jjheritage.com has been successful with two FARE grants in the Autumn of 2020, along with working as UK National Expert for a FARE Governance Index, analyzing gender, race and ethnicity in elite men’s football. More details will follow in the coming months on the gender governance index, and its findings across 14 European national contexts. However, this blog concerns the two grants, one under the #BLM, or Black Lives Matter scheme, and one under the #FootballPeople weeks from 8-20 October 2020. The original plan for the #BLM scheme was to work with older populations, and to have walking football tournaments which involved reminiscence and oral history work, with established club links, and also inviting older Black and minority ethnic women. But with further local lock downs announced in late September and early October in our intended target geographical areas, we reformulated the plans to travel to interview key individuals, and to promote the findings through contacts with the media and to reach wider audiences than the original plans.
Why Was the Research Needed?
The England men’s squad of 23 players, for the European Championship qualifiers in November 2019 had 14 black players. This included seven men who were not in the World Cup squad the previous year. Compared with this, the England women’s squad of 23 players, for the She Believes Cup in March 2020 had just two players, Nikita Parris and Demi Stokes. jjheritage.com worked with Jen O’Neill of She Kicks, to look at the issue, and you can read Jen’s story here https://shekicks.net/she-kicks-investigates-why-are-there-so-few-black-england-women-footballers/
In essence, Jen found that in the decade 2010-2020 there were 67 men’s international squad players, of whom 33 were black or of mixed heritage (49%). Over the same decade, 72 women were capped, of whom 14 were black or of mixed heritage (19%). Our research goes back to well before 2010, so supplements the work done by She Kicks to ask, why is this? The reasons are complex.
Firstly, there is the question of access.
Women’s football lacks its own clubs and grounds, and tends to rely on the structures of male football, so it is less accessible for inner city girls, and those who live in urban environments without their own private transport, and so cannot get to Regional Talent Centres because of affordability. With so few late developers in women’s elite football, most of the England women players are drawn from Centres of Excellence, and when they were concentrated down from 52 to 30, there were problems of travelling to get to these centres.
Linked with the question of access, and here social class is as important as race and ethnicity, but they can intersect. Football is not a widely available school sport for girls, so it tends to be something that they undertake in their own leisure. There are existing school based teams sports, often played indoors, such as basketball, which are more traditionally diverse in background, and can be played indoors. With pitches at a premium, it can often mean that women’s teams train a considerable distance from the club that supports their name. For instance, when I went to interview some players and coaches for Birmingham a few years back, they were actually training at a ground in Stratford Upon Avon.
For these reasons, lower-income families can’t afford to access regular playing opportunities, and if they can, may drop out of elite pathway opportunities when they have to travel further afield. There are particular problems with girls falling out of love with sport in their mid teens, and team sports are particularly vulnerable to this. Link this with the proportion of Black and Minority Ethnic populations to be housed in lower income brackets, and the relative lack of elite opportunities for women and we see that football is not the aspirational career for young women that it can be for men. With the professional academies based in the Football League and the Premiership, there are options to relocate young boys and their families that are not open to girls football generally. So many young girls centre their aspirations and ambitions elsewhere.
Secondly, there is the question of visibility.
In male professional football, there is a wealth of talent identification networks, but women’s football has only recently developed structures to help identify talent for the Lioness Talent Pathway. So getting the players into those structures is important, and identifying where they can be helped. But also there can be important identity work in connecting and remembering those across generations. Kerry Davis, who first debuted for England in 1982, may have a lot to tell the younger players abut her sixteen-year international career. Davis scored two goals on her debut, in a 7-1 win over Northern Ireland, before scoring all four goals in a 4-0 win over Scotland in her second game. Top scorer for England until overtaken by Kelly Smith in 2012, Davis played professionally in Italy for four seasons, and helped England to win a Mundialito, an unofficial women’s world cup, and played in the 1995 official Women’s World Cup in Sweden, scoring 44 goals in 82 appearances, and versatile enough to be played in midfield and defence. However, there were not the same mentoring opportunities available for women coaches when Kerry Davis retired as there are now, although her contemporary Hope Powell was appointed England manager in 1998. Another very classy midfielder, Brenda Sempare was also a key player for England but is not often widely remembered today. And there are many more. You can see the work jjheritage.com did on the Lost Lionesses with the Sky Women’s Football Show here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dvw-9VYRTeY
Conclusion: Challenges of Doing the Research Under Covid-19 Conditions
Along with the research we wanted to do on England players came alongside plans to host walking football tournaments and reminiscence work, the local lockdowns and ‘rule of six’ meant that even three a side games would be challenging. So we revised our strategy to work with the media and reach a wider audience through these outlets. We also used social media feeds to reach out to other, particularly younger audiences, who do not follow conventional media outlets. Actually doing player interviews has also had to change from face to face, to zoom, and other online means. Please get in touch of you have information you’d like to share. We will be posting ten England players you may not have heard of over the next few weeks.
Posts written by Jean or Joanna.