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What's wrong with football? Blame women!

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Paul Fletcher | 09:53 UK time, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Before you hit me with a sexism charge, please do read on...

The Football League has just launched a new supporters' survey - you can find it on their website and I would recommend you have a go as there are some quirky, original and interesting questions.

I recently came into possession of a document outlining the findings of a 1962 survey conducted by the Football League. I would wager the conclusions eventually drawn by the current version are radically different.

Worried by a decline in attendances, the League, which then presided over the top four divisions (then called Division One down to Division Four), commissioned the 1962 report to work out why it was happening and what could be done about it.

Nestled in among the reasons for crowds being on the slide is a section simply entitled 'Women'.

It reads: "On the whole women do tend to resent their men going out of the home to enjoy themselves - and this applies to football matches too," it reads. "Women themselves do not display much interest in football."

Are you laughing or horrified?

It's a truly staggering observation, but one that I think tells us more about how society, rather than specifically football, has changed over the intervening 47 years.

Supporters watch a football match in 1962 Obviously some women enjoyed watching football in 1962

Another intriguing suggestion is that a general increase in the standard of living had presented people with a wider range of options in their leisure time - and football was being squeezed out.

This is categorised under the headline 'The overall social climate' and notes that people have "a greater variety of old and new leisure equipment, eg cameras, do-it-yourself equipment, cars, gramophone records and players, paper-backed books etc".

The thorny issue of the impact of television is also addressed. It had become steadily more popular throughout the 50s, but the report notes that "in general television only becomes an attraction when people become dissatisfied with football itself".

Nonetheless, when suggesting remedies for the decline in attendances the report concludes that television is a threat to football - and makes two subsequent recommendations.

"A - it would be unwise to televise matches at any time. B - football must be made more attractive than television then some ex-attenders may return as spectators."

Clearly, television and football were viewed as direct competitors. The notion that one is a broadcast tool and the other is a sport - and that they should work in partnership - had not yet taken hold.

Floodlit football and matches on Sundays were rejected as a method of attracting the menfolk back to football, while the theory that there was too much travelling by club teams was considered. Perhaps some reorganisation leading to greater frequency of local derby matches would help? Tell that to the organisers of the Champions League.

The findings of the survey were written by AD Bannatyne, PhD, and based on a sample of 4,046 people.

Compiled during an age before computers becamethe norm, the survey was hand-typed and neatly presented inside an A4 blue folder. At the top of page one, underlined and in capital letters, is the word CONFIDENTIAL. The rivets used to bind the document together are now rusty.

The methodology is described as a "randomised probability sample" and some of the conclusions are ridiculous. Could such a small sample really tell us with any accuracy that "frequent attenders last season who no longer go this season" tend to be skilled workers who live in the Midlands and the southern half of England? I suspect not.

In many ways I think the document is most interesting when considered as a piece of social history.

It was written at the start of a decade that would witness profound social and cultural change. By the end of the 1960s, man had been on the moon, children no longer dressed like their parents and the feminist movement had gained an irresistible momentum. The rigid W-M formation had finally disappeared from the English game and the Dutch were close to unleashing Total Football on the world.

The survey provides a glimpse into a bygone era, with all its inherent anachronisms. Yet in several ways the survey shows how certain themes in football have remained. Issues that concerned supporters back then still cause alarm today.

It explores "causes in the match itself" that have turned people away from the game.

After a rather verbose preamble, we are informed there are three main problems - football matches are slow and tame, they are unskilful and defensive and they tend to suffer from poor sportsmanship (fouls and dirty play).

What people really want, in order of preference, is football that is skilful, fast and clean.

"Standards of sportsmanship need brushing up if some groups (who are pained by foul play) are not to be lost to the game," it concluded.

The 1962 survey summary of results and conclusions

Is this much different from what modern supporters want to see? Certainly the Irish have been pretty upset recently by dubious on-field behaviour.

The survey also notes that out-of-date facilities, such as poor seating, toilets etc, drive people away from football. Combine that with poor parking facilities and bad weather and a supporter might just decide to do something less boring instead.

