Everybody is entitled to their own opinions in life. You like pineapple on pizza? Good for you, you enjoy that Hawaiian. Prefer Love Is Blind to Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad? Bizarre, but you do you, boo. I’m all for freedom of choice, but there must be limit. At some point in human history, we decided that we would confuse having an opinion with being rude. I’m talking about those that are racist. I’m talking about those that condone acts of violence, and, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by the title of this article, I’m talking about those pathetic individuals who, for some unfathomable reason, simply cannot accept that women have as much right to talk about football as men do.
I’m not here to get drawn into a debate over what is better, men’s football or women’s, because, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. There isn’t a better. They’re both sports. They’re both played by top athletes, and even the worst professional is still in the absolute 1% of people good enough to play at this level. No. What I am here to talk about are the idiots who are so very threatened and frightened by women that they must resort to such a low standard. The kind of repulsive individuals who sit behind their Dorito-dust covered keyboards and write out sexist and abusive messages to girls who have committed the crime of *checks notes* supporting a football team.
Every few weeks while scrolling Twitter you see these types of things pop up. You read them, you shake your head, and you move on. Recently though, I saw a particularly horrible screenshot from Emma, a Sheffield Wednesday fan, who shared her experience with her followers.
The screenshots posted included such delightful statements such as “stay in the kitchen stupid bitch”, “I hope you get assaulted at football” and, most charmingly of all, Hope you end up like Sarah evered”. These messages are horrible, but Emma dealt with them like a champ, using her wit to clap back at him and not dropping down to his disgusting level of insults. Unfortunately, the poor lad was so braindead that I fear some of Emma’s retorts flew over his head!
While Emma has developed a thick skin when dealing with these trolls, it still breaks your heart that she must put up with this at all. I have taken a lot of stick for opinions I have made about football over the years, but it all goes back to my team. I’ve never had my life threatened or my appearance criticised for these viewpoints. I spoke to Emma about her experience with this troll.
Emma – Sheffield Wednesday fan:
How upsetting/annoying is it to get targeted by trolls like this, doing something you love like going to the football? You’d never get this level of abuse for going to a movie or gig. Has it ever put you off going?
The abuse I received was particularly vile and the personal nature of the abuse was very upsetting, but I think the thing that upset me most was the masses of women and girls reaching out to me afterwards who had experienced similar or worse. I’m glad women feel confident to speak about these things more openly now, but the fact that abuse is a normal part of the female fan experience is incredibly depressing.
The abuse I faced, and abuse I’ve seen other women face, has definitely put me off going to matches alone, although I’d still happily go with a friend or relative. The abuse is compounded by the ‘creepy’ messages I and many other women have received, where male football fans offer to accompany to games or tell you they’re going to find you at a match – they rarely mean it to be threatening but in reality, it’s quite a scary prospect.
Have you ever heard this abuse in person, or is it always online?
I’ve never faced overt abuse in person. People are much more confident with the anonymity that social media gives them. There are more passive behaviours in person that can be offensive (talking to my male friends and relatives about football while ignoring me, for example) but it’s rarer to face explicit abuse in person.
Can you tell me a little about Her Game Too and what an important tool this is?
Her Game Too was set up almost a year ago by female football fans who aim to promote respect and equality in football. They have ambassadors and advocates representing a growing number of clubs who help raise awareness and educate people about the issues female football fans face, and ultimately campaign for the eradication of abuse and disrespect in football. For me personally, they’ve offered a really important sense of community while I was going through the after-effects of online abuse. Their links with clubs meant they could also offer me practical support as I tried to identify the abuser.
What, if anything, can anyone do to help fight these online trolls?
Speaking up is the easiest thing that everyone can do. Both online and in real life, sexist views need to be consistently challenged. The supportive response I received when I posted about my experience helped me get through the abuse and its repercussions. I think journalists in particular can do more to provide constructive help and promote awareness. While I was grateful to speak to some really considerate and caring journalists, I also had some very negative experiences where journalists attempted to trivialise my abuse, which actually prompted further abuse. Victims of online abuse should not be pressured to include their photos and full names in reporting of the event, and journalists should not aim to downplay the nature of abuse for views and comment interactions – it can have a devastating impact on the victim. Finally, more awareness for reporting systems beyond social media can be raised. The organisation Stop Hate UK is fantastic at helping victims report criminal offences online relating to hate crime and discrimination.
Your story recently featured on a major news site. How important was it for you to have your story featured on such a prevalent UK news site? Do you feel this article helped you and/or women and girls who have suffered online abuse?
So this article was actually the one that I was really unhappy with. At first, I was thrilled to get the story out to a big news organisation, but it was handled really poorly. They used a headline which featured the mildest of the abuse I received, which generated some really vile comments and abuse about me. To make it worse they pressured me into including a photo of myself (despite me saying no firmly on several occasions) and linked to my Twitter account, so I got comments about my appearance and DMs with further abuse. The actual article itself was poorly written and included mundane information from the interview rather than the more important points I made. I think it’s a shame that the story got handled so badly by such a big news outlet – they promised to get the message out there, but actually made the problems I was facing far worse. It was actually really distressing to me, much worse than the initial abuse. A far better article was published in the Sheffield Star by Alex Miller, who went out of his way to get quotes from other Her Game Too representatives.
Following this chat with Em, it had become increasingly obvious that Her Game Too were doing an incredible job, and I wanted to go to the source. I dropped them an email and ended up speaking with one of the co-founders, Lucy Ford, about the work done by Her Game Too.
