When it comes to the gender pay gap, there’s no battleground where it is more obnoxiously on display than on a football field.
The world’s best male footballers are pushing $100million annual salaries plus essentially their own protected status – one that has allowed players like Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo to buy their way out of multiple tax discrepancies.
Closer to home, a Scottish international is most likely soaking up five-figure sums every week. Contrast that to Scotland’s women’s team, who recently qualified for next year’s World Cup in France (a feat not accomplished by the male side for 20 years and counting): many of this historic women’s side balanced their footballing conquests with full-time jobs outside of the sport.
This has been the case since time immemorial. So what encourages the rapid growth of women’s football in this country despite no professional career at the end of it?
Lyndsay McCall and Monica Anderson are two footballers of the University of Strathclyde’s own women’s football team who have experienced the pressure cooker environment of Scotland’s most successful women’s club, Glasgow City.
City are 12-times winners of the Scottish Women’s Premier League, 11 of which have come in succession. They are a dynasty maintained through treating young players like professionals to produce a conveyor belt of talent.
But, as the former City girls explain, that comes with a hefty price for those that struggle to keep up.
“Growing up, we knew we could be a women’s footballer. But even if you play for Scotland you know you’re going to need a full-time job as well as that,” laments McCall.
“It’s like you know you can’t drop out of school or uni to focus on playing football. You just can’t. Hopefully in 20 years’ time you’ll be able to make football your actual job,” says Anderson. “We used to train so many times a week; I lived through in Bathgate and I was travelling through to Glasgow and back six times a week while also going to school every day. It was exhausting, I never got any school work done and I couldn’t fit anything else in. It was just go to school, football, sleep. And if you’re a boy, you wouldn’t be doing that without support.”
“And they actually get paid!” says McCall.
Strathclyde has provided the two with a schedule that allows them to balance training and studying, and that is nowhere near as demanding as when they were playing for Glasgow City.
They recall the state of limbo as they began university caged in this faux-professional lifestyle, and the relief at being able to enjoy their football again.
“When I was 15, 16, I was always friends with people who were a little older than me. They would all be going out and I was trying to keep up with them but I couldn’t,” recalls Anderson. “The university team gives you a way to express yourself and it’s a lot more laid back. You just have fun.”
“I just couldn’t deal with the whole training four nights a week with everything else that goes on when you’re a student. You’re also going out a lot more and some teams like Glasgow City take that very seriously,” says McCall.
“But it’s weird when you go from that to doing nothing. It was quite a shock to the system,” she adds. “The uni team is good because you are still getting to play but you don’t have to commit as much as we used to. Everyone’s classes get in the way at some point and some people can only make the home games. If you can’t get off in the morning to travel on a Wednesday, it’s okay. They’re really good that way, they’re flexible. That wouldn’t go down so well at my old club.”
Perhaps, as more success stories in women’s football emerge – like Shelley Kerr and her Bravehearts, currently in France training full-time thanks to Scottish Government funding – more investors will help women’s football grow. But should it really take a World Cup for us to pay attention to the talented female players who are so strangled by the system they almost quit the game entirely?
By Steven Mair