As usual, when Stuart Webber talks, people listen and some of what he says probably doesn't need saying. Here's Maddie Mackenzie to tell you why.....
In his post season interview Norwich City sporting director Stuart Webber answered a question about the club’s women’s team. This has made many people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.
On the surface the reaction to Webber’s comments seem unnecessary. A man expresses an opinion: so what? Do we really need days of Twitter analysis, think pieces by national papers, references to previous interviews and comments?
Except that’s not what happened.
If Michael Bailey asked “do you enjoy women’s football?” and received the response “it’s not for me but I respect that many people find enjoyment in it,” perhaps the above response would be more accurate.
He didn’t. Michael commended the club on the recent game against Ashford Town and asked about next steps, and was treated to Webber’s personal views on women’s football in general. It’s a bit like if a CEO was praised for improving their marketing department and responded with “yeah but I have no interest in marketing, I only fund it because I like the guy in charge, the quality’s rubbish and they’re a bit useless.” It’s the face of the club rubbishing one of his own teams.
An overreaction? Consider the phrase “just because they’ve got our badge, you can’t compare.” Who’s the ‘our’ in that sentence: Webber? The men’s team? The club itself? The women’s team have as much right to the badge as anyone else who plays with it on their shirts and carries the name Norwich City. They are – after much effort from many people – officially part of Norwich City Football Club. They don’t wear the badge as a personal favour from the sporting director, they wear it because that’s the team they’re representing.
We move on to the comments concerning the actual skill of the players involved. “If we want to talk about quality, it was really poor. That’s not being unfair, it’s just factually correct.” By his own admission Webber doesn’t watch women’s games, so it’s interesting that he seems to have written off an entire team based on one 90 minute showing. Of course this makes perfect sense. The first competitive Norwich men’s game I watched was a dull 0-0 with no shots on target from the home side, so I immediately realised this was representative of all men’s football and decided to never watch another game again.
Except I didn’t, because that’s not how it works. If we watched football for the quality we wouldn’t be paying £530 to watch Norwich play out a 1-0 defeat against Blackpool.
(As an aside, I’ve never understood how you can not like a version of a sport simply because it’s played by women. Yes, I respect everyone is entitled to an opinion, but it’s not as if women’s sports are interrupted by a five minute break every so often to have a chat about periods and bras. It’s the same sport – it’s just played by different people.)
Anyway. This section of Webber’s interview was published the morning after NCWFC beat Mulbarton Wanderers at home to win the County Cup. When I’m not writing articles for Along Come Norwich I work as a student teacher at a Norwich school and this match seemed like the perfect opportunity to get some of our kids to Carrow Road. On a Tuesday morning a few weeks before the game I stood in front of my Year 6 class and told them about the opportunity: “would any of you be interested?”
We ended up taking over thirty children from Year 5 and 6, and their parents, to the game. When I told my class about the trip there were no comments about the team being women. There was just overwhelming excitement that they were going to see Norwich play, at Carrow Road, to potentially win a trophy; and they loved it. I was sat behind a group of the boys in my class who spent the whole match cheering, chanting, calling for waves from the substitutes. Some of the Year 5 children made banners and flags. As soon as the final whistle went they raced to the front of the stand, clutching their tickets, desperate for autographs from the players.
Of course they did. They love football, they love Norwich, so why wouldn’t they love watching a Norwich team play football? The players wore yellow and green and had the Norwich badge on their shirts, so as far as my children were concerned they deserved their full backing.
Webber states that he is not the target audience for the women’s team, but I don’t really understand why, or who he reckons is. Rising attendances in the WSL and record breaking crowd numbers across the continent would suggest this supposed target audience is fairly wide ranging.
It isn’t about badmouthing a man for having an opinion. I don’t really care for rugby or cricket, but I’m not about to have my position at my job questioned for saying it. It’s about someone in a very powerful, very well respected position, choosing to lay into part of the club he runs for no real reason. If Stuart Webber has a right to his opinion, we have a right to disagree.
He can dislike women’s football all he likes. It’s his right. Hopefully NCWFC know that, even if their sporting director helps them out because he’s a fan of their boss, they’ve got plenty of support elsewhere within and outside of the club.