The fan - Hunter Davies thinks women make nicer football fans

You find girls' sizes, thongs in club colours, knickers with cockerel patterns

Did you read the new report which reveals that female fans now make up one-fifth of Premiership football crowds? No, I didn't either. All I read was a remark remarking on the report, third hand, possibly fifth hand, but that's not going to stop me commenting on it, with total confidence.

These surveys come out on the hour, often backed by commercial interests hoping for free publicity, knowing dozy or hard-up newspapers will pounce on them, highlighting one supposed fact out of context - and bingo, a whole-page feature, based on, well, bugger all or something we all knew anyway.

On the subject of female fans, I happen to have done some in-depth research these past ten years. When standing in queues at Spurs, Arsenal or Carlisle, I automatically estimate the number of women. At Arsenal, you can very easily count in females wearing quite a bit of red who are, in fact, members of the Salvation Army, who gather at the West Stand with their collection boxes, probably been there since Queen Victoria.

When watching a boring match on telly, I concentrate on random crowd shots. I have trained my eyes to group people into batches of ten and instantly count the women. I ignore the same women. TV directors don't catch me. When it's truly boring, they focus in on pretty girls in the crowd, going back to them several times, depending how pretty and how revealing their clothes. I never count such shots. They are not, by definition, random.

And what is my conclusion, you ask, you cry, you demand? Well, the full report comes out soon, but here's the main finding - female fans make up only one-tenth of crowds. So sucks to that other dodgy, unscientific survey, overstating the situation.

But their main point is correct - the trend is for more and more female fans. Eventually, it could have a profound effect on the game. What you can't do, which many commentators did when pouncing on the other report, is suggest that it's all new.

I've spent a lot of time this past year on writing a history of football, which meant looking at loads of old photographs. Even in the earliest, from 1900, you can see female faces in the crowds. For big games, there were always women among the supporters who staggered or pranced around London wearing their team favours and silly hats. For the FA Cup Final of 1905, a group calling themselves the "Newcastle Ladies Final Outing Group" arranged their own trip to London, which rather surprised a writer for a local newspaper. "They had their own lady secretary, paid their own subscriptions and with the latter-day independence of their sex, came to London in their own saloon without the assistance or company of a single mere male."

I have a 1948 Manchester United brochure that pictures four very pretty Man U girl fans, with rosettes and scarves, who had made one of the biggest sacrifices any fan could make for their heroes. No, not that. They had pooled their sweetie rations to provide chewing gum for the lads.

Fifa predicts that by 2010, globally, there will be more women playing football than men. This is bound to increase the number of women going to games. Already, clubs have been forced to create more toilets for women. In the club shops, you find women's sizes in most items, thongs in club colours, knickers with cockerels on the front. (Not a schoolboy joke - it's the Spurs emblem.)

Football doesn't promote or advertise itself. It doesn't have to. Football is a vehicle for other products and services. As female fan numbers increase, a wider range of products will be attracted. I noticed last week a hoarding at Wolves for Wolverhampton Grammar School. Never seen an ad for a school at a game before. I suspect they had in mind family audiences.

Will women make crowds nicer? As, of course, women are nicer people. I haven't noticed less swearing or abuse, but my friend Sue, who lives two doors down from us and became a born-again Spurs fan five years ago, is always last back to the car. Almost every bloke has gone by the final whistle, some of them already home, still swearing, but she thinks it's discourteous not to wait and watch the players leave the pitch. Sweet.