What It's Like Getting Into Football Late When You're A Woman

Quizzes on the Offside Rule and constantly being asked if you fancy Giroud

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There is a moment in Fever Pitch where Colin Firth's character argues with his girlfriend while they're watching the Hillsborough disaster unfurl. After she declares it will be the end of football he tells her they'll replay that very game, "It's not just me you don't get" he yells, "It's any of us."

Not "getting it" has long been the trump card separating football fans from the unconverted. For years I felt confident this was a just childish way of protected something they loved from scorn. 

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Until I got it.

I grew up with a small, bitter view of football. It didn't want me, and I felt the same. I would smugly tout that phrase about it being 'a gentleman's game played by hooligans' with no idea what that even meant. I wouldn't have recognised Eric Cantona if he had karate kicked me in the face.

Then, at 23, I was baptised into football in the most clichéd way of all - dragged suspiciously through the turnstiles of the Emirates stadium by a man I wanted to think I was the one (the one, in this case, being a woman that doesn't make you chose between sex and Super Sunday).

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The biggest surprise wasn't that I enjoyed the 2-2 deadlock against Hull but that I enjoyed it entirely for myself. I wasn't prepared for the wrenching turmoil that an early opposition goal can put you through. Those 90 tense minutes made everything in the outside world feel predicable by comparison. The chants rippling across the stadium in electric circular bursts buzzed inside me. I emerged dazed, husky, and converted.

Being female and gaining passage to this world is a strange thing. The pressure for men to obsessively revise, rehearse and analyse football is palpable. The cult is far crueler for them, flayed alive for not remembering Di Canio's scissor volley against Wimbledon or how old Michael Owen was when he scored his first hat-trick. Girls are expected not to know, to endure games in the pub impatient for the final whistle or staring longingly at Ronaldo's muscular thighs.

Reactions range from suspicious testing and bemusement from strangers in pubs, and even total disgust from ardent feminists defending years of belittled WAGs. I've been asked if I fancy Olivier Giroud so many times I honestly wish I'd picked another team. More tiresome still is the reaction from other, longer serving female fans who treat you like a child swinging around a toy confident you'll soon tire of, all of them asking 'why?' If nobody pushes you, why would you jump?

Maybe I jumped because it gave me an 'in', a pass to talk to anyone in a common tongue lathered in disappointment, hope, rivalry and humour. It is nearly two years since that Hull game and I now force friends to check Champions League scores during dinner parties.

Though I can confidently discuss Ibrahimovic's loyalty bonus from PSG, it has been necessary to caveat conversations by admitting my anecdotal knowledge is near nothing. My footballing knowledge begins with 2015 - I'm not even sure who won the Euros before Portugal. But judging by the raised eyebrows and smiles I see whilst discussing a match at the bar, the cult want you in on the obsession. They're happy to have you.

I'm always struck, when filing through fans on the way to a match, how football can often be a rare shared moment for families and loved ones, struck by the idea that those few hours on a Saturday are a reason to bring people together. Brothers, daughters, fathers and friends all given a reason to travel to a wet stadium on a Saturday afternoon and shout mindlessly for something.

Women should help to change it from the inside into the genderless game it should be. Bring your daughters to games, encourage your sister to play with you and talk to your girlfriend about it as you would a mate without hesitation. As the great sportswriter and author Arthur Hopcraft said: "Football is inherent in the people. There is more eccentricity in deliberately disregarding it than in devoting a life to it."

What do you think?

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