Females in football – How to get ahead

By Lee Carnihan on 30-11-2016
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As well as being the most important year, the third year of university can be daunting, exciting, and downright terrifying. Other than juggling assessments and revision, it’s also the year where you have to start thinking about your future. 

Where next? 

Towards the end of uni, you may experience the “I have no idea what I’m doing” moment, but this is completely normal. Not every student knows exactly what they want to do. But as a word of advice, it’s always best to know your options. If you’ve realised that you want to pursue a career in football and you’re a woman, then make sure you do everything possible with the time you have to get ahead. 

Your options 

Having a career in football doesn’t mean you have to be a player or stick to the women’s game. There are many different career paths to choose from including coaching, refereeing, managerial work, and physio-therapy.

Student sport societies can give you a head start 

Getting involved in sports at uni doesn’t mean you have to study sports science. It’s a great start, but there are other ways to get involved.  

There are tons of sports societies on campus, but if for some wild reason there isn’t a football one, or a female football team, then don’t be afraid to start your own. Building a society allows you to gain the experience you need to get to where you want to go. Whether you choose to take on a role as manager or player, the skills that you attain will look incredible on your CV.   

One of the greatest things about uni, is that you always have the support of the students’ union. So, with the right pitch and a little persuasion, the SU can help you make it happen. Even if the SU hasn’t got enough funding, you could always create a fundraising event. 

Fundraising is a great way to earn money and gain support for your society. With your own funding, you don’t have to rely on the SU and instead you can buy your own kit and goal posts and nets (essential for football!) 

Once you’ve got the kit and a team name, getting people to sign up is the most important part. Corey Faniel, a student at the University of St Andrews, offers some great advice about how to do just this. As a Harry Potter fan, Faniel created the society ‘Muggle Quidditch’ and reached out to students by creating a Facebook page. He admits that “reaching the target audience was tough” but advises that as long as “you maintain a regular activity, people will come.” 

Due to its popularity, ‘Muggle Quidditch’ has now expanded and is practiced at other universities across the UK. Other than making a Facebook page, you could also create events and groups to further advertise your society.   

There are also opportunities for you and your team to compete against other universities which gives you the chance to make your mark and earn you more valuable experience to put on your CV.   

Societies can impact your future more than you think. So, if you’re looking at the bigger picture, and for you, football isn’t just a hobby, start prepping for your career with a society while you’re still at uni. 

When you leave uni 

After leaving uni, there are times when you may feel a little lost. Don’t panic. There are numerous steps that you can take depending on which career path you choose.   

Surprisingly, the number of playing roles in football between men and women are somewhat equal, but when it comes to a managerial position, there are far fewer females than males. In fact, only 7% of managers across the globe are female

There is also a lack of female referees in men’s football and some suggest that this is because female referees experience more verbal abuse on the pitch than male referees. For instance, back in 2011, Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys were recorded mocking Sian Massey, an assistant referee for the Premier League.   

After scoffing at the thought of “a female linesman”, Gray continued to make an insulting generalisation that “women don’t know the offside rule”. These comments sparked outrage amongst the football community which led to Gray being sacked. Because of this incident, women have become more accepted in the men’s game.  

In fact, in recent years, female referees have made significant progress. For instance, the 17-year old referee Charlotte Savage contests the idea that female referees receive more abuse than male referees. The Norfolk teen admits that she’s “more surprised by the lack of abuse [she’s] had than anything”.   

It could be argued that the Massey scandal, as well as other incidents, could have impacted the way women are being treated in football today. This is not to say sexism in football has disappeared completely, but it is evident that from the Massey incident, the FA has proved that there will be no tolerance when it comes to sexism.   

With the support of the FA and the Football Futures programme, Savage has excelled as a referee and continues to inspire. As a year-ten student, she took up the course that would kick off her career as a referee and she encourages young women to do the same.   

The FA “encourage[s] and promote[s] the involvement of groups across all levels of football to the greatest possible number of people, regardless of race, age, disability, religion or faith, gender or sexual orientation”. It is clear that the FA promotes equal opportunity, and Savage’s story is a worthy example of their values and morals in action. 

 
Practical steps 

If you’re interested in applying for a refereeing course, you’ll have to contact the nearest County Football Association. The course usually consists of five core modules and there are nine different levels of refereeing, so there’s a lot of room for progression. With this said, there are also limitations. 

The current issue with football is that there has never been a female referee in the Premiership. One young woman who wishes to change this is Mary Harmer, who hopes to be the first ever female referee for the Premier League. She is currently qualified to officiate semi-professional games and act as an assistant referee in the Women’s Super League and lower divisions of the men’s league. 

As well as being a skilled referee, Harmer currently works as a Referee Tutor and a Referee Development Officer. Back in 2014 when Harmer had just completed her training as a Referee Development Officer, she stated that this role would enable her to “help more referees like [herself] progress”, which is exactly what she is doing.   

Although she has not yet managed to referee in the Premiership, it is inspiring to know that Harmer and many other thriving female referees will keep on fighting for their chance to make their mark on the pitch. 

If, however, becoming a coach or a manager is more appealing to you, there are five core coaching qualifications designed by the FA that you’ll need to take in order to qualify as a manager. 

Public support may have grown in recent years but there is still a long way to go. There are still gender barriers to be broken and to do this female footballers, referees and managers need more exposure and opportunities to play in the higher tiers of the English game. Only then will female involvement in the men’s game be viewed as the norm.

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