UK Hockey Fandom: Is It Really A “Man’s Game”?

So, the hockey forums have been buzzing over the past day or two as accusations and counter-accusations have flown back and forth, battle lines have been drawn, and stereotypes have been exploited to the full. The cause? An article on the Belfast fan site (and one of the biggest in the EIHL) “Kingdom of the Giants” by Laura Carland on the troubles of being a UK hockey fan who also happens to be a girl. It is an excellent article, and well worth a read.

Predictably, the moment this hit the hockey forums UK hockey fandom (both male and female) reacted quite strongly and…well, let’s just say that a significant number of responses proved Laura’s point-that girls will always struggle to be taken seriously in the eyes of a certain type of hockey fan, and that if the reactions on the UK’s biggest sport-wide discussion site The Hockey Forum are anything to go by, there are far more of that type of hockey fan out there in Britain than we liberal, intelligent and entirely inclusive group of British hockey lovers would like to admit.

Comments on THF, left predominantly by male posters, are mirroring the debate that ALWAYS seems to happen in sport when the topic of sexism is brought up…and in its enlightened state the beacon of British hockey fan forums has managed to tick most of the boxes: we have

– the “angry men” running around outraged that one of those ruddy women could even leave the kitchen to SAY such a thing, claiming that any attempt to say women have problems is “patronising feminist rubbish” and total denial, along with the particularly nasty subset that automatically assume said women MUST be homosexuals). These are the ones who you can imagine spluttering with outrage while looking up the correct responses to such nonsense in the Daily Mail Big Book Of Opinions.

– the “they’re only out to shag the players and this girl’s probably one of those who got turned down” crowd (hereafter known as the Morality Police/Team Mary Whitehouse )

– the “it doesn’t happen to me/I’ve never seen it so therefore I don’t see why people think it’s a problem” response (many of these are female themselves-to them I’d say “lucky you…but it’s not an argument”

– the “calm down love, you’ll hurt yourself” or “god, it’s women like you that give your sex a bad name” subset (these are the particularly patronising group.

And of course, those who think linking to Don Cherry’s opinion on ANYTHING non-hockey related is a legitimate response to an argument…for whom there’s probably no hope whatever their views.

In amongst these, there’s even been a few reasoned responses (mainly, it has to be said, from females) which, while they disagree at least acknowledge that there MAY be a problem-and of course expressions of support and agreement from both sexes.

Last time I checked, I wasn’t a girl-thus I can’t claim personal experience of being on the end of the kind of attitudes, stereotyping and disdain that Laura describes from some male hockey fans in the UK (bolded and italicked for emphasis because a surprisingly large number of THF posters seemed to miss it in the original article). But I can admit to both hearing and seeing them expressed on a surprisingly regular basis throughout my hockey-watching travels…and, deep in the distant past when I too was an idiotic hormonal teenager, expressing similar views myself.

However, it seems the difference between me and a small but significant proportion of male hockey fans, judging by THF, is that I grew up and saw these views for the idiocy they are.

Let’s be honest…if you spend any time around a hockey team, at some point you will come into contact with a girl (probably a good few) who likes the look of a player on the team. Some of them, being young, free and single, may even attempt to “get to know” said player better. And a minority of THAT group may try and do it quite often.

And of course, they’ll take advantage of those poor, naive, innocent hockey players on your team for their own, evil ends, apparently-as seen when an EIHL player’s “indiscretion” on his girlfriend came to light on Twitter recently and a prominent EIHL team fan forum account decided to a) claim that it was all the girl’s fault (that poor, naive hockey player, being led astray) and b) saw fit to actually express the opinion that “that bitch needs a slap” in a tweet which, until this debate broke yesterday, was still prominently visible in the timeline.

