Offside, 14 August

Women's footballing judgement is clouded by a player's phwoar factor.

Duleep Allirajah

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Football, according to an opinion poll in The Times (London), is now a game ‘for the other half’.

The poll confirmed what we have known ever since Gazza blubbed at Italia ’90 – namely that watching football is no longer a strictly male preserve (1). Ladies too – 25 percent of the fans surveyed were female – enjoy a bit of hot soccer action on a Saturday afternoon. But while both sexes now share a passion for the game, these passions seem to be aroused by very different stimuli. To put it bluntly, while men are admiring a player’s performance – in the Carling Opta Index sense, that is – the ladies are ogling his legs.

How else do you explain the big gender division in fans’ choice of the best player at an English club in the past decade? Forty-one percent of women chose David Beckham, compared with only 17 percent of men. Michael Owen also garnered a big female vote – 12 percent of women opted for the clean-cut striker with the choir-boy looks, compared with only six percent of men.

Men will judge a player by his football ability alone, irrespective of whether he looks like Quasimodo (with the exception of Martin Keown). Eric Cantona was a skilful and inspirational playmaker but hardly pin-up material, which perhaps explains why 11 percent of men voted for him but only two percent of women. Similarly Gianfranco Zola, a man who clearly fell straight out of the ugly tree, was a flop with female fans. The little Sardinian may have been voted Chelsea’s best player of all time but his fancy footwork didn’t impress the ladies – only two percent of women voted for him compared to six percent of men.

The differences between men and women are also reflected in attitudes towards England’s philandering coach. Whilst 80 percent of fans thought that Sven-Goran Eriksson was fit to continue as England coach, despite revelations linking him with Manchester United and Chelsea, a lower percentage of women put their faith in the Swede. Women’s trust in Sven may well have been dented after his well-publicised dalliance with Ulrika Jonsson. Men, however, are not really concerned about Sven’s love-rat antics and probably even envy the fact that he had two ladies fighting over him.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against women breathlessly gawping at fanciable footballers. Men watch women’s tennis for similarly carnal reasons (though the same does not apply to women’s javelin or discus throwing). Perhaps if ITV had sexed-up The Premiership it might have fared better in the ratings war with Blind Date. A few Big Brother-style shower-cam shots might have enticed more female viewers to tear themselves away from Cilla.

The problem isn’t the leering per se, but women being blinded by a player’s glamour and consequently failing to appreciate the technical quality of his football. The fact that David Beckham was voted the most talented player in England in the past decade is the clear example of footballing judgement being clouded by a player’s phwoar factor. And I’m afraid to say that the 17 percent of male respondents who voted for Becks are just as guilty (though whether these men also go weak at the knees at the sight of Goldenballs is open to debate).

David Beckham is a very accomplished footballer, but certainly not the most talented player we’ve seen in the past 10 years. George Best, who did have the looks to go with his sublime skill, said of the England captain that ‘He can’t kick with his left foot. He doesn’t score many goals. He can’t head a ball. And he can’t tackle. Apart from that he’s all right’. That seems a fair assessment to me. Personally, I think Eric Cantona, Gianfranco Zola, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira should all be ranked above Beckham. So too should wayward genius Paul Gascoigne who had bags of yuk factor but precious little phwoar factor.

My own vote goes to Attilio Lombardo the bald Eagle who, for my money, was the best player ever to wear the famous red and blue jersey of Crystal Palace. He wasn’t a long-haired Latin lover-boy like Fabio Cannavaro or Francesco Totti but he was still adored in south London. ‘He’s got no hair, but we don’t care’, sang the Palace faithful. Female Palace fans didn’t want to sleep with him (or at least they had the good grace not to admit it) but men did want to be him (albeit with a full head of hair).

And that’s the way things should be. If women want to drool over a footballer’s well-toned physique that’s fine by me, as long as they can appreciate a perfectly weighted pass as well. But if they’re too busy leching after the spice boy warming up on the touchline when they should be heartily applauding a pig-ugly centre-half’s bone-crunching tackle, they should be frog-marched out of the stadium.

Read on:

spiked-issue: Sport

(1) The Times, 11 August 2003

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