By Jimmy Dull
It has been wonderful to see Women’s Football being covered on mainstream television during the recent European Championships in The Netherlands. Kudos to Channel 4 for providing live coverage of the matches and providing a good selection of presenters and pundits to analyse the action. However, I can not but help feel very disappointed in the overall coverage and approach provided by our home media towards the journey of the Scotland Women’s National Team.
Take into consideration that this is the first major tournament a Scottish National Football Team has made since 1998 (scarily, for those of us longer in the teeth, this means for some young players it is the first successful qualification campaign in their living memory!). Couple this with the fact it is the first time ever the ladies team have qualified and then you realise this really should have been splashed all over the media as a major historic football event.
Was there an open top bus to wish our history makers well as they headed off to the tournament? Was there a crowd at the airport or a civic greeting to welcome them back? Perhaps there was and I, like most of the general public, are simply unaware due to the lack of major coverage provided – but I very much doubt it. Our history making footballers slipped, for the whole, under the radar, their achievements being noted around the country but never celebrated as widely as they should have been.
Let’s cast our mind back a year when the men’s Euros were in full flow. In addition to the full television coverage – which channels were competing against to show – we could find the tournament dominating the sports headlines on TV, radio and print. Newspapers produced wall charts, player profiles, sticker books and fantasy football challenges. And Scotland was not even there!
Scottish sports coverage is on the whole very poor. Too often “sports news” means “football news” and too often “football news” is just coverage of the Old Firm. Now as a football fan I love the coverage football gets but I can only imagine how depressing it must be for the cricket fan or the shinty fan to put on the Scottish news for the update on their chosen sport and to find just a token gesture at the end – if it is in there at all.
I feel their pain as a fan of women’s football. The lack of genuine coverage the game gets in our country is very disappointing. As mentioned above; the wall chart, fantasy football leagues and sticker books are produced every second year for World Cups and European Championships and, to a greater or lesser extent, throughout the football season yet despite twenty years eclipsing since our Men’s National Team last competed in one of these competitions the coverage of men’s major football tournaments remains incredibly high. (Editor: Panini did produce a Euro 2017 Sticker Album, but it has been harder than it should be to find)
Surely if our National Media had been serious about pushing the cause of the Women’s Game it would have been all over the back pages for a month regardless of Scotland’s presence in the tournament or not. After all, with the exception of Wimbledon, a few European ties and some big golf tournaments, the papers have had nothing but transfer speculation to cover over the past month.
I felt the post-match reporting also lacked any in-depth understanding of the game. I heard Scotland’s 6-0 loss to England described as a “humiliation” with the players and coaches coming in for huge criticism. While the scoreline was extremely disappointing and some defensive frailties were exposed the reality is that any positive scoreline would have been an incredible result for Scotland and, against one the strongest female teams in the world, it would also have been an incredible upset! In my opinion, a draw against England in that opening match would have been a far greater achievement than the 2-2 spectacle between the men’s teams at Hampden a month before.
I just felt a reality check was required. The reporters should have taken into consideration the number of absences from the Scotland squad and taken the time to compare the backgrounds of the players on the park. Instead, I think they took their knowledge of the male game and used that as a pre-conception for how the female game would unfold.
Over the past few years, Scottish Women’s Football has done a fantastic job of promoting the game and pushing forward their brand. They have particularly latched on well to the importance of social media, especially Twitter, and have tried different approaches including the anthem “Girl” released last year. I just can not help but wonder what might have been for the game had the media got fully behind this tournament, splashed it all over the papers and forced it down our throats on the TV and radio over the past month. The consumer was not all of a sudden going to lose interest in the Men’s game and we would still have all listened, read and watched on through the sports news to find out the summer transfer speculation. At least this way we would not have switched off before the token mention of our team was finally dropped in.