As I open my wardrobe, it's normal for me to see my Reading shirts sharing a space with my going out dresses, my heels and my handbags. I always buy the mens ones mind, I can’t deal with those disastrous low cut attempts at feminising them. It never really occurs to me that it's still a weird concept for some people even in the 21st century that I can love football even with a pair of boobs. With over one quarter of all football attendances now being made up by women, I wonder why there is still such an emphasis on the gender of a football fan.
Football is a big part of my life and has been since the age of 10. I remember proudly opening my birthday presents to find the Liverpool shirt (!) my Mum had promised me because I'd managed to name 11 Liverpool players. I also went to my first football match when I was 10 with Mum. Telford United (my hometown team before they liquidated and started again as AFC) drew 2-2 with Burton Albion. I remember even then feeling the excitement of a last minute sending off and Telford just about held on for the point.
We’ve been season tickets holders in Y19 for 10 seasons and I couldn't imagine having the season ticket with anyone else but Mum. For so many years we did the 300 mile round trip from Shropshire to the home games, but now I'm in West Sussex it's a great way to spend time together both home and away.
People have made comments in the past that it's strange for a mother and daughter to go to games together. Granted it's not the most common thing to see at a football match, but what's the big deal? Are we not supposed to enjoy the game as much as a father and son should? Carving a career out down South with both of my parents and boyfriend being 200 miles away is difficult, but the weekends I do get to go to football with Mum is one of the things I look forward to. I wouldn't have wanted anyone else's shoulder to cry into when Adam Federici let the ball slip into the Wembley goal in the FA Cup semi final.
If you type women football fans into a search engine, every other article is headlined '100 hottest female fans at Euro 2016' or 'Top 50 beautiful women in football'. Why does a woman being a football fan give egotistical men a right to sexualise us by taking photos and attempting to write an article to make some money or gain a few more followers? Imagine if a glossy magazine ran an article which featured page upon page of pictures of guys in the crowds. We'd be labelled as simple and accused of only liking football for one reason.
Have you ever noticed that a high proportion of womenswear in club shops contains the colour pink? It really grinds my gears. Just because I'm a woman doesn't mean that my favourite colour is pink, or that I have to wear pink all the time just in case anyone was unsure of my gender. I understand that some clothes may want to be more feminine, but apart from the goalkeeper kit, where has pink ever fitted in with our club colours?
It's not just football clubs trying too hard thinking they're pleasing ladies, it's other fans opinions of us too. Here's a few phrases that hack off female football fans:
'Which one do you fancy?'
There is an assumption by some fans that women are just there for the nice looking men on the football field. FYI us ladies who love the game definitely don't spend 90 minutes staring at legs and arses. To be honest I never even think about the fact they're men, they're just football players giving me the roller coaster of emotions I crave.
'You know a lot about football for a girl'
I can cook a banging lasagne whilst watching Soccer Saturday, is that okay? I can hold my own in a conversation about football, and I even finished in the top half of a Dream Team League with my work colleagues last season and I was the only female. However, even though I think my football knowledge is quite good, mine is nothing on my Mum's. Her's is encyclopedic!
'You're only doing it to impress a guy'
Granted there are a lot of girls that do this, but trust me, it's as cringeworthy for girls who actually like football as well as men. These girls give us a bad name as there are plenty of us that don't have that motive.
'Guys must love you'
I'd like to think my boyfriend loves me for more than just the fact I understand the offside rule. Its true that some guys do love it, but it's also true that other guys find it a bit intimidating. I've had many a discussion about football at work and some guys just don't even acknowledge what I'm saying. Its a bit embarrassing on their part.
'You surely can't get as emotionally involved as men'
Why is it frowned upon if I want to shout at a game? Its a great way for me to vent my frustration if I've had a bad week at work. I actually think women get much more emotionally involved compared to men. I mean, how many of you felt like you were welling up when Paul McShane got the equaliser against Brighton a couple of weeks ago? Or when we narrowly missed out on the play-offs a couple of seasons ago? Just because I have child bearing capabilities it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand and feel the ups and downs of being a football fan.
'You just picked the team because they win all the time'
Trust me, I'm a Reading fan. I really, really didn't.
In 2016 I think it's really important that young girls who like football are encouraged to pursue the hobby of playing or watching. A close friend of mine has three football mad children, two of which are twins. Her daughter was asked to play for her twin brother's team as they were short on players and she is a good goalkeeper. Even though the coach was sceptical, she only conceded two goals and helped the team to an emphatic 8-2 victory.
My friend stood quietly on the sidelines whilst all the other parents commented on the confident performance. She was so proud when she came into work and I was so happy for both mother and daughter. I’d like to think that if and when I have children I’d have a similar relationship to that of my friend and her daughter and also what I have with my Mum.
Apart from the odd moronic post on social media or the occasional degrading wolf whistle from an opposing fan, I do agree that on the whole the acceptance of female football fans is getting better. It’d be nice to one day feel like I’m just another regular football fan though, rather than having constant reminders that myself and my fellow females are in the minority. But for now, I’ll carry on venturing out of my kitchen on Saturdays and Tuesdays and enjoying the game I love as much as any football loving man would too.