These women like football. But it's OK if you don't. Photo: Getty
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Women! If you don't like football, it's OK to say so

Back in the 1990s, I used to pretend I liked football. Now I realise I had been taken in by the Football Mystique.

It is the summer of 2014 and I am witnessing my eldest son, just six, fall prey to the Football Mystique. It is, I suspect, a point of no return. From the moment he stood in front of the telly, blocking everyone else’s view, and intoned “ref-er-ee-ee-ee” for no apparent reason, I knew we’d lost him to the male equivalent of Friedan’s “problem that has no name”.

I first became aware of the Mystique 18 years ago, during Euro ’96. Back then, I was a liberated nineties woman, insofar as I had a long list of things which I was obliged to ostentatiously pretend to like (because if I didn’t, it would mean I was both oppressed and repressed). The list included items such as lager, the Spice Girls, pole dancing, giving blow jobs, faking orgasms, FHM, lipstick lesbians (but not real ones – yuck!) and Gail Porter’s arse. Then along came Euro ’96, Vindaloo and Three Lions and football was added to the inventory. Like most women, I had no idea whether I actually liked any of these things (and still don’t). The whole point was looking as though you liked them – but not too much, mind! Proper liking is for the men!

The Football Mystique may have been around for much longer, but it strikes me as very 1990s in its ethos. There’s something very Britpop/Common People about white middle-class men posing with pints of lager, modifying their vowel sounds and considering themselves very deep, sensitive and philosophical in mildly aggressive ways that women just wouldn’t understand. My own partner picks up elements of this (apparently his “football accent” is involuntary and nothing at all to do with him thinking that poor is cool). He gets incredibly emotional about very rich men suffering minor on-pitch injustices, and smiles on benevolently when our son does the same. Meanwhile, I’m stuck on the bench. Middle-class football fandom is a club to which women are invited as plus ones only and for this we are meant to be grateful. After all, however trivial it seems, it’s far, far more complicated than our poor little ladybrains could comprehend.

I believe it was the great Bill Shankly who said “some believe football is a matter of life and death […] I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”. And was it Pélé who first called it “the beautiful game“? It’s just so deep, so meaningful . . . Excuse me while I die of boredom. It’s a game. A pleasant, diverting game, one which brings people together, but which does not offer any direct route to fundamental human truths (apart from that time Eric Cantona said that thing about the seagulls, the sardines and the trawler, obviously). As Hadley Freeman writes, “football […] is hardly the most intellectual of pursuits and suffers from many of the same problems as fashion, with added homophobia, but because it is aimed primarily at men, it is seen as an essential pastime”. But it isn’t.

It’s not that some men don’t see through the Football Mystique. The IT Crowd episode in which Roy and Moss try to pass as “proper” men by following guidance on a football website offers a brilliant and endearing illustration of this. I really do sympathise with men who are trapped in the “gotta pretend I like football” bubble. Even so, it’s difficult for women for different reasons. We can’t speak out because we’re expected to be scornful of the Football Mystique (hence worshiping it became one of those fake emblems of 1990s women’s liberation – “ooh, look at how rebellious I am, lusting over Seaman’s *wink at the name* ‘tache!”). If you say “this is getting a bit silly” then it will be assumed that you are rejecting all those crumbs from the male privilege table that come with being a female football fan. You might as well say “what, sit on my fat arse, drink beer and intermittently roar ‘goaaaaaaal!’? Nah, I’d much rather don a frilly pink pinny, iron some shirts and make you a sandwich, dear”.

Right now my son has taken to declaring every single goal scored offside, as some kind of precautionary measure should anyone consider him insufficiently all-knowing. Earlier in life, he learned about war and famine with relative equanimity, but now he cries over the extreme injustice of Robin van Persie never having been made Footballer of the Year. Yesterday he first heard of Maradona’s “hand of God” and embarked on an impassioned half-hour rant about why England should have won the World Cup 21 years before he was even born. Already I can see him 20 years hence, strutting into some unnamed workplace to bark meaningless quotes from last night’s post-match analysis at other male colleagues, while female employees, who may or may not have enjoyed the match itself, keep their goddam mouths shut.

