International Women's Day

'Football can influence society and break the gender bias'

8 Mar 2022
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Proud Lilywhites' Chris Paouros talks about challenging perceptions of women in football

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This International Women's Day, we are hearing from fans, community participants and inspiring women working in football to see how the Premier League and our clubs are working to promote gender equality in the game.

Tottenham Hotspur

As co-chair of Tottenham Hotspur’s official LGBTQ+ supporters’ group Proud Lilywhites Chris Paouros is a voice of experience on the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, which is “breaking the bias”.

Paouros’s journey to her position as a woman representing Spurs fans, as well as speaking for supporters of other clubs on LGBTQ+ representation, has not been simple. But she is pleased to have seen the change in attitudes towards women that have taken place and is keen for this progress to continue for the next generation.

“I've loved football since I was a child, from about six, but in my sort of late teens I slightly fell out of love with the game,” she says. “I think it was because it coincided with my political awakening.

“I found feminism and then in my early 20s I came out. Being a fan of football felt an incongruous match.”

Sense of community

But the sense of community that is generated while attending matches helped to keep Paouros in the Spurs family.

“I'd always promised that six-year-old me, from the first time I went to White Hart Lane, that when I grew up, I'd get a season ticket.

“Because I still remember that feeling I had when I first went to football and how magical it was. That feeling of walking up those stairs and seeing the pitch for the first time. That feeling of these people all wanting the same thing that I wanted.

“This was then communally developed during the match as well, where every fan gets that same feeling as the ball’s flying through the air. Everyone stands up at the same time. You all take an intent. You will all take a breath at the same time, exhale at the same time.

“You just don't get that anywhere else and there's something about that sense of kind of community and togetherness that is just wonderful.

"Lots of people say football is a mirror of society, but I like to think it’s more like a lightning rod"

Chris Paouros, co-chair Proud Lilywhites

“So that little kid really wanted that as an adult. So, even though I felt like, ‘God. Is this really the place for me?’ when I got a job I got that season ticket.

“And what was important was that through that I re-connected with old friends who helped me to find my feet again in London.”

As her relationship deepened with football Paouros found that the game, as well as having a “symbiotic relationship with society” was capable of changing it as well.

“Lots of people say football is a mirror of society, but I like to think it’s more like a lightning rod. It can influence society, in that it takes influence and can influence itself.”

Broadcast pioneers

Part of that influence on attitudes towards the position of women in football has changed. The presence of women in the broadcasting of men’s football, such as Alex Scott and Jacqui Oatley, has helped to change perceptions and break the bias.

“It is important as it helps to normalise women being part of men’s football. It’s not just women talking to women about women’s football. We have brilliant women across the game and so it is becoming totally normalised, which is great.

"And they become role models and I love football, because as it’s our national game, it talks to so many people in the country, something they feel really strong about. But what you've got [with women in broadcasting] is that without realising it, you're subtly making changes. You’re breaking those stigmas with these role models.

"And it is so important as you want new generations of women to be doing this stuff and to have the structures in place to be able to do it. By changing the culture, we can break some of these barriers.”

Helping to break those barriers, the Premier League is developing a Premier League Gender Equality Strategy that will look to address the biases and support and promote gender equality in football.

“It's critical and brilliant the Premier League's doing this because this is how we can use football’s voice to reach people and to do something,” Paouros says.

Also in this series

Part 1: Brighton giving Lexi the chance to realise football dreams
Part 2: Women of Watford breaking down barriers for female fans
Part 4: How Mariela became Norwich's scouting pioneer
Part 5: Crystal Palace offer Lauren chance to follow her dream

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