Feeling dejected after my team’s latest defeat on Saturday, as soon as I got home, I wrote a poem. Those people who know me, will recognise that this is not unusual. I’ve been writing poetry since I was five. I’ve been a performance poet throughout my adult life, and have had poetry published. Nor is football poetry is some bandwagon I’ve jumped on. In the 1970s I sent Chelsea FC a (handwritten) book of 42 poems dedicated to our players. But that was way before the internet, so the only ‘shares’, ’likes’ and ‘favourites’ were from my parents – and Chairman Brian Mears. Looking back, I doubt if the players ever read my poems, but I was thrilled to get a reply from the club, thanking me for my efforts.
On Sunday, I uploaded my latest poem, on the topic of the modern irritant – plastic fans – to Twitter and to Facebook. It’s not the first one I’ve penned on this theme, but I haven’t always shared them widely. This time, I thought it was a decent enough effort to risk provoking the trolls, as I regularly submit well-received work to the Football Poets website. My words seemed to resonate with many supporters, and not just supporters of Chelsea. True supporters of premiership clubs share the same contempt for the ‘plastics’. Alongside the numerous shares, re-tweets and positive comments on my verse, there was the inevitable rumble of discontent from certain males. What, a woman, coming into ‘our’ territory, thinking she can write? It’s akin to the chants that (yes, still) echo round grounds on a match day whenever they see a female official: ‘Get back in the kitchen.’ (Oh, except to Eva Carneiro, Chelsea’s former first-team doctor. Eva had to endure other suggestions. I won’t elaborate.)
The attitudes of some males to my writing is, regrettably, nothing unusual. These days, there should be no need for the Everyday Sexism project, but there still is, because even in 2015, sexism – overt and covert – is still rife. This is why, not too long ago, I wrote several pieces for a now-defunct football fanzine under a male by-line. I set up an e-mail address, with a male pseudonym, for the purpose of submitting my work, and watched with amusement as ‘top geezers’ read my light-hearted piss-take in the pubs, unaware that the author was not one of their ‘own kind’, but the forty-something woman wearing a pink Chelsea Megastore scarf trying to elbow her way past their beer-bellies to the bar. Thankfully, I can now openly submit pieces to the excellently-run infamous CFCUK fanzine under my own name. It’s progress!
For many years, there have been female football reporters, pundits and TV presenters, and plenty of women attend games as supporters, so I am nothing unusual. However, I can feel isolated. What sets me apart is that I exist outside of any boxes that people care to create, and it both perplexes and annoys certain supporters. My husband isn’t a football supporter, so I usually travel to matches alone, and I don’t fit any of your ‘footy-woman’ stereotypes.
No, I’m not a 1990s-style Ladette. Loud, bolshy, lager-swigging, one of the boys. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I do sing – loudly – and always have done. I’m a proper die-hard. I am often bolshy. Ask my Mr Non-Footy, or indeed, any Gooner who spies a lone Chelsea woman at King’s Cross and thinks it fun to mouth-off. But I prefer real ale to lager – and mostly, these days, two pints is my limit. I don’t wear trainers, and often don skirts rather than jeans. Sorry, and all that, but each to their own. Neither am I the woman-who-sometimes-goes-with-her-man. The woman who joins in all the match day jollies but, the rest of the week, doesn’t live and breathe football. She might feel a bit annoyed when her bloke’s team loses, but mostly it’s ‘just a game’ to her. Nope, not me. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I don’t fret about whether I’ve forgotten to put the dishwasher on. I think about who will start the next match. If I can’t get off to sleep again, I count Chelsea managers. The last decade’s-worth usually does the trick.
I probably shouldn’t be surprised that my ideas are still received with scorn by certain elements amongst my club’s male supporters. Here’s an example of how this works in a match day crowd. Last season, we were top of the league by a good few points until a festive slump culminated in a defeat on New Year’s Day at Tottenham away. Our lead was reduced to merely alphabetical. A chant, which had been going all season, involving much clapping, went something like: ‘We’re top of the league’ (repeated). Not one of our finest for wit, perhaps, but effective for making a noisy point to home fans. When the fact of our alphabetical ‘advantage’ became apparent, and our fans were still resolutely singing the chant, I thought of adding ‘We’re top of the league, we’re top of the league, alphabetically.’ Look, when you’re losing at Tottenham away, you get desperate. I took up the chant, loudly, and everyone around ignored it, so I shut up. Then, five minutes later, a bloke two rows back started singing it, and then, wow, everyone around him joined in and laughed at ‘his’ wit. Cos, well, he’s a funny bloke, right? See what I mean?
I’m not going to let the fact of a few sneering men stop me from doing what I do. I’m not going to go back into any place that they think I should be, because only I get to decide where that place is. If I want to share my football poetry on social media, I will, regardless of response. For every one person who sneers, I have two or more – men and women – who treat me as a fellow supporter, someone with similar views to their own about our beloved club. I’m not going to fit into anyone else’s neat boxes, because I prefer to be true to myself, even if that presents me with challenges along the way.
Furthermore, I am perfectly entitled to write about the club I have ardently followed for forty-five years. However I choose. My opinions and emotions will overlap with those of other true supporters. How I express myself is my prerogative. If people ‘like’ my work, and it puts someone else’s (male) nose out of joint, tough. Anyone who wants to share their perceived genius on social media is free to do so. I don’t claim to be a genius, or better than others. There are some fantastic Chelsea bloggers around, male and female. Whenever I read a good piece, I comment on how much I’ve enjoyed it. And, as with all good writing, football and otherwise, it inspires me to publish pieces with my own distinctive take on the subject. That was why I took my master’s degree in creative writing.
I’m not going away. Learn to live with it unreconstructed man, because writing about football is as much my entitlement as it is yours.
© Carol Ann Wood
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