If you claim to be a soccer fan, you don’t have to mention that you are burning for the male version of this sport. Women’s soccer may belong to the future, but the present sometimes looks sobering.
When the German women’s national team won their first title as European champions in 1989, the players were each given a coffee service instead of a cash bonus, which was the norm for men. And when at the Balloon d’Or 2018 was awarded for the first time to a woman, the Norwegian Ada Hegerberg the presenter asked her to “wobble” on stage – shake her booty. Women’s soccer may have seen some progress in recent decades, but there’s no denying that it’s still a damn long way to go.
The progress has been enormous. Just because in countless official soccer associations women were forbidden for a long time to organize themselves in clubs and play in their own leagues. If a girl wanted to play soccer at that time, it was just before puberty, until then she could still kick with the boys. When the soccer officials finally allowed themselves to play women’s soccer, some special rules were introduced in concern for the female sex. In the beginning, for example, games were shorter than those of male athletes.
Thank God we are now far away from these times. Even in the heads of officials in soccer, crowned with grey and white hair, the realization has prevailed that soccer without women will not go well for much longer. A lot has happened in this respect in recent years. Top leagues worldwide such as the English Premier League, the Serie A in Italy or the French League 1 now have their female counterparts, in which in most cases – thanks to their financial strength – the women’s departments of the professional clubs set the tone. In soccer country Germany there is still a mixture of old and new. Although the women of professional clubs like FC Bayern Munich dominate here as well, the old traditional clubs Turbine Potsdam and 1. FFC Frankfurt still set exclamation marks here and there. Pure women’s soccer clubs, which have made the league big, big enough to be interesting for the financially strong clubs. Which one can also see as a disadvantage, because some tradition is lost. Or because the principle sometimes prevails now that money does score goals. One looks to France, where the women of Paris St. Germain are serial winners thanks to the cash from Arabia. Or even in Germany, where the women of FC Bayern Munich compete every year for the title with those of VfL Wolfsburg, which, like the male division of the VW car group, is behind. It’s a curse with professionalization. It is urgently needed, but it is not without side effects.
Germany may have dominated international women’s soccer for a long time, but its pioneers came from Scandinavia. When it comes to women’s rights, the history of women’s soccer in Sweden and Norway began to attract attention for the first time. But evil tongues would also notice that the male competition there is also rather weak. Unlike Brazil, for example, which still has one of the world’s best players, Marta, for example, but has sometimes had organizational problems putting together a national team at all. While in the traditionally also strong USA, women’s soccer can almost keep up with its male competitors. Whereby Soccer and Americans, as you know, that was never really the big love.
But what almost all countries in the world have in common are countless kicking girls on the soccer fields. There may still be plenty of room for improvement, for now, an active generation of women players, but in a few years, they will undoubtedly be the door opener for the breakthrough in women’s soccer. Players like Ada Hegerberg, Dzsenifer Marozsán, Alexandra Popp, Marta and whatever they may be called, are today the role models they have not yet had. Even in countries such as Iran or Afghanistan, young women today are no longer deterred from taking the round into the square. Soccer, dominated by men, has quietly and secretly become an instrument of emancipation. And while professional soccer players dare to confess their homosexuality after the end of their career, lesbian players have no problem.
What about sports?
Well, may some sports enthusiasts now say, social role or not, what about the sport of women’s soccer?
Despite all the criticism about the disrespect of women, there is one thing that cannot be overlooked. The average female soccer player is physically inferior to the average male soccer player. Only after a short time many active people and trainers (but mostly coaches) were able to make a virtue out of this necessity. Women’s soccer is a tactical game. Women’s soccer is the implementation of the motto of the legendary Muhamed Ali. “Dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
The individual player controls the ball just as she knows that tactics only work with the entire team. Leaders lead their lagging team to victory, they don’t try at all costs to become the heroine of the game by equalizing or later scoring the winning goal. While the men’s national teams, for example, sometimes have country selections that tend to play in midfield but get a chance to win the title from a single player, the star of the women’s team is the team. Playfully brilliant, but humanly narcissistic female versions of a Ronaldo or Ibrahimović are mostly unknown. The tactical instruction from the bench, “No matter what you do, give X the ball,” should not have fallen yet.
Watching a game of women’s soccer is sometimes like watching a game of chess on the lawn. The ball is played, not threshed. He sails over the grass to the other player, who lets him dance on her feet, turns around the opponent, enables the ball to fly upwards towards the goal, where the forehead of the team-mate pushes him past the opposing goalkeeper into the net. As planned – at least often. There are 22 women on the square who have had to overcome a lot of resistance in their lives to get there. And those who, when they have arrived for up instead of negotiating million-dollar transfers, must consult with their employer to be able to attend training every day. There is 22 times more passion on the grass because anyone who loses their love for soccer here has hardly any reason to continue playing.
Soccer is still a passion lived here
Undoubtedly, it is also the passion that makes women play harder than men. It may be civilized among women, but it is not that one or the other foul would not require the use of medical personnel. But a woman can be tough. An Alexandra Popp doesn’t even notice the same body touch that would give Ronaldo to the dying swan. While her Portuguese counterpart is squirming on the grass with imaginary aches and pains, Alexandra Popp prefers to use the opportunity for a shot focused on the goal.
The fans on the sidelines thank her for it. It is a small but loyal fan community that gathers there week after week. In Germany, for example, the number of visitors to top league matches is comparable to that of men’s matches in the fourth or fifth division. But what you don’t have regarding quantity, you can make up for concerning quality. A visit to a women’s soccer game can sometimes be an event, often for the whole family. Close to the heroines on the pitch, the soccer fan has not yet degraded to a consumer for tickets, merchandising products and pay-tv packages. He is what he wants to be – the 12th man or the 12th woman.
Thomas Matterne writes stories since he can write. His first professional path, however, was a job as an online journalist at a local TV station. While he works now more in the field of PR and marketing, he is also still a passionate blogger.