It’s not that I don’t think it’s funny or entertaining, or that I wouldn’t be pleased if “our lads” won (ha!). There is, nonetheless, only a certain amount of bullshit I can take before I want to explode. Fellow women, you may think it’s harmless to indulge the Football Mystique, but I’m starting to feel it can only ever be an own goal. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland needs its own immigration policy – here's how it would work

Sub-state immigration policies and autonomy work perfectly well in countries such as Canada and Australia.

Theresa May’s relentless obsession with the net migration target – prioritised over economic, educational, or even human rights concerns – is all the more surprising given the fact that it is such nonsense. For a number picked out of thin air prior to 2010, it is both remarkable and worrying that it became almost a sacred cow of British politics.

The net migration target (NMT) can be unpicked in many, many ways but it has been welcome to see a growing focus on the fact that a “one-size-fits-all” target for all nations and regions is just not appropriate. Clearly if the only migratory movements in the UK next year were that 900,001 people left Wales to head abroad and 1,000,000 migrants arrived looking to live in Maidenhead, this would not be good for Wales or the Prime Minister’s constituency – yet it would be the first time in eight years of trying that she had met her pet ambition.

We need to be much more sophisticated. Different parts of the UK have very different demographic and economic needs in terms of migration.

Since 2007, the Scottish National Party government at Holyrood has pursued a different population target – aiming for Scotland to match average population growth of other EU15 nations over the decade to 2017. The fact it is on course to succeed has been considerably aided by May regularly and spectacularly missing her own.

But what if May finally reduced net migration to the tens of thousands?

In 2014 the Office for National Statistics produced population projections for Scotland and the UK based on different migration scenarios. One “low net migration” scenario was 105,000 – so just outside the NMT. Even that narrow miss would see Scotland’s population almost stagnate over 25 years, barely mustering a overall population increase of 3,500 – 0.07 per cent – per year. So there is a real danger that May actually hitting or "exceeding" her target means population stagnation or even decline for Scotland. This is potentially disastrous when the population is ageing.

More generally, having migration policies in place so different geographical areas are able to attract human capital and the right labour to match skills shortages is surely in the interests of all. The UK system isn’t working well for too many parts of the UK. A very bureaucratic Tier 2 system is navigable for large companies with armies of immigration lawyers – and international firms can always rely on intra-company transfer rules. But for many small and medium-sized enterprises – a more significant part of Scotland’s economy – these are often expensive and unrealistic options, and it is no surprise that Scotland is home to fewer Tier 2 sponsors than its population size would suggest. 

There is strong support for a new system, including both the Scottish Chamber of Commerce and Scottish Trade Unions Council. In the House of Commons the Scottish affairs committee, as well as the All Party Group on Social Inclusion, chaired by Chuka Umunna, have advocated bespoke immigration policies. And this week even in the House of Lords, two committees concluded there should be “maximum flexibility” for nations and regions and that there was “merit” in a specific system for Scotland (and London). Academics like Professor Jonathan Portes and think tanks such as the IPPR are supportive of the idea. But how could it be done? 

With a little imagination, there are a bucket load of ways – many very helpfully set out in a recent paper by Professor Christina Boswell of the University of Edinburgh. Whether it’s applying different points thresholds for jobs in Scotland, a bespoke post-study work scheme, allowing Scotland a separate quota under the Tier 2 scheme, or a more flexible shortage occupation list, options are there which need not complicate administration or enforcement. Indeed, if there was political will at the UK level, there is no reason Scotland could not continue to allow free movement of EU nationals, which is what my party and I will continue to advocate for.

It’s worth remembering that sub-state immigration policies and autonomy work perfectly well in countries such as Canada and Australia. And the UK itself previously experimented with a post-study work visa applicable to graduates from Scottish universities (but curiously, not limited to Scottish employers) and currently there is a (very slightly) different list of shortage occupations for Scotland.

An immigration policy for Scotland is an idea whose time has come – and failure to listen could have serious consequences for Scotland’s population.

Stuart McDonald is the MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and the SNP's immigration spokesman