Now, as a comparable: here is one of the best female hockey players in the world. Her name is Meghan Agosta (actually Agosta-Marciano since her marriage), she plays forward for Team Canada, and she’s won two Olympic golds and four world championships to date:

She is, in my opinion, a very attractive lady indeed. But the reason I enjoy watching her so much, and the justification if I were ever to buy a Team Canada jersey with her name on the back, would both be “because she can do stuff like this in World Championships”:

You can be fairly sure that as a bloke I’d never have to face comments of “I bet you bought that jersey cause you fancy the player” (in fact, with the attitude most UK hockey fans have to women’s hockey even at the highest level I’d far more likely get either “who’s that” or “why are you watching girls play hockey so much-just stick to the EIHL” but that’s an entirely different discussion).

However, if a girl gets a jersey? They have to spend a lot of time saying the phrase “I don’t fancy him, I just like the player”.

(Again, I have no doubt that there ARE girls who buy a jersey based on the fact that they fancy a player…certainly there were a LOT of girls at the Skydome wearing Shea Guthrie jerseys the past two seasons, and given that a lot of them were quite vocal about his attractiveness it’s fairly safe to assume his looks were an influence in selling a jersey or two in the pre-teen market) but the issue here isn’t that girls do it, but that the fact that there are some men who still think the “I bet you got it cause you fancy him” quote is even a thing).

Then, of course, there’s the “hockey knowledge” thing. Look at the UK hockey media…it’s overwhelmingly male, even though some of the most popular, well known and knowledgeable UK hockey fans (I’m thinking particularly of Fife’s Laura Duff and UKAmerican Sports Fans Katy Parles here) happen to be female (and it seems the writer of the original article, Laura Carland, is also in that company). Yet there’s there’s that instant tendency whenever hockey arguments happen for some men to drop into the “do you know what you’re talking about, woman” defence-second only to the “you don’t know cause you don’t play” defence used by some players as the most ridiculous argument ever used in a rink-mainly heard in rinks rather than on the Internet, luckily.

We can see the fruits of giving female hockey fans a platform already in the NHL-there are hundreds of excellent female hockey and sports bloggers and reporters out there in North America: in fact, they’re some of the top North American writers/bloggers I follow-the list is long but to pick out a few, names like ESPN’s Katie Baker, Laura (@theactivestick) of Montreal’s Habs Eye on the Prize blog, Sarah Connors of Boston’s Stanley Cup Of Chowder and Ashley March of March Hockey (even if she is a Philly fan).

Watching their work on Twitter often shows just how bad females get it in hockey media and would probably provide one hell of a lightbulb moments for the THF commentariat mentioned above…if you need an insight into how rampant sexist attitudes still are among North American hockey fans, all you need to do is read the comments below any of Sarah C’s articles…particularly those from opposition fans-there’s always some idiot willing to pipe up with “get back in the kitchen”.

In the UK, with the sport being nowhere near as big, females who speak up about sexism or indeed even try and write about the sport aren’t subject to anywhere near the same level of abuse…but judging by the response to Laura’s article today, it seems that we can’t claim to be whiter-than-white on this side of the pond, either-it’s just that nobody wants to admit that in a sport that UK fans like to claim as being of a completely different fan culture to the traditionally misogynistic and violent “man’s games” like football from the off, there is still a layer of casual sexism that runs quite deeply in some UK hockey fans.

And it’s through articles like Laura’s and consciously avoiding any glimpse of the “woman can’t play/understand hockey” attitudes or the dismissive responses like those on THF that we’ll actually address the problem, not by pretending it doesn’t happen.

But right now, I’m off to mixed hockey practice, to try and replicate that Meghan Agosta penalty shot.








One thought on “UK Hockey Fandom: Is It Really A “Man’s Game”?

  1. Hi Paul, there is an academic article on this, conducted with fans of the old Manchester Storm. It basically states that female fans, far from being puck bunnies, often know just as much about the game as male supporters.
    Here is the reference for those with access to academic journals:

    Crawford, G. and Gosling, V.K. (2004) ‘The Myth of the Puck Bunny: Female Fans and Men’s Ice Hockey’, Sociology, 38 (3), 477-493.

    As a female, who writes about hockey for a living, I would suggest that this attitude is pretty pervasive throughout the sport and at all levels, including at a professional level. The boys club in hockey runs deep in management, in media and in broadcasting.

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