Football may be coming home, it may not. But for thousands of women across the UK, their domestic partners are coming home after a football match to wreak terror, verbal abuse and violence on them.
And I was one of them.
A Lancaster University study showed that reported instances of domestic violence rise by 38% if England lose a football match AND 26% when they play. This saddening statistic was met with a mixture of responses that ranged from shock (from people who had never experienced anything like it) and resignation, from those of us who had experienced it all too well.
I was not part of the 30-odd percent of women who reported any abuse so imagine how many more of us there are? In fact, a Twitter poll I conducted showed me that more than 300 people know someone who is violent or aggressive when they’re watching football.
I also had many women tell me their stories of football-based domestic violence. On top at that, many people replied to me to tell me about places they know or have been where they’ve witnessed aggressive behaviour during a game – can we take a moment to think about the families these people then go home to?
My story goes something like this.
When I got with Dan*, I knew he was football mad. He spoke incessantly about his favourite team, couldn’t see me during every big match, hated that I support Chelsea and dreamt of the day he could get a club-related tattoo.
I was only young when we met and I grew up in a football mad family where every single World Cup, Euro tournament and Champions League final match had to be watched together. So I kinda got it.
I understood that for many young boys, growing up to be a footballer is the dream. And often knee injuries or other physical, financial and emotional barriers prevent many from reaching their dream.
I also understood that there is no support – emotionally or otherwise – for boys who spend their formative years dreaming of being a footballer only to come to terms with never making it. Where they instead turn to viscious support and a healthy serving of toxic masculinity is sent their way.
Man up, you can always play on the weekends. Who the fuck do you think you are? Beckham? You’re a nobody! If you were any good, you would’ve made it. Suck it up.
I also understand there are many people who just enjoy football in the same way someone else may enjoy playing the piano – fucking up a chord change doesn’t make them aggressive towards the keys.
But for some, growing up and experiencing environments where toxic football support is prevalant is influential and damaging.
If they grow up watching the men around them scream at players, swear at the ref, hurl racial and homophobic abuse, drink profusely, melt down at a result and then pack it away after extra time, ready for the next game – how else are they supposed to learn how to behave, accept defeat, hold their heads high and move on?
In my case, it was never fully physical abuse. It was being around someone for 90 minutes, a few times a week that would turn into an absolute monster.
Someone who would get progressively drunker and more aggressive as the game went on, no matter what the score was.
Someone who walked out of pubs and left me, if the ‘banter’ and gentle ribbing of his favourite club got too much.
Someone who wouldn’t speak to me or their friends for hours after a game because they were too disappointed in the result.
Someone who would thump a pint glass down on a table with such vigour that it would often break or scare those around them.
Someone who would scream at the top of their lungs at every goal so that it would make me and others around me, jump in fright.
Someone who lost all sense and control of their tongue so that vile abuse would dribble out.
And someone who would turn that tongue on the person nearest them, to let the frustration they felt towards 22 players out on someone who was no way involved.
I found myself becoming anxious as soon as the first whistle blew. I tried not to talk. I tried cheering him up when the game wasn’t going well. I tried everything to manage his aggression so that I wasn’t on the receiving end of it and it was a horrible way to live.
Whilst I never received any physical harm as a direct result of the football, this person did eventually go on to physically harm me at a birthday party a few years into the relationship.
The anger and frustration he took out on football players, would eventually be taken out on me and if I’d known then that his behaviour was a huge red flag, larger than the one that surfs around stadiums before kick off, I may have been able to get out sooner.
And I saw it in others too. My sister had a football obsessed boyfriend who would often go missing for days after a bad result.
I served women in a pub that I worked in with a pint for their husband, during a game and a knowing half-smile that I knew exactly what they were in for.
Fellow Twitter user and blogger Beth Ashley, told me her story:
My ex-boyfriend of a few years ago was a huge football fan. A hooligan, really.
