Updated: Aug 8
Now that’s its 2019, you would think that the female involvement is no longer a big deal but with Shrewsbury Town allegedly and unofficially banning women from their boardroom, there still seems to be some ignorance surrounding the subject. For me, the issue isn’t a big deal, if people want to be ignorant about female football fans then that’s their problem, not mine. However, I can’t begin to explain how irritating it is when a male fan finds out you’re also into football starts to fire 20 questions at you just to ensure your authenticity as a fan and that you’re not just there to ogle players.
SAFC fan Harriet Killen and her friends introduced a ‘This Girl Fan’ campaign to show that females too can be big into football. ALS’ self-appointed number one girl sat down with Harriet to talk all things women in football.
How did this fan girl come about and what’s the message behind it?
This Fan Girl came about in 2016 during the Euros. Amy a Leicester fan, who founded TFG, had been doing a personal photography project documenting Leicester fans during the incredible season they won the league and she decided she wanted to carry on the something similar. After googling female fans and being met with a slew of hyper-sexualised images of women that didn't look like the women she saw at games she decided to go to all 20 Premier League clubs and capture the faces of the real female fans. I met Amy quite early on in the project and got involved. We then quickly decided it could be more than just the faces of female fans but instead it could be the voices and stories as well as a network for female fans to meet one another and chat about their shared experiences.
As a female, have you had any bad experiences as a female fan?
I've had away fans sing abusive songs at me purely because I'm female and have found it fairly intimidating. Imagine 20 blokes aggressively, wearing shirts of an opposing team shouting an abusive chant when it's just you and your sister, not exactly welcoming and friendly. There are also the ones who just lear at you say sexual things towards you rather than discussing what's happened on the pitch like they would with a male fan. Generally, though, my experience has always be fun and enjoyable otherwise I wouldn't keep going.
Have you ever had anyone assume you’re a football fan purely to eye up the players? (Although I think we can all agree we do have some absolute dreamboats in the squad...)
Not that I can think of but some guys have assumed I must be one of the players girlfriends (Millwall vs Hull in the Hull end - I think my friend and I were one of about 10 women in total). Obviously, it's frustrating but I don't think they mean it in a bad way and for me personally it's not been often. More often than not they think you're there to impress them, ha. I don't feel like you get this as much in Sunderland and I'm not just saying that because I'm a Sunderland fan.
What do you say to those who try to patronise about this fan girl and being a female football in general?
I don't really say anything to them, it's not really up to us to change their minds what we're trying to do is show the women out there that there is now this network for them to meet and speak to other female fans. Hopefully that visibility will then encourage other women who haven't previously been interested in football to perhaps come along. The more women that come along the more attitudes will change naturally because its women loving football and knowing as much about it as men will be normalised. Plus, I think the ones who are patronising are on the out, attitudes are changing and they're the ones being left behind.
Sunderland probably have one of the largest groups of female football fans in England due to football in the north east being so big. How did you get into football?
My dad is a huge Sunderland fan and has been his whole life. He took me to the Stadium of Light when I was 10 years old to watch SAFC v QPR. It was April and absolutely hammering it down with rain, freezing cold and we lost a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2. Vinnie Jones was playing and he told us to f*** off as he came off the players bus. Ha-ha. I guess you wouldn't say it was the most successful intro, but I loved it and have loved going ever since.
What you do think of Shrewsbury allegedly banning females from their boardroom?
If it's true, then it's ridiculous.
Do you encounter any sexism when you me up with fellow this girl fan members?
We haven't which is really great. We have been met with some confused looks when 20 women show up to the pub to watch the football but I think that's just because people are used to a big group of women who all support different teams going to the pub together to watch football, something we're trying to change and normalise. The power in numbers also helps people take us a bit more seriously.
How did you come to support the lads and what’s your favourite memory following them?
My dad got me into support the lads and I have so many amazing memories. Yeovil friendly not long after my first game and my sister, my brother and I running onto the pitch during the warm up to get Niall Quinn and Micky Gray's autographs. Watching all the derbies, either at the SOL or at a pub in London called the Red Lion with about 100 other fans. Being in the ground for Jermaine Defoe's volley was the absolute highlight. A few seasons back at Tottenham when we lost 5-1 but the fans kept singing 'Don't Worry About a Thing' for a good 20mins and we were applauded by the Spurs fans at the end. Going to Wembley for the Cup Final and thinking we actually had a chance when Borini smashed one in. See, it's not all bad being a Sunderland fan.
The women’s game is forever growing and arguably, some female footballers are becoming household names (many from Sunderland!). What do you think the future holds for the women’s game?
It's the fastest growing sport in the world and I think it's only going to get bigger and better. There are so many exciting things happening in the women's game right now from Ada Hegerberg winning the first Ballon D'or to the Women's World Cup this year. I can't wait to see how things evolve and really hope the likes of Lucy Bronze, Jordan Nobbs and Steph Houghton inspire the next generation.