Marking #IWD2021 With Wroxham Women

To launch a whole week of special features on Impetus to mark International Women’s Day, Ben Gilby spoke to Kate Pasque, Cyan Fullbrook and Rhianne Brister from our partner club, Wroxham Women about what International Women’s Day means to them, their impressions on the treatment of women in the sport and the importance of role models because “you can’t be what you can’t see.”

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

KATE PASQUE: International Women’s Day is a really powerful day where experiences and stories are shared and everybody comes together to drive forward the need for equality. For me, it’s an important day to reflect on how proud I am to be a woman and also acknowledge how grateful I am to all of the incredible women that have had a big impact on my life.

CYAN FULLBROOK: International Women’s Day is an opportunity to honour the women who have been at the forefront of fighting against gender inequality. It is also a day to reflect on the work that still remains. IWD is a day to continue to highlight discrimination and inequalities in education, economics, sport, and legal rights in society. It has become more important to me as I have got older to learn how I can make changes myself, even small ones like my use of language, calling out questionable behaviour and listening to and supporting other women.

RHIANNE BRISTER: International Women’s Day is a celebration of the progress that has been made in equality for women in history up until now, and an opportunity to highlight ways that we can improve this equality further. It is a great opportunity to put a spotlight on inspirational movements, people and ideas hopefully inspiring young women and girls in the process.

We have heard many cases of derogatory comments being made to prominent female footballing presenters and pundits in recent months. What difficulties have you experienced in pursuing your own footballing careers?

KP: I think I am fortunate that I cannot recall any significant difficulties I’ve had throughout my football career personal directed at me. I think maybe that is to do with being on the pitch so there is the respect between the players on the pitch. I have been involved in games even within the past 2/3 season’s where the opposition’s bench or supporters have used language directed towards our manager or players on the bench to try belittle them purely because they’re a woman. The exact same kind of derogatory comments which have been used towards pundits, which seems to be on a weekly basis at the moment.

CF: I think football in general has a cultural problem with forms of abuse compared to most other sports (where women compete too). We’re still seeing racism, homophobia and sexism in 2021 which is particularly rampant online. It has a trickle-down effect on society which affects both men and women. Calling out and reporting this behaviour is the least we can do. I just hope younger generations are more open minded and educated and one day we really do see it being kicked out.

When I started playing football outside of school (95/96) there were next to no local girls teams so initially I was in a mixed team. Then North Walsham Girls was started up by another players’ mum where we had to borrow the boys’ kit to play in. Finding kit that fits women is still an issue today!

At Primary School the boys would make me play in goal because they all wanted to be the Shearers, Wrights, Giggs etc. Turns out I actually got quite good at it!

In High School I was teased a lot by boys for my sporting ability and innuendos about my sexual orientation as I never presented overtly ‘girly’. I was the only girl who chose football when doing GCSE P.E (at the time I was playing for Norfolk Schools and Norwich City). Once they saw how good I was (getting the same marks as the ‘top’ boy) I was being asked to come play for their teams! I still get nervous when telling men that I play football because this teasing has stuck with me and I worry about their potential comments being hurtful – even though it’s never happened since school!

RB: I would not necessarily say I have got any clear memories of specific situations where I have been on the receiving end of derogatory comments or actions regarding my football, however it has always been the norm to accept that women’s football is not “worth” the same as men’s football (or that of girls and boys too). While growing up, there definitely were more opportunities for boys to progress to a high level of football than girls (in my personal experience) but of course there were far more boys playing football and so more avenues to a high level does correlate. The Wildcats programme is something I am fond of as it gives girls the opportunity to try football out with no pressure or competitive aspect so girls can decide if football could be for them, I had the opportunity to go along to a session last year and this is something I would love to do again.

Above: Kate Pasque of Wroxham Women. Photo: Edward Payne.

There is no doubt that women’s sport is more in the public eye than ever before – but there is still an awful long way to go in terms of equality (the recent furore over girls’ academies not being able to continue during lockdown when boys ones were being a case in point). What do you believe are the priorities in this area to develop further?

KP: It’s obvious there is still a long way to go, football has been seen as a ‘male’ sport for too long. However, I do think it has also come a long way in the last 10 years, which gives me a lot of hope for the next 10 years!

CF: I genuinely cannot understand why, at Academy level, girl’s football has had to stop. Obviously there needs to be more women involved at the decision making stage in the FA. If it’s a case of Government classification of what is ‘elite’ why aren’t we/the FA demanding change?

RB: The key thing for me is to get the public interested in women’s sport to the extent that they will pay to watch in similar numbers to the men’s game. The likelihood of this happening soon is probably small, but we are going in the right direction. The focus on increasing interest, commitment, and therefore ability at a young age is crucial to the progress of women’s football becoming of greater public interest. Reclassification of football as a unisex sport instead of a “boys” sport will enable more girls to feel comfortable enjoying, playing, and watching it.

In terms of equality – what do you believe specifically needs to happen at Wroxham’s own level of the sport, in terms of funding, opportunities, representative football etc?

KP: I think we’re in a really good position at Wroxham. Our chairman Lee and head coach Bex have plans for the club to grow more and more, and are giving us the best opportunities to do this as a team. It’s exciting to think where this club could be in 5 years’ time.

CF: I think if women’s teams are affiliated with the men’s they should get the same opportunities and level of support top down. I have been part of other teams where, although we wore the badge, had next to none of the club support the men’s and boys’ teams have. This includes quality of coaching, facilities, equipment, sponsors/funding and access to medical support.

