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Title: The revival of women's football in England from the 1960s to the present
Author: Williams, Jean
ISNI:       0000 0001 2415 4432
Awarding Body: De Montfort University
Current Institution: De Montfort University
Date of Award: 2002
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The purpose of the thesis is to examine the significance of women's football in the context of shifting social values from the beginnings of the second wave of feminism to the present day. The argument begins with the premise that sporting practices are historically produced, socially constructed and culturally defined. The first chapter discusses the historiography of women's football and its influence on the contemporary sites of contested meaning. This includes the representation of football as the fastest growing female participation sport and as a game for rough girls. Britain pioneered the first phase of football's widespread popularity with women during, and shortly after, the First World War. The English FA found this threat to the male professional game sufficiently serious to `ban' women's football in 1921. The revival of women's football in the 1960s as primarily a participatory activity (rather than as a spectator-supported sport) is still answering an agenda whereby gender difference is naturalised and fixed. For example, the International Laws of the Game provide for exceptions such as smaller pitches, shorter playing times and more substitutions which are based on the assumption that women players are physically less well suited to the game. The second chapter examines issues of tradition and community to assess why and how, for a century, inequitable conditions for male and female football players have widely been perceived as unproblematic at national or global level. The chapter suggests that there is an independent practice of English women's football which, in its most recent form, has become a centrally regulated, but essentially devolved and voluntaristic sporting activity. Consequently, the question of whether the Football Association (FA) can be seen as the most appropriate patrons of the supposed national sport is set against the self-governing tradition of the women's game. The third chapter identifies wider aspects of British culture that have influenced the development of football for women. Legal and educational narratives of equality compare unfavourably with, for example, Scandinavia and the United States where there is some expectation of equity of result, rather than of opportunity. Therefore lottery-funded financial support is reliant upon a low level of recreational enagagement of large numbers of girls, rather than the professional employment of women football players. This does not reflect women's football culture which can be characterised at competitive level by regional networks of adult women players and administrators, some of whom are very serious about, and deeply occupied by, their sport. At elite level since the 1960s women's football has some way to go to establish itself with a variety of audiences. The fourth chapter asks about memory and women's football and shows how sports culture has affected the presentation of the female participant in the media. The differentiation of women and men continues to be the implicit practice in parallel with a more recent move towards integrating women into the organisational structures laid down by men's football. Recent evidence taken from public memory demonstrates the difficulty of placing `Women' in these infrastructures whilst privatelyheld memorabilia gives a sense of women forming long-lasting networks of competition and friendship through football and a relationship via the sport with the local community. This indicates a different form of integration and assimilation which, in turn, suggests the need to talk about with a wider range of group identities. The fifth chapter is composed of the vivid narratives of players' experiences of football, overlooked in a historiography which emphasises the bureaucratisation of women's football since 1993. The women's football community as a whole has so understood itself in opposition to the mainstream that the majority of players did not expect a significant change in the status of the sport. This pessimistic outlook appeared to be at odds with the optimism with which women pursued playing opportunities and this is significant in understanding the resonances of different perspectives on the issue of female play. Dismissing women's contribution to football at all levels has had the effect of reinforcing the idea of the superiority and rationality of males as experts at the expense of female players who appear to be recent consumers of a fashionable and central area of English popular culture. The thesis turns this framework on its head and sought to pursue the interests of the women players against the background of specialist, local and national media to show that one way of knowing about women's football is through the artefacts of the everyday. In conclusion, the thesis began with the question, what kinds of evidence of women football players exists and how are we to collect and collate it? The project examines organisational processes and dynamics both from an elite point of view and from the frontline playing and administrative perspective in analysing the wide-ranging cooperatives that emerged as characteristic of the sport. On a wider scale, the role of coaches and education systems is particularly important, as are current legal practices because the inevitability of a professional football league for women in England is questionable. In addition, the use of professional associations and unions, such as the Football Writers' Association and Union of Sports' Writers, to prevent access by women to employment and networking opportunities gives another perspective beyond that of sport as physical game. In summarising the development of the women's game, and the sport as a whole, as yet, there is no forum for women within the sport to express their shared experience in authoring the future of their sport, though there are significant individual advocates of women's football. Whether some form of coalition would replicate the problems found in women's sport movements and international associations more widely remains to be seen. It is likely though, that without a definition from those within women's football about how they perceive the sport, the local, national and international identity will continue to be controlled by male-led administrations. Calls to improve the image of women's and girls' football, for better media coverage and for more women representatives on administrative committees are continuities across the international community. The involvement of ex-players is a key growth area, as is the need for co-ordination of school-based sport. More controversially the possible age limit of mixed teams could be raised and genuine vocational opportunities provided to female players and coaches. Depressingly, at national level in England many of the same difficulties and stereotypes continue to affect the competitive and recreational game in 2002 as they did three decades ago. More encouragingly, large television and live audiences for Women's World Cup 1999 and the inaugural success of the professional franchise, Women's USA, are of considerable significance for women's sport generally and football particularly, not just in the United States. At elite level, there is evidence within England of an emergent professionalism and a degree of recognition of the female player as a skilled athlete. Volunteers, players and administrators invest an enormous amount of time and energy in female football-related activity. By making plain the value of participation, perhaps the sport could move toward a redefinition of its current status. It seems peculiarly inappropriate to use static models of football and `women's football' in a world that has become more culturally plural. It would be promising to think that we had begun to move to an era where these kinds of constructs become redundant as the complexity of players' experience of football is developed.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: 796 796 790 910 ; Sports Recreation Tourism