Football for all?
As a sports enthusiast and aspiring journalist, I have attended countless games ranging from baseball to hockey, professional to little league. During my stay in London, I was determined to investigate the sport everyone in the world but us Americans seems to adore: football. Our version of football — soccer — has been popular among children and teens as AYSO youth soccer seems to be a rite of passage for many urban dwellers. However, interest in soccer often diminishes after high school, which is reflected in the popularity of professional soccer and its abysmal TV ratings. When I was 14, I had the pleasure of attending a Chicago Fire game and it was the most subdued professional sports game I have ever experienced. So, with my uncle being an Arsenal Football Club fanatic, I asked him if he could score us a couple of tickets. He followed through and I recently attended my first English football game. As I stepped off the train at Holloway Station, the atmosphere became infectious, with hoards of people heading into Emirates Stadium.
While the stadium looks similar to any other major sporting venue, the inside revealed its true British heritage. Signs that read “meat pies” and, most shockingly, “bets” were ample throughout the concourse. As the players began to line up on the field, my family told me that drinking is banned within the stands. I inquired as to why this rule existed, for I found it bizarre that the team wouldn’t want to capitalize off their thirsty fan base. My cousin cited the Sports Events Act and stated that due to past hooliganism, it was easier for football to ban it altogether, as they felt it encouraged fans to drink excessively and, subsequently, throw those drinks.
Once the ball was in play, Arsenal fans began hollering as if their livelihood depended on the outcome. I looked around searching for a fan of the opposing team, only to realize they were given their own section, in the corner of the stadium, surrounded by security guards in orange vests. Football fans did not play around. As a sports enthusiast, I relish in the passion of fans, and Arsenal fans had loads of passion to spare. However, as the game went on, I understood all that passion entailed. Southampton etched a 1-0 lead over Arsenal, and fans quickly got vocal with their disdain toward their rivals. This is when the chanting began. While I have been exposed to expletives being shouted at games, their choice words were certainly not suitable for children. As the game wore on the chants got more creative, with one fan shouting, “Your dad’s a woman!” My two female cousins sat beside me, rolling their eyes. One of them leaned over to ask me, “Now do you see why we haven’t come to a game in five years?”
This issue has been ongoing in English football, with The Guardian and BBC reporting on sexist slurs during matches, many of which are not only directed towards opposing players, but female club doctors, journalists, and cheerleaders. Observing the crowd, it became evident that many women must be painfully aware of this fact, as I crudely estimated it to be about 75 percent male and 25 percent female. I thought back to the banning of alcohol in the stands, imagining how much worse the slurs must have been mixed when the two were mixed. The men shouting them didn’t seem to pay any mind that they had three women sitting in front of them, but then again, we did not confront them with it, either.
As the game grew to an end, with a score of 2-0, fans began to bang on a makeshift steal drum and screamed as though Arsenal wasn’t about to lose in two minutes. I loved the raucous crowd that made me feel as though I was at a high stakes game, rather than a match played by their second and third string. It was truly unlike any other sports event in the United States, yet, so was the sexism. While we have our own issues in combatting sexism in sports, it truly seemed to be flourishing in English football. While I wholeheartedly enjoyed the experience and will certainly be back for more, my socially conscious side understood why many women abstain from attending matches, as sexist slurs are altogether unchecked by any officials or stadium workers.
In the end, my opinion is that if you’re a sports fan studying in London, you have to go to a game, no doubt about it. It is vastly different than any other Chicago sports game I’ve witnessed. But with that being said, brace yourself for the inner conflict it will ignite within you.
Lucy Teruel is a junior majoring in communications and minoring in political science. Born and raised on the North Side of Chicago, Lucy loves music, French, shopping, going to the gym and traveling. She’s also an avid sports fan with a particular penchant for the Chicago Cubs. She hopes to one day become a sportscaster, so don’t be surprised if you catch her on the nightly news a few years from now.