A few weeks ago, while ordering breakfast, my friend pointed at a young teenager decked out in full Arsenal gear holding on to a hand-painted sign. ‘Katie McCabe can I have your boots please.’ My friend was smiling at seeing the young fan off to a women’s game. But for me the sign made my blood run cold. I have such a visceral hatred for these fan signs asking for various items. The lack of understanding that these players don’t have the scope to dish items out to every fan who had laboured over a piece of poster board the night before.
I don’t want to make an example of this particular fan. Her intentions are well-meaning despite being misguided. I don’t even blame their parents because I doubt they are following the trials and tribulations of the Women’s game. After all, if they were, they wouldn’t let their kids make those signs. Not a responsible parent anyway.
I saw it again at the West Ham game I was at and was going to say something until I saw the offending piece of paper just wanted an autograph. So that I let slide.
I have heard players having to let children down gently they can’t have a specific piece of equipment because they would have to replace it themselves. I am sure the players hate it as much as the child who doesn’t get the thing.
Katie Stengel the Liverpool striker said it best when a child asked for her boots ‘Sorry but what would I play in next week.’ I am sure the child in question thought she was being mean but there was a lot of truth in that answer.
The problem within the game is bigger than any piece of cardboard with a series of marker strokes. If we view the hierarchy as a pyramid then the women’s game is at the bottom getting the absolute dregs. If we have learnt anything from this and all previous Conservative governments. Trickle-down economics does not and will never work. It stays at the top and the bottom rung remains parched.
Canada is the latest National team to air the lack of parity they have with their male counterparts. Despite winning gold in the last Olympics they are still fighting to get any sort of funding. Whereas the Canadian male team are being fawned over for just getting to the World Cup. So much so that the Olympic world Champions still have not been paid for this achievement and any money they have received came from private sponsorship and not from their federation.
When leading talks with their officials the response was succinctly put, “Is this what Christine is bitching about?”
The team had to go all the way to Canadian Parliament to air their grievances before their federation took them seriously. Confirming that the federation had cut down on training camps, transport and players who could attend to save money.
They now seem to be on their way to a collective bargaining agreement in which they will pay the same as their male counterparts and will split all prize money. Which to be honest seems to be a better deal for the Men as let’s be honest which team is going to go further in most competitions?
The examples are endless where the parity is just not there. The South American team whose championship winnings went straight to pay off the debts of the male team. Players sleeping in airports on discount airlines whilst men are sipping champagne on charter flights.
Time and time again we are seeing this though. You have to make money to get money. Teams, federations associations and board members are reluctant to insert funds in something they see as a loss maker. Regardless of how well a team does it seems that it’s more hard graft than it is funding. There is an expected result that will miraculously happen no matter how little money is put in. When they don’t a round of tutting and sighing occurs with self-righteous indignation of ‘Well it’s a good thing we never invested in that sinking ship’.
In the WSL teams are given three shirts a season. That’s one of each strip and that’s all. Any further replacements are at the cost of the player. And they do not get them at cost let me tell you. So if they gave them away at every match you are looking at roughly £1320 per season and considering most players barely get paid more than your average office worker this is a chunk of their salary. Most don’t have boot deals so you are looking at anywhere from £60 to £200 upwards per pair. It’s understandable why players are uncomfortable giving them away.
It’s not, just the financial straits that the game as a whole that these signs fill me with unspeakable rage. With the marketing of the Women’s game is fully aimed at families and especially children. It constantly feels like we need to add extra things to entertain the crowds under the guise of match day experience. This author loathes and finds it extremely insulting to the women playing. Don’t get me started on the phenomenon of Mexican waves and phone light shows and what that says about the current football audience. The children want something they can remember the game by, but long gone are the days when a program and a ticket stub would do.
Of course, I understand the appeal of wanting match-worn gear from your heroes. I have been gifted things from my beloved hammers. Most special being an FA Cup final shirt from Gilly Flaherty. It means a lot to me she gave it to me and I am proud to have it. The difference is I didn’t ask for it, beg borrow or steal for it. She was under no obligation to give it to me and that makes it more special.
It’s starting to feel that it’s less about the football and more about what can they get and I blame the adults in charge of them. This behaviour should be stamped out and honestly, these signs need to be banned. All it’s going to take is a little education, understanding and maybe even a little disappointment.
Because once the money rolls in and teams allocate more to the equipment budget. You can ask for as many shirts as you want. I will let you. Honest!