Related to the rudimentary standard of the stadia is the observation that facilities must be improved if women and young children are to attend in greater number.

This suggestion, which sounds very reasonable to me, is followed by this priceless comment: "In addition, attempts might be made to encourage the wives and girlfriends of football supporters to be a little more self-sacrificing by letting their menfolk for out to watch League matches."

Exactly what methods should have been deployed were not specified.

The Football League in its modern form has been running a supporter survey bi-annually since 2006. The results of the latest one will appear early in 2010. Questions relating to issues such as sin-binning and video technology are asked - and if you feel strongly about these I would advise you to have a go at the survey.

Just don't expect too much discussion about the women and their menfolk.


  • Comment number 1.

    Indeed how football has changed!
    It is sad though that nowadays the Womens premier league is affected by low wages. Most of Englands stars are now plying their trade in America, where there is a professional league.
    Interesting article though, a true reflection on how football shapes and can change society, and how, in the end, Football clubs are truly reliant on their fans.

  • Comment number 2.

    A poll of 4,000 is by no means small compared to opinion polls carried out today. It does sound a bit 'Enid Blyton' though.

  • Comment number 3.

    After a rather verbose preamble, we are informed there are three main problems - football matches are slow and tame, they are unskilful and defensive and they tend to suffer from poor sportsmanship (fouls and dirty play).


    I think you will agree Paul, that the game today is fast, creative and attacking than at any time before. while most people believe players were honest back then I dont agree with it. I think most players today play a fair game the motivation for which is the will to remain injury free themselves and the fact that with every moment being recorded, its difficult than ever to get away with stuff now. And its within the powers of the organisers to root out the rest.

    Some games at the world cup may have a global "Television" audiences of over a billion. The next logical step, long overdue, is to provide the one man with the same level of detail and multi-angle coverage that we so luxuriously enjoy at home. That man, the Ref, is the only one that can change the game and make clean.

  • Comment number 4.

    I just took the 2010 survey and did enjoy doing it. A lot of my answers were based around that my feelings are that going to watch football is expensive and I consider it a luxury. For example, I'm a Notts County fan and don't see nearly as many games as I'd like to because I don't like paying £18 or £20 to go, so unless a few of my friends are back home and going i tend not to. I like watching football at any level, but don't want to pay £25 or more for Forest (no price drop when they went into league 1 that i was aware of) or £16 for Mansfield (i think these prices are pretty much accurate). My girlfriend has occasionally bought me Premiership tickets as a present and we've been to Villa and Newcastle in previous years for £30. I'm more likely to go if i think it represents value for money, so £30 is more but i think I'm seeing more than £10 of better football, if you see my point.. Sorry for the essay....

    So my question to Paul or anybody else who can be bothered to answer... Am I unrealistic about wanting to pay less? Do ticket prices significantly contribute to the club's finances (i know Notts are in a different position right now, but this is how i've felt in previous seasons!)? Would twice as many people turn up for half the price? Is it a general feeling that it's expensive or am i just cheap?!

  • Comment number 5.

    Well I can attest to being a witness over the past 3.5 years to a very well-heeled and refined father bringing his two daughters to watch their beloved Arsenal. One of them in particular has no problem in contributing to the more taunting of some the chants traditionally bellowed by supporters and would not object to a date with Senor Fabregas if what is written on the back of her replica strip is to be believed.......

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    I think most women detest the idea of going out to an event where most others are dressed alike. Whats the point, they say.

  • Comment number 8.

    Any my woman simply refuses to go out with me if she know before hand that she will not be the centre of my attention for the good part of two hours.

  • Comment number 9.

    "On the whole women do tend to resent their men going out of the home to enjoy themselves - and this applies to football matches too,"

    It might be 47 years ago, but some things never change :-)

  • Comment number 10.

    nothing has changed then!
    48 years later, women still moan about their blokes having fun without them.

    I think if the premier league did a survey now they would find that most match goers are middle aged, white and middle class.

    its turning into a Daily Telegraph readership!