Lucy – Bristol Rovers fan:
Can you tell me about how this organisation came to be? Was there a trigger, or was this something that had been bubbling over for a long time?
Over the time when we were in lockdown and couldn’t attend games in person, I definitely noticed an increase in sexist comments online towards women in football and women expressing their opinions on football. The campaign was founded by my good friend and fellow Bristol Rovers fan Caz May. In January of last year, she received a lot of sexist abuse as well as personal abuse for commenting on a scoreline of another team, she was expressing her own opinion and it definitely did not warrant the reaction it got. She then came to me in April and asked whether I felt there was a campaign out there for sexism in football and I said “No” and then she said why don’t we do a video highlighting our experiences and I was like “Absolutely yes!”. We then got a list of other girls who we followed who had spoken about sexism in football and Caz asked them if they all wanted to be a part of it and they all said yes, so that was where #HerGameToo was born!
What is the biggest achievement of Her Game Too so far?
I would say firstly with all of our football league partners, there is now a reporting system in place where female fans can anonymously report sexist comments at games, and it will get followed up by the club where appropriate action will be taken. I would also say getting our first Premier League partnership with Everton on Boxing Day was a really big achievement which got national coverage as well. Finally, our dedicated fixtures with our partners have been amazing, with young girls attending their first ever games, players wearing #HerGameToo tops in the warm-up and a presence of #HerGameToo around the grounds too.
How can the average football fan help both your organisation and those who are the targets of online abuse?
That’s a good question! In terms of helping, we are keen for each of our partner clubs to have ambassadors who will be able to feedback to us about the match-day experience and be the liaison between ourselves and the club. In terms of targets of online abuse, I definitely think reporting and highlighting is important because it is not ok and it needs to be called out but also I think it is important to be an ally to those who are experiencing the abuse and support them.
What would you say to any young girl who is being put off supporting their team because of trolls?
I would say trolls are the minority and they should be ignored, but I know it is difficult. I would also say never stop doing something you love. Support your football team; no one should ever make you feel like you shouldn’t, so keep going!
My final interviewee came from north of the border. Kim Patterson is a fan of Brechin City – once of the Scottish Championship and now plying their trade in the Highland Football League. Kim is an avid Brechin fan and has built up quite a following on Twitter discussing her views on Scottish football. Kim is also an artist – check out her store here: https://www.numonday.com/shop/kim-paterson-art/
Kim – Brechin City fan:
You’ve built quite the following on Twitter. Have you ever had anything that goes beyond arguing about an opinion and becomes aggressive and abusive?
There have been a few, you’ll always get the odd person who’ll call you a slag etc because you’ve tweeted something that’s offended them. The worst one recently was a Hearts fan who blamed Brechin for their relegation, he tweeted me constantly when Brechin were then relegated. I’d had no interaction with him prior to this, he didn’t follow me or vice versa. At the time, my dad was in hospital after having a heart attack so I wasn’t really taking a lot of interest in the football. I explained to him I had personal issues and asked him to please stop tweeting me, but he continued hounding me. It was a genuinely weird level of anger to have towards someone purely because I support a club that he decided he had it in for. I don’t block people very often, but I did have to block him because it was becoming creepy.
That creepy Hearts fan aside, do you think that supporting a smaller team in a lower league means that you aren’t targeted as much, rather than if you supported a Rangers/Celtic type team?
I think mainly you are probably targeted less; Rangers/Celtic Twitter is almost separate to the rest of Scottish football Twitter. I’d imagine the nature of their rivalry means you’re more likely to get abuse. On the flip side, as a female supporting a smaller club, you’re much easier to single out when someone does decide to take issue with you/the club you support, much like the example in the previous question.
Have you ever heard of Her Game Too? They’re doing great things down south. Do you reckon Scottish football would benefit from having them work north of the border too?
I have, I think they’re great! Definitely! I follow so many women who are following their clubs every week, have great knowledge about their teams etc and almost all of them will still have experienced sexist abuse because they’ve dared to have an opinion, it’s still the go-to for a lot of people unfortunately.
What would you say to any younger girls in football who are experiencing online (or any) forms of abuse in relation to their fandom?
You shouldn’t have to ignore it but I think people like that are often wanting and looking for reactions, don’t engage and/or block/report it. Don’t let a minority of idiots put you off something you love.
Having spoken with Em, Lucy and Kim, and having read thousands of stories and abusive quotes, I’m inspired. I’m devastated that these women have to suffer this abuse, but the way that they are rising above the trolls and, in the case of Her Game Too, making clubs sit up and take notice, it is wonderful to see.
If you see cases of this abhorrent behaviour on social media, don’t get into a mud-throwing exercise. It isn’t a pissing contest, and it doesn’t really help all that much. Instead, report it. Reach out to the person being targeted and ask if they need any support, because at the end of the day, there is no quick-fix, nor is there a one-size-fits-all strategy to helping. Every person that suffers online abuse is just that, a person. An individual.
Back in February, I wrote an article on the Mason Greenwood situation, and I am going to copy the final paragraph that I wrote in that. I don’t do this out of laziness, I do this because it fits: I’m aware the majority of you reading this get it. I know I’m preaching to the choir. I appreciate that the vast majority do see the seriousness of this nature. There isn’t much that you can do to stop the trolls on the internet, but please, whatever you do, don’t be a part of it. Don’t laugh. Don’t share the meme. Be a good person. We can’t ‘understand’, but we can empathise.
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