I’ve actually been working on this article for a few weeks now but, as with many things, life got in the way and I’m glad it did.
Cast your minds all the way back to Saturday; another lacklustre performance from Steve Bruce’s NUFC but another 3 points added to the tally - something which is happening regularly this season. It’s virtually impossible to be unhappy when your team win, however it is possible to be happy with 3 points yet disappointed in the performance.
My tweets echoed this on Saturday and as sure as night follows day, the grief came in. We are all entitled to our own opinions but bringing the fact that I'm female into it just isn't right. I was told to stick to watching Emmerdale and go back to the Metrocentre, amongst other things.
As someone who has had death and rape wished upon me because of tweets about football, things like this don't usually upset me but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t upset someone else. It does bother me, however, that it’s now 2020 and a woman can’t voice her opinion about the game without comments like this flooding the replies.
Some of my earliest memories centre around football. My Dad celebrating goals in such a way that it set the dog off, knocked the bird off its perch and made my sister cry. Sitting in my Grandparents flat on a Saturday afternoon watching the scores come in as Jeff Stelling and his team presented Soccer Saturday, whilst I shared a trifle with my beloved Granda. Wearing the 97-98 away shirt on a holiday to Tenerife. Opting to play Wembley Singles with the boys in the playground at school instead of playing skipping ropes with the girls.
It has always been a huge part of my life and with my Dad and Granda at the forefront, I was left with no choice – I would support and adore Newcastle United.
I remember walking into St. James' Park for the first time on 16th September 2004. I had pestered my Dad for weeks, if not months, about finally going to my first football match. He eventually gave in and we sat in the very top row of the Milburn Stand, taking in the unrivalled views of the city, as 2 goals from Patrick Kluivert led us to victory. That was it. I was hooked.
Obviously over time my matchday experience would change and I would attend games with friends and if I wasn’t going to a game, we’d usually go to a pub to watch. Thinking about those days, I was often the only female, maybe I’d be joined by one or two more, but it wasn’t a big deal. I wasn’t treated differently by friends, by fellow supporters or by bar staff.
If we were chatting during the game, my comments would be taken into consideration. If we were debating a dubious offside, my argument would be seen as being as valid as the lad I am stood next to…so why is this so different on Twitter?
As I said earlier, a comment about Saturday’s game led to me receiving derogatory replies, and comments I have made before have led to me having some really horrendous things wished upon me.
In a world where female pundits are often speaking more sense than their male colleagues and the Be Kind movement is prevalent, you’d think that a young female would be able to voice her opinions on a public platform without receiving insults, sexism and even death threats. It does appear that these people are few and far between, but you have to wonder if the same abuse would be hurled at a male arguing the same point and would I be receiving this abuse if I was stood in the pub with a group of male friends?
Then there are the accusations that I, and many other females, only like football for the attention or the followers. In what other hobby would anyone be accused of showing an interest for attention? Who am I or you, or anyone, to judge whether or not someone really likes something?
There is a whole other side to this and whilst it isn’t abuse, it’s still just as disrespectful. When you’ve spent 45 minutes co-hosting a YouTube show and the only thing people can comment on is your appearance, albeit complimentary, it can be disheartening. You question your worth. If I’ve been chatting about football with three men and “Nice Eyes, Jess” is all that can be said about me, maybe I shouldn’t be given the platform to voice my opinion?
It can sometimes feel like I need to justify the position that I've been given. I don't claim to know everything about football, far from it in fact. I just love watching it, I love the social side of it, I love talking about it, I love debating it and I love the fact that I've met some of my closest friends through it.
Over time, I’ve considered coming off Twitter, leaving the Gallowgate Shots team and I almost packed in at NE1’s Game before I had even started. To be on the receiving end of abuse for merely talking about something you’re passionate about can have a huge impact on confidence and self-esteem but that is exactly what is wanted by those who give you the grief. Why should I stop doing something that I absolutely love because a handful of people can’t handle the fact that I am female?
It does seem that more and more female football fans are popping up so it would be easy to just slap the “attention seeking” label on us but maybe we’re becoming more noticeable as our opinions are starting to be taken into consideration.
Sian Massey-Ellis regularly officiates in the Premier League. Alex Scott became the first female pundit on Sky Sports in 2018. A fortnight ago, Stephanie Frappart became the first female to referee a Champion’s League game.
We’re definitely outnumbered and that isn’t going to change but maybe football isn’t a man’s world after all…