This is what to say when someone tells you women's football is worse than men's

Football’s not a game for girls.’

I can’t begin to count how many times I heard that line growing up. Whether men said it to my face or not, I knew they were thinking it.

As a young girl playing a sport I loved with all my heart, the constant sexist push-back I got was difficult.

Like so many football fans, male or female, my love of the game was passed down to me like a family heirloom, and became one of my most treasured possessions. 

It’s always been about where I’m from and who I am, as much as it’s about the rush of stepping onto the pitch, or scoring a goal. 

My grandad was a big United fan so I used to watch football at home with him. Then my dad started taking me to matches, and I never looked back. 

I started playing with school friends when I was about six and never really stopped. I liked being challenged, letting off a bit of steam and the togetherness of my teammates. We were really good and won loads of tournaments. 

But still, I heard from boys at school and men later on that women’s football is somehow ‘worse’ than men’s.

As for what ‘worse’ means, take your pick: The games aren’t as exciting; the players aren’t as talented; the stakes aren’t as high – I’ve heard it all. And I know I’m not the only female football fan who has. 

I’m here to say: None of that could be further from the truth. 

Next time you hear someone insinuate (or outright declare) as much, why not say: ‘Let’s talk’.

Let’s talk about Chloe Kelly kicking her 69 mph penalty against Nigeria harder than any men managed in the Premier League last year. 

Of course, most men and women are different physically – no one is saying it’s going to be exactly the same – but female players’ gender doesn’t stop them being able to deliver incredible performances. 

I’d like to meet anyone who wasn’t electrified by Sam Kerr’s goal on Thursday. 

Let’s also talk about Jill Scott being the second most capped international player for England ever – which, yes, means out of women and men.

Or about the fact that official coverage of the 2019 tournament saw a whopping combined total of 1.12billion people tune in, breaking a record in the process.

Presumably, those people didn’t subscribe to the lazy, unsubstantiated assumption that ‘women’s football just… isn’t very good’. 

Women’s football is edge of the seat viewing – I defy anyone to question that statement.

The Women’s World Cup semi-final has been described as a ‘rollercoaster’; the 2023 World Cup has seen vast levels of emotional investment from people who didn’t previously care about football. The Lionesses’ penalty shootout against Nigeria has been called ‘nerve-shredding’ – and I agree.

And perhaps, most importantly of all, women’s football isn’t associated with the toxic culture that unfortunately shrouds many of the men’s games and tournaments. 

I’d be surprised if we caught a fan with a flare up the bum should the Lionesses win today. 

I support the Manchester United women’s team and sometimes I take my young nephew along to games. It’s striking how much more family-friendly it is and how many young girls you see watching.

Everyone’s getting on with each other – there’s no hate between home and away fans. 

I enjoy banter and competition as much as anyone, but women’s football is appropriate for everybody. It’s inclusive and welcoming to all, which is certainly more than can be said for the men’s game.

That’s why I always felt it was unjust, growing up, that the boys got to play on the best pitches and get the better changing rooms. It was always a rush for us to finish our practice and clear out afterwards because the men had a game and they were somehow more important.  

Back then, there was no Manchester United women’s team. In fact, there were hardly any teams affiliated to big clubs, so there was no opportunity for girls to progress in the North West. You had to travel miles and miles to play at a really high level.

There was just a sense that girls were expected to play for ‘fun’ – that community teams were as far as girls could ever take their talent, passion and dedication.

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So I’m grateful that my club Wythenshawe FC really strives to help get the best from the women’s side. We’ve been made semi-professional this season, which is a massive move for women’s football and for me personally.

I’m local to the area and this is big news for the community. It’s impossible to overstate how much it means to have genuinely equal structures for both men and women, boys and girls, so that everyone gets the same support, the same chances and equal pay at the grassroots level.

What we’re doing will bring more players and fans into the family we’ve built here. It’ll give girls from around here a chance to prove themselves.

I’m 30 and so I’m not obviously going to get anywhere with women’s football – it’s never going to be my whole career. But for the younger girls who are 11 or 12, who really want to work at it, the sky’s the limit. They could end up playing in front of thousands and thousands of people – and they should.

When the Lionesses play in the World Cup final today, we’ll be travelling up our first regional league game of the season at Ellesmere Port. We’re hoping to find somewhere to watch the final all together. And we’d better win! 

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I’ve got nothing but pride for the Lionesses. They’ve played really well and been so composed given the pressure and huge expectations placed on them.

They’ve shown that even when they go a goal behind, they can fight their way back.

You see how together they are as a team, and how hard they work. The proof is in the pudding: the girls have got to the final, they’re drawing record crowds and winning major trophies. You compare that to the men’s game, which hasn’t seen a World Cup win for nearly 60 years.

I hope that after today, whatever the scoreline, everyone will understand the power of the women’s game. Because it’s there in black and white – and I’ll tell that to anyone who says otherwise.

Sophie Whitby is a full-time paramedic and Captain of Wythenshawe FC Women.

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