The big shift: women's club football on the move
You’ve probably heard the John Lydgate quote about pleasing some of the people all the time, all the people some of the time, but not all the people all the time.
Abraham Lincoln made the saying famous, and it’s a sentiment which has been rattling around Southland Football headquarters for a while now.
That’s because Southland women’s club football will be moved from Sunday to Saturday this winter, a shift which has a few keyboards rattling this week.
Southland Football are hoping that a change to the day that women’s club games are played will do more than just boost falling numbers.
Even that would be a significant outcome, however, with numbers in the women’s grade, which typically includes eight to 10 teams, declining in recent years.
But what Southland Football manager Ignacio Sande would really love to see from the change is the opportunity for women to be more actively engaged in the local football landscape.
For the past couple of years an annual player survey has asked a question about changing which day women’s club games are played.
In 2017 only 35 percent supported a change, but last year that number had risen to about 50 percent.
“It’s a discussion that we’ve had for a long time. 50/50 is not clear cut, and possibly with those numbers you wouldn't go ahead, but we are struggling in the women’s space for numbers. We don’t know if it’s the day or the format, to be honest, but numbers aren’t great in the women’s competition.”
Southland Football contacted the regional body, Football South, who had made the same change two seasons ago, and took some confidence from the positive outcomes which had been experienced.
Sande does not know what effect the change will have on numbers.
Southland Football has fielded queries from people interested in being part of a Saturday competition, but Sande is also aware that other commitments - work, family, other sports - could have a detrimental effect.
“More than the numbers, we want women to be able to have the full football experience; being part of the club and that social environment. We’ve found that women’s football is isolated from the football community. It starts at midday on a Sunday, no one goes to watch and few people from the club support the teams,” Sande said.
“We want women to have a voice in their community, not just involved but actively involved in the game.”
As the critics have been quick to point out, there are some challenges.
We’ve touched on a couple already - namely work, and the need to get children to their Saturday morning sports commitments.
However, as one wit pointed out on social media, many male club footballers also have jobs and children and they manage to play just fine on a Saturday.
Southland Football already struggles to find enough referees for the Sunday competition and this is a challenge which will need to be resolved, but Sande hopes that by having games on a Saturday, more people will be willing to put their hand out for a whistle, and the organisation is ready to provide the required support to make that happen.
Finding enough playing facilities will also be a test, Sande acknowledges.
Currently, teams across several men’s grades will often share changing facilities, but Southland Football will not be advocating for mixed changing sheds.
Ultimately, Sande believes the positives will outweigh the negatives.
The shift will bring senior women’s football in line with the junior grade and should prompt clubs to think more about the type of environment they are creating so the whole family has the opportunity to play on the same day. It will also make the transition between girls youth football and womens football smoother as both games will be played on the same day.
Some clubs are being proactive about creating a more family-friendly atmosphere and Sande points to an example at Old Boys where a corner of the clubrooms has been created for children to play in.
“It’s a challenge, but most clubs are already quite family-friendly and this will encourage clubs to have an environment for the whole family.”
John Lydgate died about 300 years before the first football clubs were founded in his native England, but you could imagine him feeling some sympathy for the position Southland Football have put themselves in.
Abraham Lincoln had a fair bit to say about standing by your convictions, including this pearl - “you cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
Feedback will be welcomed, but Southland Football have committed to retaining Saturday football for women for the next two seasons to ensure the change is given enough time to be embedded.