Football's Coming Home: an unsuspecting WAG
"My girlfriend is currently rediscovering her love for electric blue football boots, 7-a-sides and 'kickabouts'”
I’ve never been into sports that require teams, balls or sticks. It’s not that I’m not athletic or that I don’t have team spirit; I love exercise and am always keen to get behind a cause, I just can’t seem to get myself geared up about goals or balls of any size, shape or form. And whether or not the ball ends up in the right place at the right time isn’t something that can draw my attention or motivate me to run around a muddy field on a rainy afternoon.
Educated at an all-girls school that decided the best way to get girls into PE was through zumba, expressive gymnastics and trampolining to Radio One’s top forty, meant that I’d never played hockey, or football, and, other than irregular bouts of netball, my school life had been devoid of sports that involved chasing, passing, dribbling (?) a ball. Growing up with two very femme lesbian mums and the girliest of older sisters meant that football rarely graced our television. The closest I ever got was probably Bend It Like Beckham and I’m pretty sure that the film only found its way into our house because of its barely concealed lesbian undercurrent, Keira Knightley's fantastic abs and her selection of crop tops. Until recently I’d managed to navigate twenty-three years of social interaction without needing to pay attention when Juliet Stevenson is taught the offside rule and I’d never heard the (supposedly) famous anthem of Football’s Coming Home.
But my girlfriend is currently rediscovering her love for electric blue football boots, 7-a-sides and “kickabouts”. Unbeknown to me she has always harboured a latent passion for footie. She currently plays for a non-binary and women’s football team in North London and British football culture is sneakily infiltrating my sheltered femme-centric upbringing. I’ve now stood at the edge of the football pitch on Clapham Common, blearily trying to work out which player is my girlfriend, and hide the fact that I repeatedly miss her goals because I’ve been watching a player that wasn’t her. I’ve listened to her match reports where sadly the team played “too deep” and witnessed the squad shout the epithet #oneteam #onedream. Apparently lesbians who get involved in grassroots women’s teams really really like football.
Last week I attended a football fundraiser comedy and drag night in Islington. Sitting in a dark theatre above the pub I found myself encircled in a chorus of Three Lions On A Shirt, over-laced with 50 girls’ voices singing It’s Coming Home! I was under the impression that this was a song the team had made up themselves (to be fair there aren’t that many lyrics so it was definitely a possibility) and I thought I was hearing “LINES” not “LIONS” referring to the three Adidas stripes on their kit (still very plausible) but then I realised even our non- footie friends knew the words! How? I found out later that Football’s Coming Home is actually a chart-topping banger, but the anthem had somehow escaped my childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that queers, lesbians, bi and non-binary folk enjoy the community that football offers as much as the game itself. LGBTQ people have always forged space for themselves by creating new environments that celebrate difference rather than attempting to regulate and organise sameness. I’ve probably never felt comfortable with the game and the culture it embodies because our outdated ideas about gender dictate a binary that places girls in opposition to football. In primary school football meant ducking and running as quickly as possible to avoid getting whacked by whatever sort of ball was dominating the “boys only” section of the playground. Girls are often discouraged from playing when they’re children and then excluded from mixed teams when they hit puberty. (In 2006 the FA banned girls above the age of 11 playing in mixed teams. A lot of grassroots players would have been directly affected by this ruling, however it has since been fought against and mixed teams are now allowed up until the age of 18.) But women’s football queers this traditionally masculine sport. The space that grassroots women’s football opens up disrupts social pressures and allows lesbians, bisexual women, non-binary folk and queers to be themselves without feeling like they need to conform to the cultural demands of femininity.
I thought that by dating women I might have managed to avoid British football culture and lads watching Match Of The Day in the pub, but actually when it’s women (read Keira Knightley) running around chasing a ball, I’ve discovered that I am very happy with my steady transformation into an unsuspecting but nonetheless blossoming WAG.
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