Tuesday’s defeat to Croatia and the subsequent end of Scotland’s Euro 2020 journey has shaken the hopeful nation this week. To commemorate the historic return to the world’s football stage, we are celebrating the fans whose unwavering support got the team this far.
Unsurprisingly, football is the most popular sport in Scotland, so much so, that it is considered to be part of our culture itself. What you may not know is that, even though the key football demographic is diversifying, women still only take up 8% of the Scottish football audience, according to a 2017 SFSA (Scottish Football Supporters Association ) report.
Because it is still rare to see a woman cheering in stadiums or pubs full of men, outsiders are often bewildered why and how women start to show an interest in football. The answer usually is the same way anyone would, through their parents or peers, maybe even their children.
Grace from Edinburgh was a mini-footballer before she was a fan, thanks to her friends who all came together to play. Abbie from Aberdeen has also been playing since she was only 9-years-old and Anna’s first memory of attending a game was at age 5.
Similarly, Mary from Glasgow grew up in a mildly football crazy family but it wasn’t until she had her own children that her love for the sport was reignited. “My eldest son was interested in football from a very young age. He religiously watched Match of the Day every Saturday night and knew all the players. About 14 years ago, we got him a season ticket to Celtic Park and I used to take him. Then, slowly, I got more and more involved”, she laughs.
Every member of the Tartan Army, regardless of gender, age, location shares the love for the game. This year has been no short of excitement as Scotland qualified for Euro 2020 after missing every major tournament for 23 years. For many, this was the first time seeing their team playing at this level.
Abbie says she was overwhelmed by the accomplishment. “I have followed the national team for a very long time and I have never experienced a moment like that. It was done in such a dramatic fashion with it being down to the very last penalty save by David Marshall.”
All the way in Edinburgh, Anna had a similar reaction. “The first feeling after the penalty save was disbelief. After Serbia had equalised I’d all but accepted that this would be another occasion of nearly, but not quite. The shock quickly turned to pure joy!”
Abbie, Anna, Grace and Mary have all been religiously watching every Scotland game leaving workplaces early, organising sweepstakes, attending the Fan Zone in Glasgow and even live games at Hampden. Their passion is unquestionable, and reassuringly, it has rarely been questioned.
“Overall, I think the football community is more accepting of female fans now than it ever has been”, Anna smiles. “However, that hasn’t prevented isolated incidents or problems. A couple of years ago, I went on a trip to Belgium with my partner and multiple people told him he was “lucky to be able to drag me to this”. It was pretty insulting given that the trip was my idea and I had planned it and was the one with away game experience.”
“Occasionally”, Abbie admits, she has heard a few comments growing up but she experiences way more positive change. “I do freelance work for a few Scottish clubs and they are always really inclusive to women so it’s definitely getting better. But seeing comments made online about the female pundits like Alex Scott makes me think we still have a long way to go.”
“I have never heard or felt anything negative”, Mary points out. “In my experience, there are more and more women enjoying football. Where I sit in Celtic Park, with my season ticket, there is a woman next to me with her son and there is another woman a little behind me, we are all there having a great time and I have never felt unsafe.”
The SFSA report confirms these experiences, explaining that the number of women in the stands is growing, due to a changing family dynamic, improved behaviour at games and safer and better-equipped stadiums amongst other reasons. This being said, it is important to acknowledge and combat harmful stereotypes like “you can’t be good at football, you’re a girl”, “you don’t even understand the game” or “you’re not a real fan”. Abuse, especially online, is still prominent towards women who enjoy or play football and campaigns like #HerGameToo work to promote equality.
Now that Scotland’s exit has cut the summer of Euro 2020 short, the fans, regardless of gender, are all feeling the same way. “The word to sum up my feeling is gutted”, Grace admits. “I always knew it would be tough but when the reality hits it’s just gutting. It doesn’t take any value away from the experience though.”
“I’m gutted that we went out”, Anna says. “But I am buoyed knowing that most of this squad still have more tournaments to play and hopefully it isn’t another 23 years until the next one.” Whenever the next opportunity to wave the saltire flag may be, these dedicated supporters will be there, proudly, proving to everyone that yes, sir, they can boogie.