The BBC has taken ownership of the coverage of women’s football and it has given it the Super League, Match of the Day treatment it so richly deserves. The corporation has come a long way since its treatment of the game on Not the Nine O’Clock News. In the 1980s Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones appeared as two bored supporters who complained about the quality of women’s football but wouldn’t leave the stadium until the game was over as they wanted to watch the players swap jerseys. The clip ended with a group of topless women waving to the crowd as they made their way off the pitch. To the eternal shame of BBC comedy it’s for all to see on YouTube.
Eventually those who saw women’s football as little more than an unwelcome intrusion into a male environment began to realise how wrong they had been. Many women are good footballers and some are outstanding. There has been increasing coverage on TV over a number of years but this new season with live matches featuring the biggest clubs and the best players is likely to be a ratings winner.
It’s not only in soccer that the women are being recognised for their ability, athleticism and determination to win. Just cast a thought towards golf sensation Leona Maguire from Cavan. Thankfully GAA, rugby, hockey and cricket are all receiving additional coverage. Many individual players have become recognised names and some have begun to benefit financially but most are still a long way behind their male counterparts. The new media attention will help correct that.
Young women coming into these team games owe a debt of gratitude to those who wore the jerseys in the past. The girls who were prepared to train and play when they were not being taken seriously carved a path for the current generation. Those who lobbied for similar facilities as the men all made themselves heard and in the end more and more decision makers began to listen. There are still some officials and organisers in a variety of sports who don’t see women as worthy of playing on the senior or premier pitch. Camogie players often feel the poor cousins to hurlers and Gaelic footballers. It’s not only in some sections of the GAA. In a variety of sports the planners don’t believe the funds should be spent on providing the support structures that are now taken for granted in the male games. They are still slow to see the potential in the female competition. As a result they are missing out on an opportunity to be part of a growing movement. A movement that has already seen Wembley, Twickenham, Croke Park and Lord’s all now hosting important female encounters.
It’s no surprise TV companies are increasing their coverage of women’s sport. Cricket has been prominent recently. Sky TV has international football games and ITV has just won a contract to focus on the England women’s football team. The BBC has significant coverage of women’s rugby and TG4 is the home of female Gaelic football.
The 20x20 project in Ireland is one of a number of lobby groups encouraging a level playing field for women. Broadcasting colleagues of mine such as Ruth Gorman and Denise Watson, who have long championed female participation, are now seeing the fruits of their labour. I can clearly remember when the only female team game on the sports news was netball. If hockey made the running order it was the male version that was covered.
In UTV the emerging champion of female sport was a journalist and producer called John Flack. He found time and space on screen for the games and filled many column inches in the local papers reporting on female achievements. “Flackers” as he was affectionately known in Havelock House almost single handedly undid the comic damage caused by Smith and Jones and encouraged us all to take female teams seriously. For that he deserves praise.
Frank presents U105 Phone In Monday-Friday from 9am-noon