  • Comment number 11.

    "On the whole women do tend to resent their men going out of the home to enjoy themselves - and this applies to football matches too,"

    It might be 47 years ago, but some things never change :-)

    The most honest and accurate comment ive read on these blogs :-D

  • Comment number 12.

    yeah most people that go to matches are male but some in the stands are surprisingly women. what about those that have football as a major part of their family? should they not go because their not the typical fan? no. they support their team just like any other fan. its taken time but the image of football fans is changing

  • Comment number 13.


    an article of superduper sunday would have done.

  • Comment number 14.

    "On the whole women do tend to resent their men going out of the home to enjoy themselves - and this applies to football matches too,"

    True but that sentence has too many words:-

    'On the whole women do tend to resent their men' would do it. ;)

  • Comment number 15.

    "Laughing or horrified?" What, no other options? I can't help thinking that the world Paul Fletcher inhabits is a bit more advanced in its gender politics than (a) that inhabited by many of the commenters and (b) reality. Sure, the report this year will be worded a great deal more carefully, lest it cause offence, but the content will probably be similar in many ways.

  • Comment number 16.

    Interesting blog Paul. But may i ask what use compiling this survey has? Will the football league REALLY listen to us mere fans? Will they bu**ery. UEFA/FIFA have the final say and the old crones there will change nothing significant. Its the football leagues way of appeasing fans by making them believe they have a say in what happens - which clearly they don't. Christ, even managers and players have no say in what goes on - ie video technology that EVERYONE wants except the governing bodies. Give it 40 years and we will be looking back on these surveys having a chuckle at how nothing has changed!

  • Comment number 17.

    And MilesFlash, you are not tight wanting to pay that sort of money, its a rip off. All clubs are milking their gullible fans. It cost me 26quid to stand in the kop for Leeds vs Tranmere this season. What a joke. We pay Premier league prices - actually we pay more than some Premier League clubs. And how much money has gone on new players? Zilch. We pay more and receive less. A Dad, Mum and 2 kids to watch a first division game these days will cost you 100quid+ Thats not even tailoring in petrol, food, programmes, drinks etc etc. Call it a 150quid. How many families can justify that amount of money on 90 minutes? You could have a weekend holiday in Europe for the same price.

  • Comment number 18.

    ah the good old days...

  • Comment number 19.

    Deats80 - I think it would be wrong of you to say the Football League is not interested in listening to what fans think. I honestly don't think they would bother with the survey if they had no interest in the results.

    You're right to say that there is a limit to what they can introduce as a consequence of the results with regard to changes in the law but plenty of the stuff about what fans want from their matchday experience is relevant.

    Previous surveys influenced the decision to introduce a smoke free policy at games as well as the decision to publish agents fees.

    Milesflash - I agree that it costs a lot of money to watch football. A friend came to visit the other day and we went to watch his team - Bristol Rovers - at Charlton. I wasn't thrilled at shelling out £25. Though the fact I saw six goals did help! I'm not sure that is going to change in the near future.

  • Comment number 20.

    Are you laughing or horrified?

    Uh, nodding in agreement...?

  • Comment number 21.

    I'm a Burnley fan and have been watching the clarets play football league football for my entire life up until this season when, thanks to probably the greatest footballing experience of my life, we got promoted to the promised land.

    As a result it turns out the makers of this survey don't want to know my opinions! My club isn't listed in the drop down list on page 1 of the thing!

    I mean obviously given the choice between being in the premier league and being able to do this survey the survey's going to miss out, but it would've been nice to have my say on twenty odd years of watching us in the lower leagues!

    (I thought about pretending to be a Blackpool fan, but just couldn't bring myself to do it...)

  • Comment number 22.

    allabouttowler - why don't you pretend to be a Preston fan? On second thoughts, don't answer that question.

  • Comment number 23.

    I Had Swine Flu at the FA Cup Final!!! wrote:
    an article of superduper sunday would have done.

