Time To Tackle Online Abuse

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I penned a piece in response to derogatory sexist comments from brain dead individuals that appeared in the Chelsea newspaper, after the new Chelsea women’s team was announced. They were not overtly offensive, just the tired old “get back in the kitchen”, “you will embarrass the club”, “women shouldn’t play football” garbage that the writers probably convinced themselves were so original and would destroy those they were aimed at. Shame they were that stupid they did not comprehend that those players had heard and overcome worse just to get to that point.

Fast forward 28 years, it saddens me, that if I still had a copy, I could reproduce it today and it would be just as relevant. Last weekend Cardiff City Women hosted Swansea City Ladies in the opening match of the Welsh Premier Women’s League, a historic event as the first WPWL match to be screened live. Given the rivalry, there was always likely to be some ‘lively’ comments, but they went way beyond that and were highly abusive, sexist and personal, with one player singled out after a missed chance. Down the years I have seen far worse misses at the very highest level of the men’s game.

Teammates came out and defended the player on social media. Her ‘crime’ judging from the comments wasn’t the miss, it was that a woman missed. Abuse is never acceptable even at professional level but the players in that match were not pro footballers, they were just individuals representing the two biggest clubs in Wales, giving 100% and striving to be the best they can and represent their club in the best possible way, the opposite of those who throw insults, especially on club feeds. They were simply playing the game they love. That in some idiot’s eyes makes them a legitimate target.

I am not a women’s rights activist; I am just an ordinary bloke who happens to believe that girls and women have the right to participate in whatever sport they choose. I enjoy banter and people who know me would certainly never describe me as politically correct. 30 years ago, when I became involved in women’s football, it wasn’t as part of some mission. I was sceptical about women playing football, but after one training session, that changed. I witnessed players of varying standards, that shared one thing in common with me, a love of the game of football.

The reason for the difference in standards was most had been denied the right to play. Although it was nearly 20 years after the FA ban was lifted, many still considered football not suitable for girls. Very few coaches or school teachers encouraged girls to play, in fact most schools would never have allowed it. Think about that for a minute, kicking a sack of air around was not suitable for girls and women. How ridiculous was that? But here we are in 2020 and there are still those who think that way.

Fortunately, that number is diminishing, but unfortunately as is often the case, those individuals are the loudest. They believe they have the right to make attacks on players on social media. The insults go way beyond the boring old “get back in the kitchen”.

So what triggers these individuals so much? What makes them spend their time abusing participants in a sport they claim to have no interest in? What angers them so much about women playing football. I will probably get hammered here, but I am tired of all the excuses that get rolled out. As I said, I am not PC. In my circle it would be described as Little D**k Syndrome (LDS). It manifests when a bloke realises that someone they consider inferior, in this case women footballers are actually achieving what they can only dream of. You have to have some sympathy with them. After all, having been encouraged to kick a ball from the day they could walk, somehow, all of the teachers, summer camps, coaches and scouts failed to recognise their undoubted ability. The only time the club they support realise they exist is when they buy a match ticket or new shirt. Meanwhile, the target of their angst is there on the club website and social media.

While they are dreaming of running out in that new shirt, there are girls and women doing exactly that. While they are excited by pretending to be ‘their’ club on FIFA21, those girls and women are doing it for real on a football pitch. While they are posting abusive comments on the club’s Facebook or Twitter feed, those girls and women are being featured.

While they are hiding behind some false identity for fear of being recognised, those girls and women are proud to see their name associated with their club. While they are wallowing in self-pity, those girls and women are out training two or three times a week. While they are thinking up original (not) comments to abuse with, those girls and women are learning new skills to take onto the pitch at the weekend. While they are blaming the world and its cousin for every bad result, those same girls and women are readying themselves to bounce back stronger than before.

At present there is no known cure for LDS, it is hoped that in the future, a sister, girlfriend, wife enjoying football may help and the actual antidote may be a daughter asking a sufferer to buy them a pair of football boots for Christmas or birthday. That of course is based on the assumption they would be capable of forming a relationship with their ‘enemy’.

It is apt that it was Welsh players who were targeted this week as their ethos is Together Stronger and that is something that girls and women footballers need to adopt. Being abused and targeted online is a horrible experience and can be hard to cope with mentally, but for every individual troll, or abuser, there are hundreds, more likely thousands who will listen to you, support you and help you and the real bonus is that small object that causes LDS will get continue to reduce in size until eventually it drops off.

One thing to remember, if you are just starting off in the game, FAWNL players, WPWL players, established international WSL players and past players of the game all have one thing in common, they have not let it stop them. High profile role models like Alex Scott may still be experiencing online abuse but it will not stop her either.

No matter what the result was in a match, or whether a player made a mistake, being abused means you are the winner. The irony is the troll doesn’t get it. They are dishing out abuse, not for failure on your part, but to hide their failure of being able to do what you do, week in, week out. Every time they are triggered into a new comment, it is because another female footballer has smashed a ball into the back of their net. Next time you are on the end of their bile, post their comment with a picture of you doing what cannot… representing “their” club.

It will be the social media equivalent of the ultimate nutmeg!