Katy Sandalls: Women’s football isn’t normal? Oh please, do grow up!

Manchester United and England goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain was name checked in Doctor Who this wee

Manchester United and England goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain was name checked in Doctor Who this week Picture: PA WIRE/PA IMAGES - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

This month, Katy Sandalls looks at how a brief moment on TV shows how far attitudes have changed about women’s football – and how far they still have to go.

“Siobhan Chamberlain with the goal kick for England.” An observant piece of information, if unremarkable, when coming from the lips of a professional commentator – but ten times as powerful when spoken by a character on a TV show watched by millions of people around the world.

This week an episode of BBC’s Doctor Who managed in a few seconds something which those interested in women’s football have been trying to do for years.

Make it normal.

I’ve spoken before about the sort of rudeness and just plain discrimination women’s football seems to receive, especially online.

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The same old people bleating on about how women can’t play, women shouldn’t commentate blah blah blah.

For these people nothing about women’s football is normal. Football, they say, is a men’s game best played by men with the voice of more men describing it.

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I have no problem with men’s football – up the Posh – but what I do have a problem with is people thinking other types of football that aren’t played by men are less valid.

You wouldn’t tell your local non-league side that they were less valid than a Premier League team? If you did you’d probably know how well that would go down quite quickly.

Only this week did a young girl in Wales hit the headlines after it was alleged that she was told that she couldn’t play football at school because it was for boys and was instead told she should try a “girl sport”.

Oh do tell. Tell me what a “girl sport” is? Please I am begging to know.

Presumably it is one that it is “normal” for a girl to play? Grow up.

But what if the girl could choose what was normal or what if people opened their eyes to what normal could be or what if we just didn’t judge people by what they did but the sort of person they were?

That last one is perhaps a bit of a pipe dream but what Doctor Who did on Sunday was perhaps the second idea. It made the mention of England and Man United goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain completely normal in conversation.

Her mention wasn’t integral to the plot line but a part of the show but fitted neatly into the section of the show.

The show’s creators could have substituted her name for Jordan Pickford or Joe Hart or even David Seaman names that lots of people know – and sometimes like to forget.

If they had it wouldn’t have had the same potential impact. Mention Chamberlain and people who know who she is are excited to hear her name, and those who don’t look her up online.

Now scale that up by the amount of people globally who will be hearing Yaz utter the name Siobhan Chamberlain.

You can’t pay for such nods.

Chamberlain herself was more than flattered with the reference, remarking herself that: “Me taking goal kicks for England… now that is some time travel.”

Despite not having had many minutes for England of late the reference shows how mainstream the sport is becoming and that it has started to become a normal, valid part of conversation.

It’s something that is even more integral when it comes to the younger generation.

Again, this is where a mention in Doctor Who can be key because of its family audience.

It’s only with exposure, even if it is small step by small step like this, that we can ensure the next generation actively support the women’s game and help it to grow.

With their support we can break down barriers that frankly shouldn’t exist in 2018.

So Doctor Who keep doing what your doing. And other shows take note!

In local news Ipswich Wanderers shared some sad news last week that they would be withdrawing from the Eastern Region Women’s Football League, the fifth step of the women’s footballing pyramid.

Writing on Twitter the team said it was a “sad decision” that they were making “due to a consistent unavailability of players to fulfill fixtures”.

All the best to the club and players at this difficult time.

And good luck to everyone taking part in the next round of the Suffolk Women’s County Cup.

I know many of the games were closely fought in the first round. If you couldn’t make it down last month then please do go and support your local side.

If you have some news to share about women’s football in the area then do get in touch by either emailing me katy.sandalls@archant.co.uk or tweeting me @katysandalls.

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