I was thrilled on a mid-October Friday when BBC Breakfast Television covered the Women’s Superleague Continental Cup as part of their sports segment. Showing match footage, the item rang out the victory of Manchester City Women over Arsenal Ladies at Adams Park the evening before. It was a genuine delight to see the game and result touched on in brief factual detail – as if the presentation of female football on a major breakfast magazine show were an utter norm.
Buoyed by this, I had to know more, so punched the competition and team name into Google. And there I found links to The Guardian, The Independent, and The BBC Sport website at the first click; my kudos and thanks to all three organisations (and a particularly large sigh of disappointment to our colleagues over at ESPN, which offered not one iota of coverage, not a mention, nothing). So how did these three fare?
Without being a walking media cliche, I am a Guardian reader and most certainly a London liberal to boot. Whilst The Guardian’s Sports Section does occasionally miss the mark, this was not one of those times. It was quite the contrary in fact.
James Riach’s report was an article rich in detail, woven with excellent language, and – crucially – magical in its delicate suggestion that this is just the start for women’s football in the UK. See example ‘For City, a first trophy will be treasured following a debut campaign in top flight to remember, [Isobel] Christiansen’s decisive strike securing a win for a club that is still in its infancy but that has big ambitions.’
The report carries on, evoking build up, proud post match reflections from the manager, and chunky descriptive pieces that take readers straight into the heart of the game. It was a piece of writing impassioned and emboldened by a love of sport and at no point contorted into the men vs women’s football debate.
Riach has much to be pleased about also; to date there have been forty five comments on his article, with plenty of congratulations offered to the teams, and a lovely blog-spaiing session over the use of the term Women or Ladies in a football context. One reader praised the quality of match report (agreed), whilst another anticipated the investment in the women’s game in Australia.
Again, it’s enough to make a sports writing consumer feel pretty damn good about finally reading a female football match report that focuses upon the game and not some hackneyed debate underpinned by inherent gender bias. So inspired was I, I headed over to The Independent where Tony Leighton had also done a steady match report touching on the financial muscle that had elevated City into the top flight ‘Superleague’ of womens football. Again, credit where it’s due for getting into the heart of a League for the healthy exploration of sport, rather than taking refuge in tired out men vs women articles.
On this wave of positive cyber vibes, I headed promptly over to the BBC website where the more fact based reporting and noted coverage of the game on Radio 5 Live Sports Extra instilled a renewed belief in my license fee. Most impressively, the site had posted links to the story ‘Around The Web’ where – to my surprise – Bruce Archer in the Daily Star, had run an exclusive interview with leading Arsenal player Kelly Smith, the day before the game. In an interview driven piece, I was introduced to a genuine player enthused and energised about her teams game and her own cup reflections, quoting ‘We’re looking to finish on a high… Win the Cup and see where we go from there.’ A truly buzzing piece from Archer, dropping in just the right amount of detail to inspire intrigue at this largely unreported game and the determined, undaunted young women at the heart of it.
Smith herself took interim charge of Arsenal when their manager resigned mid-season, and given she is working towards her UEFA B license, she’s a future sport star and a potentially sparky voice that will only grow louder.
In an increasingly crowded media space, it’s easy to drown in surface comment and cliched reports. But with a little effort, thanks to the talented reporters out there, excellent writing can always be found. With the experience I had this month with women’s football, we can all breathe a sigh of relief: Finally we have at least three dynamic reporters eager and fantastically capable of celebrating in written word, this rapidly emerging sport sector.