After an awful week for UK football in Europe it is nice after all the gloom and doom to note there are still two UK teams left in the Champions League. Of course most people will not know this as I’m talking about the women’s Champions League. Both UK teams are very similar but one is involved in a David v Goliath match that shows off the contrast in women’s football and the fear that the football establishment prefers certain types of female football teams.
The match I’m referring to is Glasgow City v Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). Glasgow City are an independent women’s team (which means they are not linked to a men’s club). They were founded in 1998 by two women – Laura Montgomery and Carol Anne Stewart with the express aim of becoming the best women’s team in Scotland and one of the best in Europe. They have achieved just that. Although they compete against the women’s teams of Rangers and Celtic among others they have won the Scottish Women’s Premier League (SWPL) eight times in a row. They went from November 2008 to September 2014 with out losing a League game. And in November 2014 they became the first Scottish female club to reach the last eight of the Champions League with two spectacular come from behind wins against Polish and Swiss opposition. Most of the team are part timers and they play their home Champions League games in Airdrie not Glasgow – watched by just 775 (first round) and 698 (second round).
In contrast PSG are the women’s section of one of the richest clubs in Europe. Stuffed with stars – they include most of the French women’s team that don’t play for rivals Lyon plus star names from Germany, Sweden and the USA – they are full time professionals who train five days a week and the only difference between them and the men is the crowds and the salary. PSG are the only club who could do what has never been done before and win both the men’s and women’s Champions Leagues in the same season as their men are also in the last eight of their Champions League. Ironically the one thing PSG and Glasgow City have in common is that for both of them it is their first appearance in this stage of the Champions League.
Sadly City’s manager Eddie Wolecki Black said something sinister this week (in the Daily Record of March 18th). He told his team to “enjoy their Quarter-Final as it could be their last”. He said this not because he does not think his team are good enough to reach the last eight of future Champions Leagues but because of rumours that the women’s Champions League might be revamped to become more like the men’s with more teams from big countries and a League section. One suspects UEFA are unhappy that Barcelona, Liverpool and Lyon – three big men’s clubs – were knocked out before Christmas and that Glasgow City and Bristol Academy – the other UK club in the Champions League- are still in.
Bristol Academy are also an independent women’s club. They split from Bristol Rovers in 2005 and they are now linked with the Bristol Academy of Sport at the South Gloucestershire and Stroud college (SGS) – hence the club’s name – and they are the only independent women’s club in the English Women’s Super League (WSL). They play Frankfurt in the Champions League Quarter Finals.
Now to my mind there is room for both independent women’s teams and the female sections of male teams in women’s football. The former give women control and the latter allow young girls who grow up watching the big men’s clubs to fulfil their dreams of playing for them – which because of the gendered nature of football they could not other wise do. However they both have to be treated as equals which the football establishment don’t do. The classic example came in 2014 when Doncaster Belles – the most famous women’s club in the world – were relegated to WSL 2 and Manchester City – the women’s team of one of the richest clubs in the world – were promoted in their place. But they weren’t promoted on merit. They were promoted because of their financial muscle and the fact that the FA prefer women’s teams that are affiliated to men’s teams rather than the independent women’s teams.
I think I know how the football establishment works, They prefer women’s clubs to be affiliated to men’s for one reason. They want to keep women’s football under male control rather than risk having it run by women who care about it. The problem for women’s team that are affiliated to men’s clubs are they are totally at the mercy of the men. When Charlton (male team) were relegated in 2007 the club had to make cut backs. Guess what team got the chop? the women’s team of course (perish the thought that the wages of the men who got them relegated in the first place be cut). Also what happens if a club changes ownership? Chelsea, Liverpool,. Lyon and Manchester City are four examples (along with PSG) of male clubs whose current owners have backed the women’s game. But what happens if/when these clubs are sold? There are a lot of sexist men about. What if one of them bought any of the clubs involved and decided to shut the women’s team down? Could he be stopped? The way football in England is run – with a gutless spineless FA who can’t even ban a convicted rapist from playing – does not fill one with confidence.
The football establishment want to control women’s football. They also want to differentiate it from men’s football. That is why the WSL in England is played in summer (yet ridiculously the divisions of English women’s football below WSL are played in winter!) and why this year’s World Cup is being played on artificial turf. They don’t realise there is a thin line between “difference” and “inferiority” – which is a word many sexists use and playing on artificial turf for example plays into the hands of those who think female football is inferior.
What the football establishment need to do is treat the likes of Glasgow City and PSG as equals. They must not gerrymander the rules to suit the big men’s clubs. They must not destroy Glasgow City’s European dream.