Equality FC: Creating A Level Playing Field For Women
Written by Karen Dobres
For the 2017/18 season, Lewes Football Club became the first pro or semi-pro club in the world to pay its women’s team the same as its men – both teams will have the same playing budget with no discrimination. Her Move is delighted to work in partnership with Equality FC to tell the stories of the team that is pushing for fair recognition & pay for women’s football.
The first article in the series in an introduction to Equality FC by Karen Dobres, manager of the equality campaign. Karen works to unearth a new market of female fans for women’s football who come not only to watch a great performance on the pitch, but also in solidarity with Lewes’ campaign for equality within football.
Football was never on my radar.
In my family none of us were into sport: not my Dad, not my Mum and not my younger sister. In fact, apart from walking the dog, and splashy visits to the municipal baths, that was it for us.
Unless you count Mum’s sudden mid-80’s aerobics class flings. She said it was ‘to get rid of my tummy’ but we knew it was the neon pink legwarmers all along – and like any neon fad, it lasted just one season. And all was ok in our world, the lack of sport never questioned, quite the norm for two girls growing up in the 70’s and 80’s.
Football kicked off for me seriously though many years later in 2017. If you’d asked me a few years back what I thought of the world’s most popular, most financially lucrative, most attention-grabbing sport, I would have told you that I hated the beautiful game.
I would have mentioned hooligans, overpaid players, corruption and stars of the Premier League lounging in Jacuzzis with over-glossed women.
But in July 2017 my local football club Lewes FC introduced a campaign called Equality FC whereby they were the first (and still the only) club in the world to pay their women’s team the same as their men’s.
‘Women play football?’ I thought, ‘They’re paid to?’ I thought. And, curiously, I went along to The Dripping Pan, Lewes’ home ground, to watch the women’s team play.
At this point in my life I was all gender pay gap, hashtags metoo and times up, grossed out by the vacuousness of Love Island on the telly, and a little concerned that most of the young women I knew seemed to be busy posing in nightclub toilets all over Instagram.
So to see these young women, pounding the pitch, dribbling, tackling, ball-focused and strong, was somehow reassuring. Here at least, it wasn’t all about the way women looked: and these women were being fairly remunerated for their skill and prowess.
I related to the game in a way I never had when I’d seen the odd men’s match – I felt each pass, I noted each passionate exertion, I willed each woman to give her all. I came away feeling refreshed and empowered.
In these times of everyday sexism I felt I’d found an antidote, here on the terraces of the only pitch on the planet where the female footballers were being properly resourced, to all the guff women were faced with on a daily basis:
So I did a Cruyff’s turn, became a fan, learnt about the game, and now work in women’s football, volunteering with Lewes’ Equality Campaign – who’d a thunk it?!
We’re unearthing a new market for women’s football: it exists amongst women, who like myself have been unconsciously and inadvertently excluded from the male bastion of football.
I regularly tell audiences about Lewes’ pioneering actions, and a bit about the shocking history of women’s football (did you know women were banned from playing in the UK for 50 years, whilst the men’s game got all the media attention and resources? Please read about this – it’s a great spur to any female to give the game a try).
And often some of our awesome footballers come along with me and tell their real life stories. These personal accounts are sometimes emotional, sometimes funny, always passionate: because pro or semi-pro women footballers have always had to overcome untold obstacles to play the game at the level they do.
The sexism in football is gobsmacking, and it’s changing, but… it’s still alive and well.
I have learnt so much over the last couple of years. I’ve learnt how to put my ‘game face on’, how to deal with winning and losing, how a team works, how to feel united with a group of strangers I don’t know, and, crucially, I’ve learnt about a great way to support other women.
I feel really privileged to work with the awesome volunteers and footballers at Lewes FC. The Club is 100% community-owned (do sign up to join us here), and that’s why the elected Board are able to make the decisions they do.
It’s not about profits for shareholders, but it’s in the Club’s very DNA to create value for the community who own it.
Discrimination is an issue in our footballing community, not to mention our local and global ones. Lewes FC want to change that, and we want our initiative to affect culture way beyond the pitch. We believe we’re harnessing the power of football over hearts and minds to change the world. We think big!
I salute Her Move Magazine for its stance on sport for women.
It’s high time women were not fed weight loss or body-toning as the motivation for doing the thing they love. To my mind the change in looks is a possible side-effect, but not an aim.
The aim is to find your passion and follow it. I hope this is something we will all learn from the forthcoming stories from Lewes FC Women players, who are some of the most dedicated and hardworking individuals I know. One thing I am absolutely sure about – they will put football firmly on your radar!