First things first: women’s football shouldn’t be called women’s football. It’s just football. That semantic assertion in place, football belongs to everyone, and women are fans as much as they are players. Nonetheless, when images of female football fans are shown in the media, they tend to be of a certain sort, and much of the coverage of women interacting with football is of the reductive, WAG-celebratory sort (see the recent rancid Ryan Mason coverage for starters).
This Fan Girl are seeking to redress the balance, taking photos of real female fans at games, celebrating the diversity of football fandom. The portrait-style photos are warm, engaging, and redraw a widespread, and iniquitous, image of the female football fan.
PNIG caught up with Amy and Laura, the photographers behind This Fan Girl, to find out what motivates them and what the project is about.
PNIG: Who are Amy and Laura?
TFG: Two friends, originally from The Midlands, now based in London. We met at work and bonded over a shared love of football, car boot sales, old man pubs, music, and pork scratchings.
PNIG: Why did you decide to embark on this photography project?
TFG: Amy photographed Leicester last season as they won the league and we were chatting about it in a pub watching England play an unmemorable game in the Euros when the idea sort of came about. It just felt like the natural next step and something we both felt passionately about.
PNIG: What’s the intention behind the project?
TFG: We want to show real female football fans. The ones that rock up week in, week out, whether they’re top of the league or it’s tipping it down with rain and they’re on for a relegation battle. We want to provide a platform to celebrate these fans and also to bring them together to connect with one another.
PNIG: How do you think young women/girls can be introduced to football, both as fans and players?
TFG: We meet a lot of women who were introduced to football by their fathers. A lot of women are really grateful for this connection and shared interest with their dads which is wonderful. We also meet a lot of women who go to games with their partners, which is great, and a lot of much older couples who have been going together for years. But now more groups of women also seem to be going together too.
Getting into playing I think can sometimes be harder. I know I didn’t start until I was 27 after doing a work sports day and enjoying it. It wasn’t ever an option for me growing up to have the opportunity to play. I think things are better now and the team I play for has a little ladies team for 4-12 year olds which is great.
PNIG: Do you think the game is inherently/institutionally sexist? If so, what do you think can and should be done to combat that?
TFG: There’s pockets of it. I’m always quite surprised when I hear of sexist incidents. I’m like ‘how is this still a thing that happens? How do people think that was a fine thing to do?’ The banner at Lyon this week telling women where the kitchen is was a perfect example. Baffling. It’s 2017 and almost a quarter of fans at a match are women and someone sat at home and made that banner and thought it would be funny? Or well received? I don’t understand the mindset there. I hope it’s maybe a minority of men that want to keep it the way football was, male dominated, and with the threat of violence at every game, but I’ve a positive feeling they’re going to be disappointed.
PNIG: Do you think the growth of the profile of WASL and the Lionesses performance at the World Cup will increase women attending both forms of the game?
TFG: I hope so. It would be great to see our women’s teams get the recognition they deserve and if it improves trickle-down funding for grassroots of women’s football then that will only help improve the game further.
PNIG: Women have always been an integral part of football, something that maybe only diminished when crowd trouble became a feature in the late 70s and 80s. Why do you think their role in football has been effaced? Indeed, do you think that?
TFG: I don’t think women’s role in football has been written off but we’ve got some re-building to do. There are tonnes of women at these games, every week, and we see them and we chat to them and no one has said that there’s no need for the project, or that they think women are well represented as part of the make-up of fans, or that they feel the representation of fans in the media is already fair and balanced enough, or there’s already enough women at games so there’s no need to encourage more. There’s still a way to go and anything that champions the female football fan is a worthy cause.
PNIG: Season Zine shows the overlap between fashion and football and concentrates on how women can express fandom through that marriage. Is that an area you’re also interested in?
TFG: We love Season! Felicia and Natalie are doing great things, they’re passionate and creative and produce an awesome magazine. There’s definitely a strong bond between fashion and football and it hits a real sweet spot of so many people’s overlapping interests. The fashion angle isn’t something that we’re exploring though. This Fan Girl is focused on the women we photograph and their stories and their personalities and the chats we have before we snap them and how good the pie is that their eating, or what the score is going to be, or what they think of their latest signing and not really about their fashion choices – that wouldn’t be authentic coming from us.
(Image from Box2BoxFootball)
PNIG: What are the future plans for the project – where do you see it (and both of you) being in a year’s time?
TFG: We have tonnes of plans for the future. We’ve barely scratched the surface. We’re going to work on bringing together more of a female fandom and community vibe and we’re working on some exciting concepts for how we open up our topic a bit more to include all women involved in football. We’re working on an exhibition for the end of the season, too – we’ll let you know more as our plans progress!
Thanks to TFG for the images as well – don’t use them without credit, people.
‘Football: More Than A Man’s Sport’ – Alex Stewart on The False Nine
‘England Lioness – an interview with Lianne Sanderson’ – Alex Stewart in Pickles Magazine