It has been curious to watch the almost universal opposition, intensifying, to the Chelsea Women manager Emma Hayes’s suggestion that football goals are “just a little too big” for female goalkeepers.
It was easy to react with a double-take. Most people did. Emma Hayes, capping women’s potential? “The goal size does not need to be changed,” tweeted Wales midfielder Jess Fishlock, with an eye-roll emoji. “If a keeper makes a mistake, it’s a mistake – not because of the goal size.”
“What are the social implications?” asked Karen Bardsley, the England goalkeeper. “We have fought so hard to change the perception of female athletes across the planet and I am not sure that would be beneficial. We are trying to keep it on a par and drive equality.”
Is Bardsley asking the wrong question? Only recently, for example, we have realised we need to approach children’s football with a little more intelligence. To be 10 years old in 2007 and playing 11-a-side could be a joyless experience. Teachers have long spoken of the disadvantages to children born in the fourth quarter of the academic year compared to those born in September and November, and nowhere is this more pronounced than in 22 11-year-olds playing on a pitch that is almost comically big.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appTo be a scrawny full-back up against a spindly-legged winger who has hit puberty early was to spend hours ostracised on the flank. Kick and rush thrives because children have no choice but to make the ball do the work on a pitch that dwarfs them. One of my memories is of a league reduced to a flurry of 16-2 scorelines in favour of whoever could hit the ball hardest. It’s the closest you get to the grass-roots equivalent of the Serengeti.
With no incentive to get the ball down and play, what happens to the late developers who will emerge as the most technically gifted in the long run? You are left secretly wondering if anyone other than the towering forward sporting the first traces of a beard is actually having a good time.
The Football Association, to its credit, clocked this a few years ago. Children are not advised to play 11-a-side until under-13s now, which is an improvement. They do not play with a size-five ball until under-15s and 45-minute halves come in at under-17s. To worry that altering goal sizes might impact grass-roots provision overlooks how children do not play on anything approaching a full-sized pitch until under-17s.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appThe point is we were once so fixed on frogmarching youngsters into what we perceived as “proper” football that no one stopped to think it was needlessly premature until years down the line. To make allowances for physical differences is just common sense. To bring the touchline in 30 yards at under-15s is not an insult to anyone.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appThe problem is not women’s bodies – five inches shorter than a man’s or otherwise – but the world’s habit of seeing male bodies as the default setting, particularly in scientific studies.
An article in the British Medical Journal reveals that only 39 per cent of participants in sport and exercise research studies over a two-year timespan were women. There will be players in the Women’s Super League wearing kids’ boots despite differences between the male and female foot.
Alex Scott, the former Arsenal defender, will be able to recall inheriting men’s football kits that were so huge they billowed like a parachute when she ran. It is telling that the first electric guitar designed especially for women was only created in 2016, retails at $2,000 (£1,600) and its USP is that “there is room for a breast. Or two”. It has taken the music industry 700 years to realise women have breasts.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appThat’s why this idea that smaller goals hinder the fight for equality is missing the point. The world is predicated on the assumption that men’s bodies speak for all of us, just as it was once preoccupied with the assumption that 10-year-olds were able to cover the same ground as fully-grown men. Because who can know, yet, whether Hayes is right or wrong?
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appIt is true, for instance, that the women’s game has neglected its goalkeepers for decades: only recently have they had access to specialist goalkeeper coaches. Carly Telford recalls how, as a young player, her specialist training amounted to “one of the dads volleying it to you”. Siobhan Chamberlain, the Manchester United goalkeeper, met her first specialist coach 12 years into her England career.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appThe status quo may be damaging. The status quo may be fine. But only through trial and error will we ever really find out. We should at least have this debate, with nuance. To dismiss Hayes’s suggestions out of hand does everyone a huge disservice.