Ladies first

The top Spanish game of the weekend was on ‘Gol’ TV at 20.00 on Sunday night.  I watched it whilst eating my supper and I was well entertained. Barcelona (2nd) hosted Atlético Madrid (1st) and the game ended in a 1-1 draw – the right result I’d say. The (woman) ref gave a dodgy penalty to Barcelona, so that’s where the first parallel with the men’s game comes in, after leaders Atlético had taken a first-half lead with a neatly lobbed goal by the evergreen ‘Soni’ (Sonia Bermudez), the tiny 33 year-old forward who played for Barcelona during two periods, interrupted by a (paid) year in New York and followed by a transfer to current champions Atlético.


As you may be aware, last Thursday was 8M, International Women’s Day, and in Spain women went on strike throughout the country, generally making a militant success of the day – despite some predictably imbecilic and condescending remarks from Mariano Rajoy, the country’s PM (Prime Minister) and UMI (Unreconstructed Male Incarnate).  It seems apposite, therefore, to put the ladies first this weekend, although perhaps they should get more attention in general.

It’s a tricky topic, and one that becomes easy prey to lame jokes and sniggering male culture, supported as it is by a century’s predominance.  As my wife remarked as I pointedly washed the dishes, did the ironing and headed to the door laden with shopping bags on Thursday, ‘It’s the other 364 days that count’ – and of course she’s right.   I may be accused of having only watched the women’s match on Sunday night in the afterglow of Thursday’s successful action in Spain, but readers of ESPN and Sport 360 will support my claims to have written about women’s football in Spain before.  Indeed, in the same spirit I try to help with the shopping and ironing in general, but in the end, I guess my wife does more, and I only go along to watch Real Sociedad Femenina maybe once a month at the most. It hardly constitutes a social and sporting revolution.

In the same vein, the weekend’s events were slightly disappointing. The game between Barça and Atlético was a major event, or at least it should have been. As with their male counterparts, they are the only sides who can win the title this season, but unlike the guys were only separated by a single point – at the start (and at the end) of play.  With eight games remaining in the 16-team Premier League, Atlético lead with 54 points, but Granadilla Egatesa (from Tenerife) and Athletic Bilbao trail far behind in 3rd and 4th places respectively, both on 40 points. So it was only reasonable that the game be shown live on ‘Gol’, but less reasonable that it was played in the Joan Gamper stadium, with a capacity of 1.100 spectators. Not only that, but the low terracing meant that the cameras were almost at pitch level, making the more distant action almost impossible to appreciate.  The (male) commentator mansplained apologetically but rather vaguely about Barcelona’s decision not to play the game in the Mini Estadi, the 15,000 all-seater where Barça B play their games.  Barça B had played Numancia in a Second Division game at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, but the women’s game began at 8 o’clock in the evening.  Why didn’t they bring the two games closer together and make an afternoon-evening ‘fiesta’ of it?  Or better still, play both games in the Camp Nou consecutively (the men were playing in Malaga), plan it with a bit of notice, and invite folks along for free?  Not difficult, surely?  But instead, the game was played in the Joan Gamper, which has an atmosphere roughly equivalent to a churchyard cemetery.

Betis got it right.  Their ladies’ game against next-to-bottom side Santa Teresa from deepest Badajoz (it ended 3-0) was played in the Benito Villamarin.  The atmosphere, in marked contrast to the Barcelona game, was vibrant, with 6,600 fans turning up.


Check out the goals, particularly the second one at 4.10 on the clip. It might have been a cross, but it’s still a cracker.  However, the 3rd goal (on 4.36) is both intentional and excellent. If a Betis male counterpart had scored it, it would’ve been goal of the week, and there’s the rub. The only way to improve the women’s game and to attract spectators along is to give it more media prominence, and to play the games more often in the main stadiums. Why not?

Whatever, let’s not criticise Barcelona too much, because at least they have a women’s football team, as opposed to Real Madrid. The new side in the top flight, Madrid CFF, play in white shirts in homage to the male side, but are not linked to them institutionally. Atlético and Rayo Vallecano both have successful teams, but Florentino Pérez cannot be persuaded – a curious fact given the historic emphasis Real Madrid have given to their multi-sport profile. Their basketball side (for example) is an important part of their identity, but rumours persist that Pérez cannot abide the thought that the team would need to start in the regional divisions and work its way upwards.  Neither would it make the club any money, but the kudos that would come attached, plus the obvious socio-political influence that the club enjoys in the city, make its absence something of a mystery and a contradiction in the club’s view of itself as a symbol of the whole Madrid scene.

Women’s football in Spain has always struggled to rise above the male-oriented politics of its history, particularly during the Franco dictatorship where women playing football was considered unseemly. During Franco’s regime, women were exhorted (between 1937 and 1978) to busy themselves in ‘social service’, which basically meant learning to sew, cook and ensure that their hubbies were handed slippers and supper on returning from a hard day at the office.  The poster below sternly reminds Spanish ladies to ‘Arregla tu casa’ (Clean up your house) before the hubby gets back from work.  No time for footy training for this particular lady.


