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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Lycett

Should football fans swear at women's games?

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

The Lionesses played the first England game of 2023 at Milton Keynes. A crowd of 21,000 packed the stadium on a chilly Thursday night, men and women and children of all ages.

The Lionesses won, 4-0 against South Korea. A bit of a slow start, but then they ramped up.

The crowd did too. Plenty of chanting and cheering and singing for England to show us what we've come to expect of them - a win.

That support occasionally turned into some swearing in celebration. So, post game, a Twitter debate arose. Do parents have the right to tell fans to stop shouting and swearing because there are children around?

This question is exclusive to the women's game.

Parents at the mens' games would not get away with asking fans to keep it down for the sake of the children.

The men's game is renowned for being rowdy and sweary and unruly. Football fans - especially in England - are known for their hooliganism. Not a great moniker to hold, yet it's largely accepted as part of the game.

Children do go to the men's games. There are family enclosures for this purpose, to make sure that it's a safe environment for them.

Family areas in the women's game are still a work in progress.

The advertising in the women's game has long held that it's family friendly.

This has led to parents bringing their children to matches to experience a game, booking anywhere in the stadium.

It's great that they feel it's safe to do so - that's a positive aspect of the women's game. However, parents shouldn't come to games with the expectation that everyone around them will take the presence of children into consideration.

Whether long-term football devotees or new post-Euros supporters, many in the crowd will be very passionate about their team - and this may translate into bad language.

Lockdown football showed the importance of the energy crowds bring to games.

Football is all about crowd engagement. The crowd is there to vocalise passion, to roar in one voice in support of the players.

Games with no crowd lacked a sense of intensity and tension. Teams lost "home advantage" during the pandemic - the benefit of a home crowd behind them, guiding them to a win.

The noise and support of the crowd is generally a good thing for the women's game, and something that will continue to grow with attendance.

As club rivalries grow too, exchanges will only become more heated, with the traditional chant of "What do we think of [Insert opposition team here]? Sh*t!" as just one example.

Parents bringing children may need to consider this before buying a ticket, as that passion can't easily be policed.

The other side to this argument is the players themselves - and how society sees women that swear.

Jill Scott went viral when she was caught on camera - in slow motion no less - screaming at one of the German players to "please go away, you silly billy" (I'm paraphrasing).

There are certain expectations placed on women when it comes to swearing. An article in Grazie highlights that Scott was criticised in the aftermath, saying that "we have a problem with female rage".

Reactions towards women in sport showing passion are stronger than for similar behaviour in men, based on the premise that women should be "ladylike".

This of course extends beyond sport into society, where women are held to a double standard when it comes to using bad language - despite research showing that women actually swear more than men.

Many of the fans of women's football are women - did this contribute to the family friendly persona of the games? Possibly.

Does that mean that the fans should be restricted in how they express their passion? Whether you agree with swearing or not, it's unfair for fans of the women's game to be held to different standards to the men's.

Regardless, the nature of the swearing and chanting in the women's game tends to be different to the men's game.

There's a line that's rarely crossed. I've been to games before where a lone voice in the crowd started to hurl insults at the players, loaded with swearing to punctuate the abuse.

The crowd immediately started tutting loudly - the most British of responses - and then told him to shut up.

Shouting in support of your team is one thing; unnecessary slurs are another. The fans at women's football are particularly sensitive to that distinction, with misogyny and online abuse still rife.

That unfortunate circumstance of the women's game means that there's an air of protectiveness towards the players, which helps keep the atmosphere generally positive, even when swearing is involved.

The women's game isn't above criticism - but fans can take responsibility for how it progresses from here.

As supporters of the men's team cross over into the women's fanbase, some of the older rivalries and notions about how clubs are perceived filter through.

Sometimes that can add to the game, carrying the passion over. But sometimes it's has negative results.

The Guardian has previously reported on a Manchester United women's game attended by fans of the men's team, where offensive chants were heard.

Women's teams backed by long-established men's clubs may find it hard to differentiate themselves - but fans of the women's game can choose to move in a new direction.

Rather than suppressing swearing or chanting, its fans can help create new traditions.

The question of swearing at women's matches - as with many aspects of its development - is about finding a balance between what's gone before and how it wants to differentiate itself from the men's sport.

Swearing is bound to continue being a part of the passion that the game instils in crowds - and players - yet we, as fans, can keep it on the right side of positive.

Children are very welcome to attend games, and the women's game is a fantastic place to foster young people's interest in and love of the sport.

But, however it's advertised, football will never be a place solely for children where swearing is completely banned - nor should it be. Something parents need to remember.

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