RB: I feel so lucky to be part of a club that considers the women’s team an integral part, I know not all clubs in our league or at our level nationwide have the same support. Unfortunately, money talks and if there was a greater incentive for men’s teams to afford a greater importance to their female teams the situation would likely improve. It’s also great that we have a club connection with Bure Valley FC and had the opportunity to meet some of the girls last season, looking forward to see lots of them playing for Wroxham Women in the future.

Above: Wroxham Women goalkeeper Cyan Fullbrook. Photo: Rebecca Burton.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge. Who for you are the greatest female role models in terms of those who have in the past, or are presently challenging the status quo?

KP: I would have to say Alex Scott. I got into football a similar kind of time that she was at Arsenal and the career she had there and for England was incredible. Now I turn on the football and see her face on TV every weekend, which I think is so inspirational to young girls playing football right now. Last year I saw she said ‘I want boys and girls to know its normal for women to talk about football’, and I think she’ll be a driving force for that in years to come.

CF: For me, despite not being a fan of Tennis, I’m a fan of Serena Williams. How she’s risen to become one of the greatest athletes ever, pushing through discrimination of gender, race and body shaming has been really empowering as a woman. Winning a Grand Slam while pregnant? Wow. An incredible role model.

I’m also really proud to have Bex Burton as our manager and coach – one of the only women in our league. I’ve been coached by her since joining Acle United and followed on to Wroxham and I have witnessed and heard many derogatory comments towards her over the years from opposition male dominated benches and supporters and I’m always impressed how she handles herself. Not that she should need to! These types of comments hurt not only her, but us women as a whole. I hope she has inspired some women and girls to think about taking up coaching roles and management.

I’m reminded of the Nike advert a few years back ‘Dream crazier’ featuring Serena Williams “When we stand for something, we’re unhinged. When we’re too good, there’s something wrong with us. And if we get angry, we’re hysterical, irrational, or just being crazy.”

“So if they want to call you crazy? Fine, Show them what crazy can do.”

RB: The female scientists of the 18th and 19th centuries, such as Rosalind Franklin, Dorothy Hodgekin and Marie Curie. These women succeeded against the odds in a field that was so prohibitively dominated by men of the noble classes. If we can encourage girls and young women to look up to women who have overcome the challenge of their gender to such a degree, then they will no doubt have better aspirations in all aspects of their lives. I hope that one day overcoming gender bias is not a challenge to succeed in but unfortunately in some areas this is still the case.

In terms of encouraging further change and open minded attitudes, high profile female personalities (in sport) are hugely important. As a child, who did you look up to?

KP: I would have to say Kelly Holmes. I loved watching athletics when I was younger and remember watching the Athens Olympics and thinking she was so driven and determined to reach her goal. When she then opened up about her mental health, this was a time people didn’t raise enough awareness for this and I think she’ll have helped a lot of young athletes by doing so, and is still continuing to now.

CF: I grew up pre-internet, social media and with only four TV channels, so the only occasions I’d see women in sport were either Wimbledon or the Olympics – neither of which I was really interested in. I was more of a pop culture consumer and the women I looked up to at the time were characters like She-Ra and comedians who wrote, produced and starred in their own work like French & Saunders and Victoria Wood. Also in film seeing women in normally male dominated roles – Like Judi Dench’s M, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and Jodie Foster’s Clarice. These all had a big impact on me at the time and I felt I could achieve high and be respected as a woman.

As a junior Gunner one of my idols was David Seaman and it never occurred to me that my gender would stop me being as successful and good as he was. Both my parents encouraged me to try all the things I wanted and was never discouraged because I was a girl, so I really thought I could achieve anything with the right support which I still believe today.

RB: I don’t recall having any particular female sportswomen to look up to, but I do remember feeling inspired by the England Women’s football team and Team GB Olympians. Any female sportsperson who had the exposure on television was of interest to me and at one point I did think that I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer one day, turns out I did not fancy the early wake up calls ha-ha!

Above: Rhianne Brister at Wroxham Women’s Trafford Park ground. Photo: Rebecca Burton.

As a footballer at the present time with Wroxham are you aware of the fact that young girls are watching you as a potential role model and hero? What importance do you attach to that?

KP: I think it’s extremely important. Women’s football has grown so much since I first started playing, and I didn’t really have a local women’s team to watch and players to look up to. We all really value our partnership with Bure Valley and want to go along to their training sessions and have them at our games as soon as possible!

CF: I consider this as hugely important especially with our partnership with Bure Valley Youth FC as a pathway to women’s football. I always try and make sure my behaviour on the pitch is as professional as I can be, and where I can, offer support to younger players which I hope can go on to achieve greater things than I have.

I’m really proud we can engage with the younger community and offer our time when needed. I’m not sure I’d be considered anyone’s hero, but if I can inspire and encourage any young girls to take on the goalkeeper role then I’d be really honoured.

RB: I am aware that we can be seen as role models, I am looking to be more conscious of this when football resumes as many of the girls will agree, I can have quite the foul mouth. While becoming a teacher I have become more aware of the impact you can have on a young person and how important it is to aim for that to be positive in all situations. Of course, the heat of the game and the passion I have for this team, my teammates and our club can boil over on occasion, and I am sure some unsavoury language might crop up time and again, but “every day is a school day” and we are constantly working on ourselves as the finished article will never be obtained. 

Wroxham Women play in the Eastern Region Women’s Football League Premier Division (tier five) and it was a pleasure to speak to defender Kate Pasque, goalkeeper Cyan Fullbrook and striker Rhianne Brister.

Artwork: Graphics by PW.

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