‘I’ve had a few difficult moments but it’s not all been too negative as a female football fan’

Nina Button shares her journey of following West Ham home and away over the past ten years

I am my parents’ only daughter, the only granddaughter, and the only female cousin in the family.  It is fair to assume that I have grown very accustomed to being surrounded by men, specifically massive West Ham supporting men.  

I recall once my grandma told my little cousin Jack that he could support Arsenal if he wanted, after he expressed an interest in the Gunners — this was very quickly shut down by everyone else. I am very lucky that in my immediate family, I was never made to feel excluded from the conversations about football just because I am a woman.  

Sadly, there is a world outside your surroundings and I’m sure that many of the female writers for Blowing Bubbles, and those reading, have experienced the ‘female football fan test.’  This test often involves middle-aged men asking you to tell them who scored the winning goal in the 1998 FA Cup final, or the starting XI in the 1986 World Cup Quarters.  

Women who are football fans are often held to a ridiculously higher standard in order to claim the term ‘fan’ than our male counterparts.  I could talk for days about West Ham, football in England, women’s football — anything around the beautiful game.

Yet, for some reason, some men will go out of their way to actively exclude you from conversations.  I experienced this when completing my Masters in Football with Digital Marketing, from UCFB, which is even more shocking when we are all getting our degree in football.

Another moment that comes to mind is during the 2018 World Cup, when I was watching Poland vs Senegal with my dad and a bunch of his friends. When I said I thought Senegal would win, I was either scoffed at or just ignored. Senegal won 2-1.  

The blatant disrespect and assumption that you know nothing, just because you are woman, seems so out of date doesn’t it? However, my experiences have not been completely negative, in fact these instances are the minority.  

Ever since I began attending West Ham games, I have seen women inside the stadium.  A lot of these women reminded me of my late nan, a proper East End lady, elegant and loving, with a hint of ‘do not mess with me’.  

These women were not just passive onlookers, they were loud, vocal, and vulgar. They sure let the referees know when they were being — bankers — let’s just say.  Now, in my role working for the club, the number of amazing women behind the scenes, keeping this club ticking, makes me so proud.

It does feel like such an accepting and open place, with openly gay staff and female staff being treated with the respect every human deserves.  I can’t talk about football as a female fan without talking about the huge success of our Lionesses this summer, beating Germany in the Euro’s final.  

It takes me back to primary school, where us girls played with the boys, and no one batted an eyelid. As soon as you go into secondary school, however, you can’t play with the boys anymore.

The game’s too physical, they don’t want to tackle you, or maybe they’re scared you’re better than them. England Captain Leah Williamson began her career at Sunday League team Scot Youth, a boys only team. She said: ‘I was the only girl in the team, and I would get abuse every single week.’  

‘I knew some people were getting angry on the side lines that a girl was the best player on the pitch, but for me what was better than matching their aggression was winning the game.’

Leah Williamson

I absolutely love this sentiment from Leah and that mentality has stood her in good stead, clearly, as she has become the first England Captain to win a major European Tournament since the legend, Bobby Moore.  The amount of open and proud support for the Lionesses often made me emotional, seeing pundits like Ian Wright truly investing emotionally in the tournament and the journey.

Throughout the month, there was a feeling I believe, that this could be the one. After the heartbreak of the Men’s Euros final, it felt like we deserved this. The women did what the men couldn’t and brought it home. I was at that match, and it felt like a momentous occasion.  

I am a football coach myself, and I have now set my sights on developing the best girls football club in east London. When I was younger, there were very few opportunities, and it seems not much has changed in that respect. My aim is to be a part of the change.

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