Disclaimer: I hate football. I have sat patiently and silently through extensive male-led conversations about football players, matches and stats more times than I can count. Most often, when my boredom is noticed I am asked whether I would prefer to talk about ‘make-up or something’, which is surprising considering the rarity of make-up on my face. I am not bored because I am a girl, I am bored because I have no interest in football, and as a consequence know very little about it. In addition to failing to understand the appeal of watching a ball being kicked back and forth for an hour and a half with perhaps a total of five minutes of excitement, I also hate football because of its associated violence, aggression and misogyny.
This year, however, I fell prey to naïve optimism when England charged its way to the semi-finals of the World Cup. While I managed to escape relatively unharmed having not watched an entire match, I tuned into the last ten minutes to see the end result. This time it felt different. The focus was less on football and more about celebration, pride and inclusivity. Everyone was celebrating, everyone was proud of their country and it felt like a much needed break from the tension and horrors we are so used to hearing about.
However, all good things must come to an end. The failure of England to progress reminded me of exactly why I have disdain for the sport. While the game on the pitch has become gentrified, becoming a display of elite athletes showcasing incredible talent, the game off the pitch has become a breeding ground for crime, violence and aggression. This is of course not limited to England. The rioting which followed France’s victory caused the death of two of the country’s fans, with many others injured. The increase in domestic abuse reported is extreme, seeing as much as a 38% increase in A&E admissions following an England loss. In 2016 the violence became more alarming due to trained Russians equipped with gum shields and MMA gloves. While I can understand the disappointment of losing, the extreme violence that it warrants is inexcusable.
The sport has become a symbol of exclusivity, division, misogyny and violence. While it can inspire positivity in the form of nationwide pride, it also has the capacity to turn its loyal fans into criminals. Domestic violence, rioting and ultimately death are not things that I believe can be overlooked. While football may be a tradition, somewhat of an old gentlemen’s club that brings supporters together, it too has the capacity for unprecedented rivalry within sport. I am not saying that football should be scrapped, simply that the dark side of football should be more of a discussion and not just accepted. The sport has the potential to be a grounds for celebration and fun, but until the issues that it causes are addressed I will continue to give the game a red card.