    That is more of a Phil McNulty thing. Paul is here mainly on Football League issues, which many of us are interested in, and often comes out with very interesting articles - this one being no different. I took the survey last time out, and after the have compiled all the responses, if you give an email address, they email you with their findings, proving that they do look at the surveys. Paul, do you think the Premier League and other sports should do these surveys- to find out what the fans actually want?

  • Comment number 24.

    "On the whole women do tend to resent their men going out of the home to enjoy themselves - and this applies to football matches too,"

    As a married man i can only confirm the findings of the 1962 survey are still accurate!

    On a serious note though - i am sure that in 47 years time the notion that we shouldn't use "technology" to help referees get decisions right will be seen as laughable as the "it would be unwise to televise matches at any time" statement.... and our grandchildren will be laughing at the FA/FIFA/UEFA now as being out of date and stuck in their ways.

    Great blog by the way - really interesting and a nice change to lots of similar Man United / Liverpool centred blogs that we get on here

  • Comment number 25.

    willweird - I'm not sure, to be honest. What I can say is that the Football League are pretty serious about their survey. They are very keen to listen to what fans have to say.

    boomshakalak - Thanks. The technology issue just rolls on and on. Everybody seems to be in favour of it these days but the people who run football are not really known for the speed at which they introduce new innovations.

    I'd love to see an experiment with sin bins in the Football League. It sounds a touch crazy but has really worked in rugby league.

  • Comment number 26.

    "On the whole women do tend to resent their men going out of the home to enjoy themselves - and this applies to football matches too,"


    Neither laughing nor horrified at this - actually finding it rather refreshing to see the truth stated plainly in the media, rather than varnished over with a slather of PC-optimal gloss.

    As someone who didn't come into the world till a considerable time after this report, my main impression is that folk in those days were perhaps more honest in their public statements than now.

    What they didn't foresee, ironically, was the major impact which the reviled T***vision would have in getting girls interested in football themselves.

  • Comment number 27.

    I take your point Paul, that maybe the football league are interested in listening - to a degree. But the really IMPORTANT issues of the game, they have their hands tied. The rules they have changed like no smoking, well i never even knew that was inforced. I think thats a national thing though, not football, to stop smoking wherever possible. As for the agents fees, ive never had an interest in this and never looked to find out what they get paid. I KNOW they are paid too much, i don't need a report to confirm that!

    Issues which im interested in are:

    Why should i be made to pay 26quid for the cheapest seat behind a goal to watch first division football?

    Introduce video technology

    Ban players for cheating - diving, handballs etc with retrospective video replays

    These types of issues can't be changed by the football league. Things that REALLY matter. So i stick by my point that these surveys are only there to make you feel important, but realistically they are changing nothing about the game itself.

    When the football league brings out polls rather than surveys and lets the fans VOTE on what we want, then i will really believe that they care.

  • Comment number 28.

    "The methodology is described as a "randomised probability sample" and some of the conclusions are ridiculous. Could such a small sample really tell us with any accuracy that "frequent attenders last season who no longer go this season" tend to be skilled workers who live in the Midlands and the southern half of England? I suspect not."

    In fact Paul, you suspect wrongly. Your off the cuff dismissal of apparently sound market research is indicative of the woeful level of ignorance about all things marketing and managerial that permeates British society, even after 50 years of business education.
    You, in fact, display the amateurishness that you attribute to the Football League.
    Given that you work in a largely shameful profession for an organisation that regularly abuses the English language I suppose I should not be surprised...

  • Comment number 29.

