This summer, the Lionesses’ run to Euros glory penetrated public consciousness like never before. The conversation changed. No longer were people talking about women’s football, they were talking about football.
But with a study last year by the Football Supporters’ Association finding 34 per cent of women had heard or received sexist comments at a men’s game, we asked four of our female writers on their journey supporting West Ham.
Growing up in Kent, Lucy Farrell found it difficult to be a football supporter. ‘None of the other girls liked football but also all the lads supported Man United or Arsenal,’ she explained. ‘Having said that, I played football casually with the lads at break time and they’d happily include me.
‘As a teenager, being a season ticket holder made people realise how much of a fan I was. I was never teased or looked at differently for having that as a hobby, which was great.’
But Lucy admits sometimes to feeling as a minority as a writer. She continued: ‘Blowing Bubbles is lucky to have brilliant female writers and personally, I’ve only felt once that I was targeted for “not understanding footballâ€.
‘I wrote an article on Darren Randolph in 2015 when he was suddenly called into action. He didn’t have a great start to his West Ham career, but I based the article on research. I’ll admit to often putting a positive spin on most West Ham topics, but I got a backlash on this particular piece.
‘Maybe I was being sensitive, but having men tweeting me asking if I was looking forward to us losing with him in goal felt a little targeted.’
And football was how Lucy met her now husband, Kelvin. ‘On the positive side, I met my husband on the old SoccerAM forum, so we’ve always had football in common. That particular community was very welcoming, which gave me the confidence to say whatever I wanted about football.’
For American-born, London-living Emily Pulham she feels incredibly lucky to having women of multiple generations around her at West Ham.
‘This means I’ve haven’t had too many bad experiences in the ground.I’m also surrounded by men who have my back in every way and who have never batted an eyelid at my being part of their West Ham family.
‘However, having said that, I’ve had a season ticket for 16 years and I’ve still yet to go a single season without being asked if I’m at my first match. Cup matches bring out the best in curious people.’
Emily admits her American accent puts added pressure on her as a female fan. She continued: ‘Part of the challenge with me is that I wasn’t born in the UK – something very obvious as soon as I open my mouth – and the trouble with being a foreign woman in football is you have to be so “on the ballâ€ at all times.
‘You need to be the most expert person in the room to be taken seriously and are regularly expected to prove your credentials on demand just to be able to take a seat at the table.
‘You need to have studied the game inside and out; Make a mistake over the club a player signed from in 1997 or forget what muscle Carroll injured in February 2016 and your credibility is shot. Men don’t need to pass the expert test; they just need to show up.’
And Emily is hoping for change in the future. ‘As long as we’re still subconsciously or, worse still, consciously, administering this litmus test, we still don’t have an equal playing field when it comes to the beautiful game.
‘In a club like West Ham, where women have been attending for generations and the granddaughters of the original trailblazers are now taking to the stands, we’ve done great work to get this far. But we need to make sure we’re continuing to progress and that all women, irrespective of birthplace, ethnicity, faith, sexuality, disability or age, feel included in the West Ham community – and that none of us have to keep proving we belong there.’
For Olivia Elliott, her earliest memories of interest in football was playing at lunchtime at primary school. ‘It was girls versus boys in the playground, and no one ever had an issue with it back then, she said.
‘But the older you get, the more exposed you are to people being nasty about females liking football. Secondary school was a real eye opener for me when boys would say I know nothing about it and the girls would make jokes calling me a boy.
‘High School is a prime age where you can get bullied for being completely different. The bullying never got to me though because I love watching football and that’s something that won’t ever change.’
And now as an adult, the nasty comments have continued on social media. ‘Social media can be such a nasty place,’ she continued. ‘I’m sure that the other females at Blowing Bubbles and even reading this will agree that at a certain point in their lifetime they have been told to “get back to the kitchenâ€.
‘So when you do say something that’s deemed as an unpopular opinion all the men and boys come crawling saying you know nothing about football and to do the washing up.
‘I think as football fans collectively we all need to stick together with online sexist abuse and show that football is for all regardless of your gender. I’m honoured and proud to be a female supporting football, especially West Ham United.’
For Holly Worthington, she loved football from a young age. ‘I feel I’ve been able to experience its evolution from a female perspective, and it’s been one great journey,’ she said.
‘I started playing football at the age of five, back in 1998. At the time, I was a complete outcast for it and may as well have told somebody I was an alien every time I asked the boys at school if I could play with them. I had to learn to hold my own quickly, finding that strong slide tackles in games stopped people calling my partaking “cuteâ€ as often.
‘I started using my Twitter to become more involved in the football conversation and it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done.’
And Holly is looking forward to seeing how the journey of women in football continues.
‘Aside from a few questions about how I escaped from the kitchen, I’ve found an incredible community of West Ham fans who are not only supportive of the women’s game, but also of the women that want to be involved without feeling like an outsider.
‘Over the years, it’s gone from absolute bewilderment when I tell somebody I like football, to having some of the best football chats with no judgement.
‘Every season, more women and families are at games and it’s brilliant to see it evolving. The most noticeable change is that once upon a time, football stadiums were the one place where the queue for the ladies’ toilet was non-existent. However, on this occasion, I’ve never been so happy to be in a queue. Things are changing.’