He was the sort to be down the local screaming with enthusiasm with his lads, red cross painted on the face and excitedly preparing for a win. He was an England supporter throughout the world cup and a Liverpool supporter for the remainder of the time.
This boyfriend was usually lovely, seemingly very caring, and fun to be around. But after a few months of dating, football drove a huge wedge between us. I’ve never been interested in football and I’d generally feel a little confused and isolated within football discussions, but its okay for couples to have different interests and I just let him get on with it without any association from me.
However, it eventually got to a point where I’d dread football matches if I knew England or Liverpool was playing. There was a certain day of the week, let’s say it was Tuesday, where Liverpool would play, and I’d know that talking to him or seeing him that evening would be absolute hell if they lost. I know very little about Liverpool FC or any football teams, but they seemed to lose a lot and it was always taken out on me.
Every time, my ex-boyfriend would punch walls right next to me, screaming about the loss. He would flip furniture in anger over missed goals and verbally abuse me. If I ever tried to intervene and explain that it was just a game and he didn’t need to be so angry, I’d get shouted at for not understanding and called things like ‘slag’ or ‘slut’ for trying to stop his anger.
I banned this boyfriend from watching football games at my house or whenever I was round, which resulted in us never seeing each other or contacting one another during games he was invested in.
Cutting out this contact meant I was subject to his football aggression a lot less, but it shouldn’t have been necessary. I didn’t ever report this boyfriend to the police, and I didn’t tell anyone about it (until right now). But this experience along with aggression I’ve seen from football fans (particularly men) in pubs has left me un-nerved by football fans in public, and I stray from dating them entirely.
We are certainly not alone – in fact, my inbox is full of similar stories and I suspect they’ll continue to flood in after this post goes live.
This aggressive and micro-aggressive culture is normalised. So normal in fact that if you’re unlucky enough to have a partner that loses his senses to a game, you’re a ‘football widow’.
The term for being a woman, in a relationship with a man, who just had to accept their behaviour during a game and their prioritising of a sport, as if it was normal. Or a woman who had to accept to losing their partner entirely whenever football was going on – because their needs came second.
Bless you if you tried to utter the unspoken words of, ‘it’s only a game.’
You silly misguided thing, booking an event on the day of a game and you had better PRAY your birthday doesn’t fall during the World Cup because then it just doesn’t count at all.
And what about those awful viral news stories that go round during every big event? The ‘rule book’ that men make for their women during a match to include things like, ‘don’t speak,’ ‘stay in the kitchen,’ or, ‘bring me beer at all times.’
Instead of these men being admonished for their awful attitudes and sexist behaviour, they’re championed as the ultimate lad and the cycle is never broken.
Of course I’ve had partners who like football (as much as I do) who operate in a normal way during games. I even know of some friend’s husbands and boyfriends so obsessed with the game that they’ll follow England of their team anywhere – they just don’t go home and abuse their partners as a result of a lose or a bad refereeing decision.
Of course those who behave in such a disgusting manner are a different breed of people. But how common is it? I haven’t met many women who haven’t been blighted by a football mad hooligan in some way. Whether that’s having a relative or gets too involved or being in a relationship with someone who takes it far too seriously or even just being in a public space where it’s all kicked off.
Football based violence is scary for anyone who experiences it. Certain establishments in your local area become known as places to avoid during games and people who you love become no-go zones during events. It’s no way to live yet it just seems to be accepted and brushed off as one of those things.
The sport has done a fantastic job in running campaigns to stamp out racism and homophobic abuse – although it still goes on. But are they doing enough to diffuse the atmosphere of aggression that follows every team and every game?
Until toxic masculinity dies out or is somehow abolished and men are called out more regularly for their unacceptable and dangerous behaviours, women are still going to be on the receiving end of football-based abuse and violence. And it’s time we blow the final whistle and send these abusers off.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who exhibits any aggressive or dangerous behaviour, I urge you to speak to the National Domestic Violence helpline on 0808 2000 247 .