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.

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The 11 things we know after the Brexit plan debate

Labour may just have fallen into a trap. 

On Wednesday, both Labour and Tory MPs filed out of the Commons together to back a motion calling on the Prime Minister to commit to publish the government’s Brexit plan before Article 50 is triggered in March 2017. 

The motion was proposed by Labour, but the government agreed to back it after inserting its own amendment calling on MPs to “respect the wishes of the United Kingdom” and adhere to the original timetable. 

With questions on everything from the customs union to the Northern Irish border, it is clear that the Brexit minister David Davis will have a busy Christmas. Meanwhile, his declared intention to stay schtum about the meat of Brexit negotiations for now means the nation has been hanging off every titbit of news, including a snapped memo reading “have cake and eat it”. 

So, with confusion abounding, here is what we know from the Brexit plan debate: 

1. The government will set out a Brexit plan before triggering Article 50

The Brexit minister David Davis said that Parliament will get to hear the government’s “strategic plans” ahead of triggering Article 50, but that this will not include anything that will “jeopardise our negotiating position”. 

While this is something of a victory for the Remain MPs and the Opposition, the devil is in the detail. For example, this could still mean anything from a white paper to a brief description released days before the March deadline.

2. Parliament will get a say on converting EU law into UK law

Davis repeated that the Great Repeal Bill, which scraps the European Communities Act 1972, will be presented to the Commons during the two-year period following Article 50.

He said: “After that there will be a series of consequential legislative measures, some primary, some secondary, and on every measure the House will have a vote and say.”

In other words, MPs will get to debate how existing EU law is converted to UK law. But, crucially, that isn’t the same as getting to debate the trade negotiations. And the crucial trade-off between access to the single market versus freedom of movement is likely to be decided there. 

3. Parliament is almost sure to get a final vote on the Brexit deal

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the final Brexit deal, which means the government accepts it also needs parliamentary approval. Davis said: “It is inconceivable to me that if the European Parliament has a vote, this House does not.”

Davis also pledged to keep MPs as well-informed as MEPs will be.

However, as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer pointed out to The New Statesman, this could still leave MPs facing the choice of passing a Brexit deal they disagree with or plunging into a post-EU abyss. 

4. The government still plans to trigger Article 50 in March

With German and French elections planned for 2017, Labour MP Geraint Davies asked if there was any point triggering Article 50 before the autumn. 

But Davis said there were 15 elections scheduled during the negotiation process, so such kind of delay was “simply not possible”. 

5. Themed debates are a clue to Brexit priorities

One way to get a measure of the government’s priorities is the themed debates it is holding on various areas covered by EU law, including two already held on workers’ rights and transport.  

Davis mentioned themed debates as a key way his department would be held to account. 

It's not exactly disclosure, but it is one step better than relying on a camera man papping advisers as they walk into No.10 with their notes on show. 

6. The immigration policy is likely to focus on unskilled migrants

At the Tory party conference, Theresa May hinted at a draconian immigration policy that had little time for “citizens of the world”, while Davis said the “clear message” from the Brexit vote was “control immigration”.

He struck a softer tone in the debate, saying: “Free movement of people cannot continue as it is now, but this will not mean pulling up the drawbridge.”

The government would try to win “the global battle for talent”, he added. If the government intends to stick to its migration target and, as this suggests, will keep the criteria for skilled immigrants flexible, the main target for a clampdown is clearly unskilled labour.  

7. The government is still trying to stay in the customs union

Pressed about the customs union by Anna Soubry, the outspoken Tory backbencher, Davis said the government is looking at “several options”. This includes Norway, which is in the single market but not the customs union, and Switzerland, which is in neither but has a customs agreement. 

(For what it's worth, the EU describes this as "a series of bilateral agreements where Switzerland has agreed to take on certain aspects of EU legislation in exchange for accessing the EU's single market". It also notes that Swiss exports to the EU are focused on a few sectors, like chemicals, machinery and, yes, watches.)

8. The government wants the status quo on security

Davis said that on security and law enforcement “our aim is to preserve the current relationship as best we can”. 

He said there is a “clear mutual interest in continued co-operation” and signalled a willingness for the UK to pitch in to ensure Europe is secure across borders. 

One of the big tests for this commitment will be if the government opts into Europol legislation which comes into force next year.

9. The Chancellor is wooing industries

Robin Walker, the under-secretary for Brexit, said Philip Hammond and Brexit ministers were meeting organisations in the City, and had also met representatives from the aerospace, energy, farming, chemicals, car manufacturing and tourism industries. 

However, Labour has already attacked the government for playing favourites with its secretive Nissan deal. Brexit ministers have a fine line to walk between diplomacy and what looks like a bribe. 

10. Devolved administrations are causing trouble

A meeting with leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ended badly, with the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon publicly declaring it “deeply frustrating”. The Scottish government has since ramped up its attempts to block Brexit in the courts. 

Walker took a more conciliatory tone, saying that the PM was “committed to full engagement with the devolved administrations” and said he undertook the task of “listening to the concerns” of their representatives. 

11. Remain MPs may have just voted for a trap

Those MPs backing Remain were divided on whether to back the debate with the government’s amendment, with the Green co-leader Caroline Lucas calling it “the Tories’ trap”.

She argued that it meant signing up to invoking Article 50 by March, and imposing a “tight timetable” and “arbitrary deadline”, all for a vaguely-worded Brexit plan. In the end, Lucas was one of the Remainers who voted against the motion, along with the SNP. 

George agrees – you can read his analysis of the Brexit trap here

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.