    The report all seems so 'terribly, terribly' when read now.... a dinosaur piece of work. However, Dr Bannatyne's comments were an exact reflection as to how things were perceived at the time. As to the size of the sample?..... What else could have been done at the time? Telephones were not ubiquitous (nor money for funding!)and football was ultra-resistant to the beast in the corner. Because we are now on higher ground, it does not mean that we should necessarily try to disparage or rework history into our world view.Television was greatly feared by the game. The report was right for its time and no different in tone to many other 'beliefs' in that era.
    Finally, Paul, I agree that the game was dire and tired in the late 50's and early 60's and that it had to change. Unfortunately, you are wrong in your assertion that the Dutch were about to unleash Total Football on the world, since it was Jock Stein's Celtic side from 1966 to 1970 that did that, most memorably in Lisbon in 1967. Ajax and Holland continued it and refined it, of that there is no doubt but Stein was the first ever to deploy it to any effect! Alex Ferguson and Cruyff would tell you the same.
    I am old enough to have watched it all happen,to have played with some players whom he taught and have many videos/DVDs of Stein's team which show team positions as irrelevant and flexible. That is why he is so revered in the game. Please, Paul, credit where it is both Dr Bannatyne and. more importantly, Jock Stein and his men!

  • Comment number 30.

    You're not single, by any chance, are you Paul?

    "It's a truly staggering observation, but one that I think tells us more about how society, rather than specifically football, has changed over the intervening 47 years."

    Yes, indeed, society is now nannied by the thought police masquerading as journalists who would rather deny reality than accept even a kernel of truth in an un-PC observation. The sentiment was perfectly accurate, though it was obviously only a tiny aspect of complex gender relations. It is still true today to a degree, though its truth has been diluted somewhat by the increased leisure time of both genders.

    It never ceases to amaze me how happily the rich will condemn the morals of the poor, even if the poor in question are their own forebears.

    I also wonder if you've ever been to a football match? I only ask because you seem to be unaware that most fans are still men...

    I wholeheartedly concur with those laughing at your ignorance of research methods. Your own BBC will happily broadcast the minutiae of the conclusions of surveys with only a small fraction of the participants in this survey.

    You even seem to mock the report for not having been produced on a computer! Did it ever occur to you that the computations could be performed equally well, though more slowly, by hand? Or indeed that computers merely modelled the perfectly sound statistical methods that already existed before their invention?

  • Comment number 31.

    Oh, and regarding the word 'anachronistic', to quote Inigo Montoya, "I don't think it means what you think it means."

  • Comment number 32.

    There are three things that impact upon my ability to watch football.
    1. the wife
    2. the expense
    3. work

    Maybe the 1962 report still has some applicability even now?

    I also felt that the report was correct to separate TV and football. Live football on TV prevents people from attending games!

  • Comment number 33.

    I followed the link to The Survey, the first question is "which team do you follow?" but Wolverhampton is not in the list of choices and you can not continue on the survey until you answer that question.

    Is the FA trying to discourage Wolves Fans? Why? Are they still upset about the time Wolfie beat up the three little pigs at Reading? The courts already ruled on that and Wolfie paid his dues, we must be treated as equal members of the Premiership now, this outrageous discrimination must end. (exclamation)

    Well I don't want to sound like a raving lunatic so I wrote the exclamation in brackets, I hope that's ok, thank you.

  • Comment number 34.

    MilesFlash - are you joking? You must be, ten pounds for 90 minutes of entertainment? Is that what you get now to watch Notts County? In answer to your question, Yes, you are a cheapskate.

    They should definitely have family discounts I'll admit it gets expensive if you have a couple of kids but I have no sympathy for someone complaining about twenty quid to see Forest, Jesus Christ it's not much more than two cinema tickets or do you download the script and make your kids act it out rather than go to the movies? I wouldn't be surprised.

    It's a fair comment about them not dropping the price when they get relegated though, I'll give you that one.

  • Comment number 35.

    Women and football? Disgraceful ... it's man's game!

  • Comment number 36.

