Story by Sarah Mobbs
I’m going to take you back to the World Cup of 2010, or, more specifically, the final. Up until this point, football had merely been something that occasionally interfered on the fringes of the life of a teenage girl. I knew that Manchester United was one of the most popular teams in the whole of the world, and that to girls and boys alike David Beckham might as well have been God. I didn’t exactly hate football, but I had no real interest in the game, even for patriotic reasons during World Cups or European tournaments. But the 2010 World Cup changed all of that.
At almost 20 I wasn’t exactly what you’d call a tom-boy, but most of my friends were boys, I worked in a predominantly male staffed warehouse and other than a penchant for the colour pink, I wasn’t really interested in “girly” things. When the 2010 World Cup began, like many places, there was a sweepstake started where I worked, and because everyone else was doing it rather than because I was actually interested or wanted to win, I decided I might as well try my luck. I handed over my £1, dug deep into the bag of paper that was offered to me, and withdrew a slip. Unfolding it I was expecting to see the name of some obscure country that I never even knew played football. I wasn’t really looking at it, but as I heard the angry cry of a male co-worker I looked down to find I had drawn Spain. The men were understandably hacked off; here was this girl, who had no interest in football, who had no idea that Spain had been tipped as the team to look out for, and who had drawn the team who would, as we now know, eventually become world champions. I was really more interested in the money to be quite frank, and the first few matches passed without my attention. Then, Spain reached the final. Things got exciting then. I was unexpectedly buzzing as I made my way over to my local pub to watch the match. After what seemed like several long hours, although I was covered in my own beer from celebrating without putting it down, Spain were victorious and I had won £50. But there was something else. I had genuinely enjoyed watching the game. And not just because I was surrounded by beer and friends and an almost electric atmosphere (many of us had money riding on Spain) but because I had been thoroughly engrossed and entertained while actually watching the screen, not interacting with those around me. Was I seeing the beginnings of what would be a beautiful relationship with the beautiful game?
It seems sentimental to remember a World Cup final being the turning point in my enjoyment and following of football, but then I suppose, in a way, football is all about sentimentality. I truly began to appreciate the game when I realised this; you remember the good matches you have watched, and the good times you have spent watching them with friends and family, rather than remembering the depression you feel at the beginning of each new season or tournament, the sense of dread at becoming a football widow for months on end once more, and having all of your favourite shows interrupted. I suppose the other side of the sentimentality of football is that, at some stage you will begin travelling to watch your team play “in real life” which I imagine, makes it all the more special.
Of course, realising I could be a football fan and a girl was like an epiphany, and it made life much easier. I didn’t have pull faces and sigh a lot when my boyfriend at the time wanted to watch Arsenal play, because I was more than happy to sit and watch myself. And not quietly either! I developed a love of that team, which meant even when I was alone I would switch over to Sky Sports in time for kick off and watch all the way through. Indeed sometimes it was better to be alone. My relationship with football was such that when the Gunners, at the beginning of last season, suffered that embarrassing and heart-breaking defeat to Man-U, I was watching by myself, and unashamedly shed tears of anguish. And I’m sure it will be the same this coming season, and the seasons yet to come after that. Because, after all is said and done, I am a girl, I am football fan, and I am proud to be a Girl-Gunner!