What do you think are the most annoying phrases to describe women’s football?

By Helena Bryne

Over the years there have been numerous articles, blog posts and lists on public forums on what the most annoying football (soccer) clichés are. However, all these lists focus on the men’s game and I couldn’t find any similar lists on women’s football online. On the 26th of January 2018, I posted a tweet with a survey to ask the public What do you think are the most annoying phrases to describe women’s football? I was also interested to see if there were any big differences between phrases that people found annoying to describe the different codes of women’s football and asked respondents if they watched and/or played soccer, rugby, Gaelic football or any other type of football such as Aussie rules etc. Although, the participants watched a wide variety of the codes only soccer and Gaelic football players completed the question about which sport they played. The survey was originally scheduled to run for 1 month but was extended to run until the 18th of March 2018.

The survey received forty-one responses from eight countries, with majority of the responses coming from England and the Republic of Ireland respectively.  None of the questions were compulsory so the number of responses to individual questions does vary slightly. As I shared this survey through my personal Twitter and Facebook accounts the reach of the survey was limited to my personal network and the endorsement of those that I have connected with. Even though, it is a small sample the results still give us an invaluable insight into the what fans and players in the women’s game find annoying.

Helena Byrne - Football Collective Blog - Figure 1

What was the most annoying phrase to describe women’s football?

While the survey was running the only similar list I could find related to women’s football in the UK was a BBC Three video from their “Things Not To Say” series. There was a lot of overlap in the phrases collected and the ones used in the video. In total there were 123 different phrases collected. These were matched, and the appearances of single phrases were deleted.  Overall, the most popular phrase was “Boring” which appeared five times, either on its own or in a fuller phrase “it’s boring” and “Women’s football is boring”. This was followed closely by variants of “Ladies Football”, “Women’s Football” and “Lesbians” which all appeared four times. A number of other phrases appeared two or three times but the majority of phrases only appeared once.

Themes that emerged from the results

Not surprisingly there was very little difference in the sentiment of the phrases found annoying to players in soccer and Gaelic football. The phrases were loosely categorised into nine different themes.  I allocated each phrase to only one theme even though; some phrases may have fitted into more than one.


Comparisons to the men’s game (19)
Domestic/ Maternal role (5)
Gender/ Sexuality/ Sexualisation (10)
Knowledge of the sport (2)
Other (8)
Quality of the sport (20)
Strength/ Skill (10)
Use of the term Women’s/ Ladies/ Girl’s (18)
Validity of the sport (31)

Helena Byrne - Football Collective Blog - Figure 2.jpg

It is not surprising that the majority of the phrases found most annoying question the validity of women playing any kind of football. This was summed up in phrases like “Women’s football isn’t real football”, “What time does the real game start” or “Just a hobby”.

The second biggest theme to emerge from the results was related to the quality of the sport. A number of phrases collected referred to the sport being “Slow”, “Women’s football is boring” or “Not as competitive”.

The third strongest theme to emerge from the survey was the constant comparisons to the men’s game. Some of these responses overlap with the previous theme about the validity of the sport but made direct references to men’s football such as, “The men’s team would batter any women’s team”, “She’s the female (insert famous male player/manager)” and “They’d get as much of a crowd as the men”. This theme was closely followed by the use of the term girl (to describe women), ladies or women’s to describe the sport they play when it is very rare that anyone uses a male gendered prefix to describe men playing football.  Although, I have used the term women’s football throughout this blog post it does annoy me that I have to use it to clarify the subject I am discussing.

More research needed

Most of the phrases found annoying in the various publications on men’s football, such as this Express article are generic and trivial. If these same phrases are used to describe women’s football then they are not found to be as annoying as the numerous derogatory phrases collected in this survey. In spite of the rule changes the English FA implemented in 2014, to increase mixed gendered participation in football to under 16 level there is still widespread discrimination against young girls playing football. This issue was recently highlighted on BBC Sport when a six year old girl “was told she could not join in a game of football because she was a girl”. There still needs to be more research done into the lasting impact this type of language has on young girls and women playing football. In a recent documentary, Marta, one of the most successful female footballers in recent years stated that “You got mean looks and comments every day, just because you were a girl. A girl who loved football” (2:09 minutes).

This survey highlights that any young girl or woman who wants to play football needs to be determined and resilient regardless if it is just for fun or at a higher level. For young girls and women to have equality on the playing field more work needs to be done by the governing bodies in collaboration with other external organisations. The big changes in society that we have seen over the last century such as, women’s right to vote, have equal pay or access to contraception didn’t come from the top down but rather from pressure from below. There needs to be systematic change in attitudes towards women, this can only happen through grassroots campaigns and the trade union movement.


With the exception of the externally referenced content this blog post has a Creative Commons CC BY licence.


Helena Byrne is a librarian that works in web archiving and has a personal interest in football history. She volunteered with Drogheda Local Voices to conduct the Abbey Ballroom Indoor Football League oral history project in summer 2012 and again during 2014/2015. Findings from this project were published in a special edition of Soccer & Society focusing on soccer in Ireland. Helena completed her Masters in Library and Information Studies at UCD in 2015. Previously she worked as an English language teacher in Turkey, South Korea and Ireland.




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