idea. My fandom is not there for you to have something to rest the eyes on. However, it is also totally fine if I want to wear my football shirt tight and wear makeup. I’m still not there to appeal to your male gaze.

2. Drink beer

Or any alcohol really. Or let me just walk off with my Martini in peace. The point is – just because beer is the (not so) original go-to choice for literally every single man seated in front of a football game, doesn’t mean that I have to have that. And no, you really don’t need to point it out.

IMG_1579

When I had just moved to Germany and supported my host-country as they won the (men’s) World Cup

 

3. Wear a football top

I might’ve come straight from work and not brought the shirt, or my favourite shirt might be in the wash. Or, frankly, I might not own one, maybe I can’t afford it. Regardless, having a football shirt is not a badge of honour that shows you that I “get it”, neither is it something that I wear for the sole purpose of showing you that I get it.

4. Know everything about the team

Just because I have declared myself a fan of a team, it doesn’t mean that I am caught up in the ins and outs of the club. Heck, I might’ve even missed that they’re playing today. Life happens and it’s not always easy to balance.

5. Accept you (man) popping up and starting to quiz me about the team

One more time for the people in the back: just because I have declared myself a fan of a team, it does not mean that I’m required to know everything there is to know about it. And it is absolutely not your place to feel free to start quizzing me about various historical moments of the club, having me prove to you that I know my stuff as if being a fan of the club required certain entry-level knowledge – only female fans mind.

6. Prove to you that I actually understand tactics (not to mention the offside rule …)

Furthermore, my knowledge of tactics (or lack thereof) is none of your business.

7. Be able to recount players from all the top leagues

It can be quite intimidating when the names start to hail down around you and you’re expected to keep up, only to fail miserably or feel like you’re constantly on your toes.

8. Explain why I love my team

The story is getting old by now, how I found my team and fell in love and the reasons behind it. If anything it feels like people (who am I kidding: men) need further justification from me on how on earth I managed to find a team that I like, and are you sure that it’s not because of that hot player?

9. Tell the story about how I got into football

Yes, I’m a woman who loves football. No, it was not my dad who got me into it. There are several entryways into the football world, I’m just saying that it doesn’t have to be a man that was the catalyst.

10. Talk to you at all really …

… even though I like football and have chosen to watch it in a pub or at the stadium. I know that I’ve chosen to watch this game out in public, however, that is not so that you can feel free to strike up a conversation with me, questioning my legitimacy as a football fan. Respect my boundaries.

IMG_8370
 

Getting to know the area in Glasgow

 

11. Sit quiet and accept the ref’s decision

Women are conditioned to sit back and be quiet and well-behaved, but those days are over and it’s time to claim that space, the rowdy, upset and passionate space that football fans find themselves in all too often.

12. Educate you about women’s football

Heck, why do I have to know anything about women’s football just because I’m a woman? Now, personally, I happen to like women’s football and I know many women that do, and to a certain extent I can understand where one would draw some logical parallels like women supporting women and that, but we’re all grown up in a society that is not supportive of women’s football and that has taught us that it’s far inferior to men’s football, this is not just a view of men. And it’s something that we just have to work on changing (with so many positive changes in the air right now!!!), but it drives me nuts sometimes when a woman is assumed to be an expert on women’s football based on the sole fact that she’s a woman interested in football.

13. Accommodate your uncomfortableness

Now, maybe you haven’t been around too many female football fans, which is fine. However, it’s not on me to make you feel better after an awkward encounter that ended in you making sexist remarks/assumptions and interrupting my football experience.

Can you relate to any of these points, and how did that make you feel? Share in the comment section below!