    I'm always amazed at how the footballing authorities, international and national, are so resistant to change, even when the vast majority of the people who keep the game going (the fans) are clamouring for it. As has been said, the cost of going to see a game now is absurd, especially for lower league games. TV money could have meant that games were virtually free to get in, but players' (and managers') salaries have taken up the major part of that income and left certain clubs teetering in the brink of bankruptcy or administration - again, completely absurd when you consider that the Premiership, at least, is awash with cash.
    As a spectacle, I think football has to evolve and become more entertaining. If you pay 40-50 quid to see a West End show, you know you'll be entertained, but a football match can be deathly boring and littered with fouls, playacting and diving, so it's behoves the authorities to do something about this and NOW. Financial concerns now make it so important to play safe and not lose, rather than to go all out for a win. Yes, 3 points were introduced, but this has done little or nothing to make the game more viewer-friendly.
    More goals - period. Ok, we don't want games ending 22-20, but surely offside rules could be revised e.g. reduce the offside 'zone' to a limit of the penalty area instead of the halfway line.
    Make a goalmouth slightly bigger/higher - people are getting taller generally so why not take this into consideration?
    Reduce a match to 80 minutes - it'd hardly spoil a game (rugby union) and it'd give the poor, burned-out players a slight respite in terms of time played over a season.
    Come down harder on divers - I'm so tired of seeing players flinging themselves to the turf in obvious attempts to fool the ref.
    Use technology when it really matters - did the ball cross the line, for instance.
    Revise the yellow/red card system - it's ridiculous that a player can be sent off and his teammates punished as well for, say, taking his shirt off after scoring and not retreating 10 yards. That's like locking someone away for 5 years for nicking a Mars bar. Introduce sinbins or another card for petty, minor offences - 3 or 4 of those and you're off.
    Bring back standing areas like in Germany - an English crowd can look like an opera audience sometimes. Let people stand again, it's only natural when watching football.
    Get rid of Sepp Blatter...please!

  • Comment number 37.

    Tennis, athletics, and swimming seem to be the only sports in which the female equivalent is taken as seriously as the mens' game. If they had always been equal, I wouldn't have a problem. However, the slightly chauvinistic and certainly anti-political correctness side of me would now hate to see womens' sports FORCED on the public consciousness.

  • Comment number 38.


    The results of surveys ALWAYS tell us more about the societies in which the survey were conducted than the subject of the survey.

    And I predict that in 50 years time, comedians will look back to our media legacy and find an absolute treasure trove of comedy gold.

    Yes, we are going to look proper stupid to our childrens' childrens' generarion. And we won't be able to complain to Ofcom niether.

  • Comment number 39.

    SalochinC - It is not the size of the sample itself that struck me as being particularly small, but the conclusion that I pulled out - can that really be made with any degree of confidence?

    thegadfly - Interesting point. I recently read a book about the history of tactics. It argued that lots of new systems and variations evolved over time and often in different locations without one team knowing about the similar advances made by another. You are quite right to highlight Stein's Celtic - though I don't think the term Total Football was used then but came into effect to describe the way the Dutch team played.

    PorterRockwell - I'm married - although I am not by any means rich and like to think that I am very much still in touch with my most definitely northern roots.

    I think the quote that you have pulled up is very interesting. On one level, as you point out, it hints at the way society has changed in terms of what it is acceptable to say. My father-in-law is forever hectoring me about the nanny state and the PC world we live in. Whether true or not you couldn't express that opinion about women and their menfolk in such as way these days - and whether that is a good thing or not is a debate that certainly divides people.

    I also think it is worth nothing that the survey is an examination of falling attendances. Should that really be given as a possible reason? I say this because I am not sure it is a factor that would have suddenly cropped up - surely it would have been there as long as men have watched football?

    Also, do women really resent their men having a good time? Or is it partly that the menfolk are having a good time with someone/at something else and not with them?

    I'm not mocking the absence of computers - that would be idiotic. But I must applaud your use of bold - I think your post is the first reply I have ever had that features it.

    Saz - Good point that, made by a Burnley fan earlier on. I'll forward it on to the FL for future reference.

  • Comment number 40.

    Yes, I think it does bespeak something about society - namely, that they were more honest back then and less PC. Be serious. I know you have Caroline Cheese and a few others on board but do you think the perception that women try to stop their men going out no longer exists, or that women participate in football as much as men? I point you to the viewership figures for women's football, the participation levels in terms of playing, those who follow football most strongly etc. etc. If I'm wrong, then I guess we should give up trying to get women involved in football.

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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