Living in the UK right now feels a little like living in a parallel universal. It’s sunny all the time and England won a penalty shoot out for the first time since, well, forever.
Everyone I know is firmly seated on the World Cup train, riding the roller coaster and having the time of their lives. And how could you not be? The sense of community is one thing, the adrenaline is another. Jumping up and down at the England game yesterday I shouted ‘This is like drugs but without shit techno!’ as the entire pub lost its collective mind.
One of the best things about the World Cup is the sense of community that comes with it. You are immediately united in hope, fear and elation with hundreds of thousands of strangers. England, and the UK more widely, have suffered years of erosion when it comes to community. While it’s problematic to blame that on one person (looking at you, Maggie Thatcher), the lack of community in the UK is arguably the root of many of the problems facing our society today. It’s hard to demonise refugees when they come round to yours for a cup of tea.
It’s tricky to be a woman and a football fan. If community is taken to its extreme it becomes parochial and it becomes aggressive. If you have one big ‘us’ then you’re going to have lots of outsiders.
I’m quite into football; I don’t claim to be a connoisseur, but I know a couple of things (I know I would die to protect our hero, Harry Kane). Men love to test me on my football knowledge. ‘Oh, you like football? What team do you support?’ ‘Bournemouth.’ ‘Oh yeah? Who’s the manager?’ ‘Eddie Howe.’
As a general note, if you’re talking to someone and the conversation would make the Spanish Inquisition glow with pride, maybe chill out a little bit.
This kind of questioning serves to make women feel like imposters. How dare you not know Lingard’s mum’s middle name? It aims to make women feel like they have no right to be there, drinking a pint and having fun. Enjoying football is not an inherently masculine thing. Men do not shoot out of the womb with a firm understanding of the offside rule. These things are taught.
I think some men get a bit jittery when women ‘intrude’ on these traditionally male spaces, which is ironic, as the same men probably complain that all women talk about is shopping and sex. There are lots of men watching the game who aren’t football experts, and that’s fine. Let people enjoy nice things, like Pickford’s godlike saves and Southgate’s immaculate three-piece suits.
The aggression shown by some fans is incredibly alienating. Surely this doesn’t need to be said, but maybe don’t glass people because they don’t agree with you? The hyper masculine arena that is football fandom strikes me as outmoded and a bit silly. You can care about things without beating people up. You can be a woman and still manage to just about grasp how free kicks work. These things are not mutually exclusive.
The World Cup serves to remind us of the importance of common ground, and the sheer joy that comes from experiencing it. Look, football’s coming home. Let’s just make sure the place is nice and welcoming for when it gets back.