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21 Oct 2015

Most male fans are in favour of more active involvement of women in football

Loughborough Students Women's Football Team in action.

A national survey has shown that most men interested in football in Britain would welcome more women into the sport as fans, coaches, board members and match officials. 

The online survey received responses from over 2,000 fans, 83% of whom were men. Almost half the respondents were in the 46 and over age bracket, broadly reflecting the make-up of top level football crowds in England. 

The findings include:

  • 75% of men think media coverage of women’s sport has increased since London 2012. Only 65% of females thought the same
  • 91% of males would welcome more female fans at football
  • 90% would like more female football journalists
  • 86% would like to see more women on club boards.

 Male resistance is a little stronger with regards to officiating and coaching, but a large majority still favour change here: 

  • 75% of males would be happy with more female coaches
  • And 75% would welcome more female referees. 

The research, conducted by Jamie Cleland (Loughborough University) and John Williams (University of Leicester) in collaboration with academics at other UK universities, also found: 

  • One in three male fans (31%) now follow the fortunes of their club’s women’s team
  • 29% had attended a women’s match. 

Highlighting the increasing exposure given to women’s football, 34% of the participants used the official club website for news and information on women’s teams, whilst 35% engaged in social media (Facebook, Twitter and fan message boards) to follow their progress. 

Many had been won over by the overall experience – but not all were impressed yet by the standard of play in the female game: 

‘I found the experience enjoyable and enlightening and made me re-evaluate some of the preconceived ideas I had beforehand about women's football. In particular, the technical skill level of the players was of a better standard than I expected.’  (Male 26-35 Chester FC) 

‘There is a real down to earth family feel to ladies football. I took my youngest daughter for her first matchday experience and the crowd was small enough for her not to feel uncomfortable, made enough noise and was really friendly. The girls don't really dive and cheat like in the men's game and they seem to be in it totally for the love of the game.’ Male 36-45 Everton fan)

It was genuinely awful, especially the goalkeeping.The girls we were with who follow men’s football regularly were scathing about it and found the quality laughable. (Male 26-35, York City fan) 

The findings reveal perceptible changes in male attitudes following extensive BBC TV coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015. The majority of men in the sample (69%) had watched the Women’s World Cup on TV, and many identified a very positive impact from the England women’s showing, including a few things the men’s game could learn: 

‘Yes [there is] a realisation that women can play the game very well and indeed women's football can be more entertaining and technical than men’s. It is also going hand in hand with a shift in the mentality of men’s football, away from the kick and rush to a more technical game.’  (Male 26-35 QPR fan) 

‘It has raised the profile to the extent that the Women's Super League is becoming more viable and spectators are starting to take it on board as a product in its own right. The increase in support will hopefully help fund the development of more full time women footballers’ (Male 46-55Tranmere Rovers fan) 

Higher profile. Players playing not for money, but genuinely in love with the game. It seemed to me to represent something found in lower league men’s football: honesty and a purity, just a love of the game, which fans can relate to as most of us aren't millionaires. (Male, 46-55 Newcastle United fan) 

Other men were rather more sceptical that the coverage of the Women’s World Cup could - and would - have a longer term impact here: 

‘Yes to a degree, but it is and will also always be a poor relation in comparison to the men's game in terms of coverage. I don't think it grabs the British public’s imagination like the men's game and probably never will, but that's not to say it should not be promoted to the max. (Male, 46-55 Brighton & HA fan) 

Dr Cleland, from the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University, said: “The coverage and exposure given to women’s sport since the 2012 Olympics is recognised among a large sample of people from across Britain, who acknowledge the growth it is making in such a short space of time.

"In the way that Italia 1990 was viewed as a pivotal time in the changing landscape of men’s football, large numbers of men recognise the opportunity for women’s football that has been created after the successful 2015 Women’s World Cup. Fans argue that it is now time for football’s administrators, sponsors and media providers to make sure that this opportunity is not lost.” 

Mr Williams, from the Department of Sociology at the University of Leicester, said: “We do need to be slightly cautious in our conclusions because this is a self-selecting sample. Not all men interested in sport may be as progressive in their views as these men seem to be. But there is some strong evidence here that male fan perceptions about the role of women in sport are changing. Perhaps sports as businesses need to catch up with public opinion? 

“It is also interesting to see that the Women’s World Cup in 2015 captured the imagination of so many male fans and that most of them were pleasantly surprised by what they saw.  The women’s game might be emerging for some people as an alternative to the excesses of men’s football.  It has been said that since London 2012 we are in a very positive phase for changing attitudes about women in sport. Our survey provides further evidence that this has happened.”

Notes for editors

Article reference number: PR 15/197

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, putting it among the best universities in the world, and was named University of the Year in the What Uni Student Choice Awards 2015.Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. It was 2nd in the 2015 THE Student Experience Survey and was named Sports University of the Year 2013-14 by The Times and Sunday Times. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

In September 2015 the University opened an additional academic campus in London’s new innovation quarter. Loughborough University London, based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities.

Contact for all media enquiries

Charlotte Hester

PR Officer
Loughborough University
T: 01509 223491
E: C.L.Hester@lboro.ac.uk

Additional contact information

John Williams

Senior Lecturer
University of Leicester
T: 07725 643427
E: jxw@le.ac.uk