Faking ItJune 20th, 2010 at 14:45
Being a football fan didn’t come easily to me. It didn’t even come naturally. I was raised with a pathological disinterest in sport and it took a lot of effort to overcome that social conditioning. I developed an interest thanks to the support and encouragement of my good friends Kaia and Millie.
Me being me, this quickly turned into an obsession. It’s really not about the novel any more. I’ve seen Arsenal through two seasons, through joy and heartbreak, and I’m not going anywhere. One of the things that has added pleasure to my new interest, as well as educating me about the history, culture and in-jokes of football, has been the great writing by bloggers and commentators such as Arseblog, Gunnerblog, LadyArse, Lee McGowan, and Amy Lawrence of the Guardian. The weekly Arsecast was my first real podcast love, long before I actually started listening to the things as nature intended, on a genuine iPod. While the Arseblog has been my main cultural hub (this is where I learned to refer to international football fortnights as ‘interlulls’ and Liverpool supporters as ‘Mugsmashers’ which I embarrassingly assumed for a year was universal vocab before I learned that Blogs himself has a Liverpool-supporting brother who once smashed his Arsenal mug) I have had something to learn from each of these writers, and they have all contributed to my understanding and enjoyment of the game.
Our last season was significantly livened up by the addition of Up For Grabs, a brilliant, at times screamingly-funny podcast starring comedian Alan Davies and a bunch of his mates, ranting and raving about being an Arsenal fan. What I love most about this podcast is that it’s not just about the games, it’s about fandom, and it’s the first time I’ve really got a feel for what it must be like to be able to go to actual games.
Basically, I’m listening to funny men geek out about their obsessive historical perspective on their hobby. Sound familiar? I’ll get back to that analogy later.
So the World Cup comes along, and I’ll be honest, I’m not that into it at first. But I’ve been missing football something dreadful since our season ended – well, since about a month before our season ended, it was a shocking last couple of months – and particularly missing the Up For Grabs chaps. I was delighted to hear that Alan, Tayo and Ian had a Radio 5 podcast for the summer, Alan Davies’ Armchair World Cup (only once a week, sad). So far it includes cool features such as clips of Tayo and Ian finding pubs where they can watch games with the fans of other countries, and lots of making fun of the ITV coverage of the first England game. I look forward to the next ep.
Before I found that, though, all I had to keep me going was It’ll Go To Penalties, an amalgam of the various Playback Media football podcast crews, occasionally featuring one of the Up For Grabs lads. I listened to one, which was not bad despite being full of Spurs supporters, but didn’t really get into it until my beloved DJ Tayo featured in two episodes. Among other things they discussed the issue of divided loyalties, and how hard it is to be an England supporter, for example, when most of the team are hated rivals the rest of the year around. It was something I sympathise with, because as far as I’m concerned, my prime interest in the World Cup is whether or not it’s going to result in the injury, exhaustion or mental breakdown of any of my Arsenal players. Still, thanks to the coverage by several people I trust, and watching a few games, I have been enjoying being on the inside of such a huge event, rather than watching it askance from afar, as I think I must have during previous World Cups.
Then I listened to the Viva Espana episode of that podcast, hosted by Keith Dover, in which a group of smug men compare the sound of vuvuzelas favourably to the whine of their wives, sneer how women fake interest in the World Cup “like they fake orgasms” and basically descend into appalling, cringeworthy sexist jokes. About their wives, and women in general.
And that’s where they lost me.
I had many reactions to this. I stopped listening to the podcast, told Kaia & Mils about it, ranted a little bit on Twitter. I seethed quietly for a while. Then I paused to be grateful that I have been a football fan for two years and this is the first time I have truly been made to feel like I don’t matter, like I don’t count, like I am invisible.
Yes, I follow a male sport, and yes, many of my favourite commentators are male. But I was introduced to football by two women. I watch it with my daughters, one of whom is aching to play herself (she’s not allowed to at school until next year) and the other is not able to talk yet to protest me dressing her up in team colours and referring to her as ‘goonerbaby’. My favourite sportswriter in the real newspapers is Amy Lawrence, and it’s not just because she’s a Gooner and a girl at the same time. I even read the Kickette blog, which is bizarre because of the alien world it presents where we care about what WAGS are wearing, and the writers lust after various footballers without actual team loyalty, which is something I can’t come at. Man U, Chelsea and Spurs players are unattractive by definition. Still, they occasionally post amusing images of my team dressed as cartoon animals, so I forgive them.
When it comes to the World Cup, my Twitter feed is full of people watching and following the games, and gender isn’t particularly dividing them. Likewise there are a bunch of anti-World-cuppers and again, some are male, some are female. I’m not suggesting things are anywhere near as balanced as they could be – Kaia tells me the commentating team in Sweden have women in it! I can’t remember ever hearing women commentate a male game of any sport in Australia. There’s plenty of sexism still around in the world of football/soccer.
But it’s amazing how many male sportswriters are capable of discussing the sport WITHOUT being actively sexist towards women. Just like, you know, there are plenty of other men in the world who can do their jobs without being actively sexist towards women. So far I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to educate myself and enjoy the game and its surrounding media without feeling that direct punch to the gut that comes from listening to a bunch of sexist arseholes being randomly stupid about women. Until now.
For those of you still waiting for me to make the analogy to SF fandom, it’s basically the equivalent of sitting in a panel, listening to four men talk about how women don’t really read/write “real science fiction” anyway, because they’re too busy watching True Blood and printing sparkly Team Edward t-shirts, or – as I sadly experienced recently from the usually fun CoolShite on the Tube – how the Bechdel Test is stupid and unnecessary, because there are plenty of “hot chicks” in SF films and that means the feminists have nothing to complain about. Yeah. I stopped listening to that podcast too, for a while at least. Sometimes you just have to step away from the part of the internet that makes you incandescent with rage.
Here’s a little point about diversity and representation: if the It’ll Go To Penalties crew had had a single woman on there, sharing her own experience about a partner ‘faking’ interest in the World Cup, the joke wouldn’t have been so ugly. It was because they were all men, implying that their comedy wives represented the female football experience as a whole (I assume for the sake of sanity that comedians do actually separate their real wives from the caricatures they use as fodder for stupid jokes), that made it so offensive.
You know what, I do have a partner who pretty much fakes an interest in Premier League in order to be a part of something I am passionate about, and I am bloody grateful for it, because it shows he cares and want to be able to understand my crazy. One day I’m sure he’ll even learn all the names of the Chelsea players. If your partner does fake an interest in the World Cup, instead of just rolling her eyes and ignoring you for a month? BE HAPPY, MORON, IT MEANS SHE LOVES YOU.
Aaaaanyway. A couple of things made me feel better about the world of football fandom last night, after all the disappointment and rantiness. I had a vaguely humorous conversation on Twitter with a representative of the podcast in question, which left me feeling far more like a fellow human and less like a random punchline. I was also massively cheered up by an Arsenal fanvid sent to me by Millie, all about how awesome it was back in the day when we won the league, and how Pires was a saint of football, how Sol Campbell slogged his guts out on the pitch, and Freddie Ljungberg was just plain adorable. And then the Netherlands beat Japan 1-0. It turned out to be quite a good evening, for this football fan. Sure, Australia didn’t do so well overnight, but Denmark/Arsenal’s Nicky B got a great goal! I think I’m finally getting the hang of the World Cup.
And look at this, I managed to write this whole blog post without any F-words! Apart from ‘feminist’, obviously. Go me.