For the record, the first women’s club was the Spanish Girls’ Club (sic) set up by the revolutionary Paco Bru in 1914 in Barcelona, but under Franco women were forced play football ‘clandestinely’, actually getting a national side together in 1971 (Franco popped his clogs in 1975), reluctantly permitted by the RFEF but not officially recognised.  Their first game was a 3-3 draw in Murcia against Portugal, followed 3 months later by a trip to Italy in Turin, where they were stuffed 8-1 and not allowed to wear the Spanish shield on their shirts because the luminaries (blokes) in the Spanish FA hadn’t approved the trip.   The same year, the first Women’s World Cup was organised in Mexico, with Spain one of the invitees.  You guessed – they weren’t allowed to go, presumably because their husbands needed those slippers to be ready every evening.  The national side was finally made official in 1983, eight years after Franco had died – but with many of his cronies still hanging around the political scene the arrival of officialdom took longer than it should have done.   The women’s league itself dates from 1988.

The women’s game in Spain is picking up momentum, but it remains largely amateur, even at the top level.  Only around 30-odd players have pro contracts, meaning that the best ones are usually picked off to play abroad. Jenni Hermoso, ex-Barça star, is now at salary-paying PSG, as is Irene Paredes (ex-Athletic and Real Sociedad). Veronica Boquete, Spain’s captain in the 2015 World Cup, recently signed for Beijing BG Phoenix, and has not played in Spain since 2011. Barça’s star player and the woman generally seen as the league’s top player is Lieke Martens, who is Dutch. Against Atlético she was well controlled by the visitors’ robust tackling and high-pressing game, impressive in its efficiency.  In fact Atlético looked the better side overall, a tad more organised and less reliant on individual inspiration. They look like they’ll win it again this season.  Athletic Bilbao remain the all-time champs with five titles, to Barcelona’s four.

Shall we give the guys a mention too? Oh , alright then!  Barcelona breezed to a 0-2 win at poor Malaga, who didn’t exactly help themselves by playing with ten men from the 30th minute. Malaga were actually the last side to beat Barcelona in the league, some time back in the Jurassic Period. Leo Messi stayed at home after the birth of his third child, and made sure that his wife got her slippers and supper, but Coutinho and Dembele proved adequate cover (well, they did cost 250 million between them).  Atlético kept up the chase with a 3-0 win over Celta, and Valencia won 0-2 at Sevilla in the big game of the weekend, to open up an eleven-point gap between themselves (in 4th place) and their victims Sevilla (in 5th).  Girona won again too, and are nicely placed in 7th spot, a point behind Villarreal.  Next week they visit Real Madrid, which should be interesting.  The Bernabéu Boys went up to Eibar and scraped a 1-2 win, courtesy of Ronaldo’s usual instincts, but they’ll need to be sharp next week if they’re to stop the Girona charge.

That’s enough. The weekend belonged to the Primera Division Feminina, and to all those women who feel that they don’t get a fair share of the spoils.  They don’t, because of course they don’t generate the same amount of business, but that’s a bit chicken-and-egg.  The more prominence given to them, the more investment their game will receive, along with the attendant improvements. At the moment it’s still a parallel universe. It doesn’t need to be.


4 thoughts on “Ladies first”

  1. Great subject and presentation of it. Got me thinking about tennis. I don’t follow it and know little about the business side, but a big tournament like Wimbledon has men and women playing at the same time. Perhaps this helps pool attendance, TV coverage, and/or advertising revenue? I certainly can name more female tennis stars than I can female football stars. And I’ve never been to a tennis match, but I have been to female football matches from youth through the World Cup. So maybe tennis is doing something better for women than other sports?

    As for La Liga, I only caught the last 30 minutes of Valencia’s match. What an assist by Kondogbia, when he beat 5 players (3 dribbling, 2 passing) through the middle of the pitch for the second goal.


    1. IT – yes. I was talking about this the other day. The women’s finals are played at the same venues in front of the same-sized crowds and are always televised in an equal way. It still doesn’t cut the controversy in tennis (fuelled by some male players), but it ensures that the women’s game is prominent and taken seriously. I honestly don’t know why that can’t be the case in football. It’s harder to imagine because of ‘tradition’, but in a parallel universe you can see how it’s perfectly plausible. I honestly think it’s going to happen though. Not sure when, but it will.


      1. Phil-Tennis has always been a glamour sport and lends itself, almost perfectly, to TV and general popularity. Field sports not so much for a variety of factors that might be a subject to explore for your next book;-) Oh BTW….Guardian Sport must have taken cue from this article to publish their own version on Women’s football. Great job as always……look me up if you are visiting States anytime!

        Liked by 1 person

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