The BBC took over the coverage of women’s football and gave it the Super League treatment, match of the day it so deserves. The company 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 emerged as two bored supporters who complained about the quality of women’s football but didn’t leave the stadium until the end of the match as they wanted to see the players swap their jerseys. The clip ended with a group of topless women waving to the crowd as they exited the pitch. To the eternal shame of the BBC comedy, anyone can see it on YouTube.
eventually, those who saw women’s football as just an unwelcome intrusion into a men’s environment began to realize how wrong they had been. Many women are good footballers and some are exceptional. There has been increasing TV coverage over the years, but this new season with live matches featuring the biggest clubs and the best players is likely to be an audience winner.
It’s not just in soccer that women are known for their ability, athleticism and determination to win. Just take a thought at the Leona Maguire golf sensation of Cavan. Fortunately, GAA, rugby, hockey, and cricket all get additional coverage. Many individual players have become established names and some have started to benefit financially, but most are still far behind their male counterparts. New media attention will help correct this.
The young women who participate in these team games owe a debt of gratitude to those who have worn the jerseys in the past. Girls who were ready to train and play when they weren’t taken seriously made a path for the current generation. Those who lobbied for male-like facilities all made their voices heard and in the end more and more policymakers started to listen. There are still officials and organizers in various sports who do not consider women worthy to play on the senior or first field. Camogie players often feel like the poor cousins of Gaelic hurlers and footballers. It’s not just in certain sections of the GAA. In a variety of sports, planners don’t believe funds should be spent on providing the support structures that are now taken for granted in men’s games. They are still slow to see the potential of women’s competition. As a result, they miss an opportunity to be part of a growing movement. A movement that has already seen Wembley, Twickenham, Croke Park and Lord’s now host important women’s meetings.
It’s no surprise that television companies are increasing their coverage of women’s sport. Cricket has played an important role recently. Sky TV hosts international football matches 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 home to Gaelic women’s football.
The 20×20 project in Ireland is one of many lobby groups promoting a level playing field for women. My broadcast colleagues like Ruth Gorman and Denise Watson, who have long championed women’s participation, are now seeing the fruits of their labor. I clearly remember when the only women’s team game on sports news was netball. If hockey was the order of the day, it was the men’s version that was covered.
In UTV, the emerging champion of women’s sports was a journalist and producer called John Flack. He found time and screen space for games and filled many columns in local newspapers reporting on women’s accomplishments. “Flackers,” as they were affectionately called at Havelock House, almost single-handedly healed the comedic damage done by Smith and Jones and encouraged us all to take the women’s teams seriously. For this he deserves praise.
Frank presents U105 Phone In Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to noon
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