This is the text of the pre-publication print of: Matthew L. McDowell, Review, Female Football Fans: Community, Identity and Sexism, by Carrie Dunn, Soccer and Society 17 (4) (2016): 650-51. There may be small textual differences between this version and the published version. Any reference made to this paper should refer to the published version.
Female football fans: community, identity and sexism, by Carrie Dunn, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, 136 pp., £45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-137-39819-2
The previous scholarly work which has been done on female football supporters in the UK is minimal. Stacey Pope’s recent oral history work on English supporters has provided a much-needed historiographical reference point, but Carrie Dunn’s new volume, Female Football Fans: Community, Identity and Sexism, brings developments up to date. Dunn’s series of interviews with groups of current and former supporters, of large and small English (and a few Scottish) clubs, along with extensive questionnaire data, moves beyond assumed stereotypes of women’s participation in fandom, and provides something of a rejoinder to the gaze of male academics towards male ‘hooliganism’ and subcultures.
The problematic treatment of female fandom, of course, is not just the problem of academia: it is one of football’s institutional bodies, who market the sport to women as if they were a highly gendered rhetorical creation of males. Dunn’s final chapter, which features a toe-curling set of interviews with FA and Football League administrators, reflects these deep-seated problems: there is little understanding of female supporters beyond them allegedly being an ‘emerging’ (not ‘existing’) market; and attempts to combat sexism on the terraces are reliant upon piggybacking on the work of Kick It Out’s anti-racism campaigns. One (female) FA administrator goes out of her way to differentiate between sexism and banter, while another (male) colleague has a joke at the expense of women’s typically unsuitable toilet facilities at grounds. And, with little or no empirical research to support their claims, English football’s administrators continue to assume that marketing the game towards women should coincide with a recent push to civilise football grounds, and make them more family-friendly. Women are thus seen as the wives of football supporters, as well as their parents: they are assumed subservient. It is a poor place from which to start a marketing campaign.
Dunn’s interviews with supporters show that, in order to enjoy the sport, and attend matches at football grounds, women are nevertheless forced to negotiate these roles. Often, this negotiation begins at a young age; parental involvement is, in part, responsible for daughters taking up support of their parents’ teams. Dunn’s research shows that many girls were introduced to football through their fathers, though sometimes through an indirect route: one 27-year-old Charlton Athletic supporter was introduced to her local club once her mother starting going to games with her father, the young daughter being too young to be left at home alone. (By contrast, one supporter’s mother did not want her daughter to become associated with what was viewed as an overwhelmingly masculine activity.) Contrary to the assumptions of football’s governing bodies, female football supporters rarely initiate their support because of their spouses’ and partners’ interest in attending clubs’ matches: only 15% of Dunn’s questionnaire respondents stated that this was the case. One of the challenges that many female supporters face is motherhood, both in terms of the demand on their leisure time, and in football clubs’ and male supporters’ lack of accommodation. One fan of Grimsby Town, for instance, had to fight her own club for the right to bring her baby’s pram into the ground.
Dunn is keen to emphasise that female fandom has no specific characteristics which distinguish it from ‘male’ fandom; and that, as ever, fans are not a homogenous group with the same motivations and opinions. Female fans, along with male fans, engage in many of the exact same pre- and post-match rituals. One fan of a lower-league team mocked female fans of Premiership clubs as acting more of the ‘handbag’ class, unlike the genuine supporters of her club. Additionally, amongst her respondents, there was more of a feeling of resignation than anger towards the disparaging 2006 comments made by then-Luton Town manager Mike Newell about the abilities of a female linesman. Many of Dunn’s subjects watch Soccer AM, Sky Sports’ laddish football comedy/panel show which – despite having a female presenter – explicitly targets a male audience. Female supporters, in these cases and in others, need to negotiate an institutionally sexist hierarchy – which, as the final chapter shows, is near impossible when those in power rely upon crude stereotypes and non-existent evidence. This is additionally the case for those women who take part in supporters’ trusts: some find the experience empowering, but others find yet another layer of discrimination awaiting them within male-dominated supporters’ groups.
Female Football Fans, by the standard of academic monographs, is ruthlessly concise. Dunn has a background in journalism: her previous monograph was on the British pro wrestling business; and, whilst this book is definitely academic, its readability enables it to potentially have an audience beyond the academy. It is ideal for undergraduate students. It is not an entirely flawless volume: elements of Dunn’s methodology chapter (at least with regard to its citation of secondary sources) will already be well-familiar to those within related academic fields, and could easily be absorbed into a greater first chapter. Conversely, the index is miniscule. None of this, however, should take away from a monograph that otherwise sets a new benchmark with regard to its subject matter. Given the recent furore over the Ched Evans case, the issues discussed in Dunn’s book will not be going away anytime soon.
Matthew L. McDowell
Moray House School of Education; University of Edinburgh