Overcoming the ‘Unfeminine and Immodest’ Bias that Surrounds Women’s Football

This Fan Girl’s exhibition at the National Football Museum celebrates the industry's battle to break down archaic, one-sided representation in the sport.

By Emma Davidson | Last updated 2 August 2022

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“Women should be in the discotheque, the boutique and the kitchen, but not in football,” said former football player and manager, Ron Atkinson back in 1999. 

23 years seems like a long time, but in the fast-changing world of football, it’s a mere blip. It’s an industry that has, year on year, still favoured the male dominated game over the (just as important) female match,  that have, incidentally, existed ever since the late 1800s. 

So, women playing footy? It’s nothing new, but ever since its humble beginnings there’s been backlash from blokes who have decided women aren’t made for the game – unless they’re wearing a tight pair of shorts or a bikini featuring their favourite team’s emblem.

This Fan Girl’s new exhibition at The National Football Museum isn’t bitter, though, it’s a celebration of the progressive changes we’ve made as a society, moving toward a more accepted and fair game of football – one that sees the women’s game equal to the men’s.

It’s currently being showcased in the Pitch Gallery area of the museum in a block style formation, with each separate block telling a different story. You’re introduced to faces of female football fans, the community and fashions surrounding the sport, as well as the impact of cultural influences like the film Bend It Like Beckham on the careers of young, female football players.

Their stories are told through a range of images from photographers, artists and creatives that have been integral to changing the narrative, including; Kavita Babbar, Amy Drucquer, Eric Barberini, Mike Ridsdale, Ruth Davies, Zem Clarke and Martyn Ewoma

They’ve captured the true spirit and diversity of women’s football in the exhibition – community, pride and family. It’s an exploration of the importance of sport in childhood, as well as having strong role models to aspire to and the history of influential movements such as Hackney Women’s Football Club

Founded in 1986, the club was the first predominantly lesbian team in Europe. Despite being formed in the middle of the AIDS pandemic, the team has maintained its slogan ‘Playing With Pride’, with its continued open mindedness, solidarity and unmatched club spirit. 

HWFC was also the first team to instigate a fair play policy, which ensured that all women are encouraged to train and play competitive football regardless of their age, skills, ethnic origin and sexual orientation. 

Alongside This Fan Girl’s exhibition, The National Football Museum is currently hosting a huge exhibition celebrating the history of women’s football that coincides with the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022.

Crossing the Line: The Story of Women’s Football chronicles the game’s early growth, the effects of the FA’s de facto 1921 ban, its survival and its resurgence in recent decades. 

The exhibition is split into two halves. The first half tells the story of the women’s game up until the ban, from its nineteenth-century origins to the all-conquering Dick, Kerr Ladies. The second half kicks off later in the year, focusing on the present state of play within women’s football, from the grassroots up to the professional game.

It’s a chance to get a glimpse into the history of what This Fan Girl was influenced by, alongside artefacts from the history of the female game and special accounts from players and fans. 

This Fan Girl’s exhibition runs from 10am – 5pm daily until Autumn 2022.


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