Whenever I tell people that I follow women’s football, the reaction is always the same. ‘Is this another one of your feminist things?’, ‘yeah okay but I’m not interested’, ‘I wouldn’t follow them even if someone paid me’. I myself only started following after the Women’s World Cup in 2019, but I absolutely love it now. So why’s an Indian girl staying up late at night to watch a women’s team 5000+ miles away in a stadium attended by 2000 odd people?
The biggest reason was that even though I had watched football for more than 16 years, I had never really related to the players. I had played multiple sports including in school and college but never got a chance to play my favourite sport because there wasn’t a girl’s football team for miles around. Hell, there wasn’t any other girl who watched football. Whenever I told people my favourite team was Manchester United, they said, that’s because you’re a girl and all girls support Man United because of Beckham or Ronaldo. I had to go through listing the entire United squad with their jersey numbers to convince them that yes, I did love that team and I was worthy of being called a football fan by them.
So to see these women, playing brilliant football at the highest level, unabashedly celebrating their success amidst fans belting out their songs, it was what I had missed all my life. When I saw behind the scenes and training videos, I could finally relate with the hours of practice before a tournament, joking around on the basketball court, lying dead on the ground after those horrible German drills, swearing at and fighting with the opposition players when they fouled my teammate. It was what I wanted to do all my life but simply couldn’t, especially in a country where some of my teammates stopped playing sports for the fear of getting tanned and having to hear insults about it. (Yes, in India, a majority of girls are discouraged to take up sports because they’ll darken their skin tone if they play out in the sun but that’s a whole different topic)
I’ve always thought people don’t just follow football, they follow stories. There’s a reason millions of people watch their football team across the world at ungodly hours, who all dream of one day watching their team play live at their home ground. That’s why I fell in love with Man United Women as well- the stories. Katie Zelem dropping down to the Championship after winning the Serie A with Juventus, Millie Turner, Ella Toone, Kirsty Hanson, Emily Ramsey all left United as they didn’t have a team to play on but came back when they heard a team’s forming, Jackie Groenen, the WC finalist signing for the club she had supported growing up, Abbie Mc Manus finally proud to play for the right side of Manchester, Casey Stoney, her first job as manager and winning the Championship so convincingly and whose wife and her family were United supporters, that’s the story that drew me in. When Alex Greenwood left, I was shattered even though I hadn’t watched a single match for Man United Women yet. I then cheered up massively when Lotta Okvist signed even though I had no idea who she was.
Following women’s football is hard. Men’s football is easily accessible, no matter who you follow, you’ll find someone you know who follows the same team as you. For months, I scoured the internet to find more information and content about women’s football. It was scarce and I had nobody to talk to after a game. That’s when I discovered woso Twitter and the Barmy Army. I followed a few of the members and would read up all the tweets after a match, it felt like a discussion you would have with your friends while having beer and masala peanuts- tactical analysis, player critiques, transfer talk on one hand, and annoying the hell out of every other club supporters on the other. There have been actual discussions on whether it’s fair to wind up opposition players because the women can’t handle it. Tell that to the bloody loser who after I got fouled for “travelling” in a basketball match, shouted, “if you love travelling so much, I have the backseat on my bike waiting”. It’s brilliant and even though it’s frustrating to have so little content, its much better having meaningful conversations with fans of the women’s game than the “Dub” culture on the men’s tweets.
It’s been pretty great following women’s football so far and hopefully years into the future when I see kids with wearing Man United Women’s jerseys on the streets, I’ll tell them that I’ve been supporting them since Day 1. (Well year 2, but they wouldn’t know the difference)