“We've got plans for tonight – the match!” my girlfriend stated, her tone scarily assuming. We were on vacation in the South of France earlier this month, and she insisted there was a not-to-miss Euro 2012 game on that evening - Germany playing against the Netherlands.
That whole day, this girl who shares her time between Moscow and Amsterdam and recently became single, sported a generous amount of orange (the Dutch team's national color) in her outfit. “I wonder if there's going to be some cool guys there?” she mused before we left the hotel. But the chances of meeting men at a spacious local sports bar showing the matches on the five huge screens were rather slim: girls made up at least half of the crowd there.
That didn't surprise me at all. My friend and I understand little about football and so does a growing number of females who nevertheless eagerly frequent the “important” matches or watch them at home – in the company of their men or even alone.
So why do so many women prefer football these days to other sorts of entertainment and social activities?
It wasn't like this very long ago. Football used to be an almost exclusively male domain in which most females either felt alien or aggressively jealous. When I was little, my parents used to fight when my father spent too long hanging by our tiny black and white TV set staring at, as my mother used to put it, “the bunch of dumb sweaty guys chasing a ball.”
But times have changed. And so have football and also players. The sport became a multi-billion dollar industry, a sort of a new era Disneyland where everyone, including women, children, and entire families are welcome. And the players themselves have turned into the stars of top politicians’ and A-list Hollywood actors’ caliber. The leading athletes are still sweaty but they are noticeably faster and more muscular. These days many of them are sex symbols and fashion icons sought after by designers, glossy magazines, sportswear and cosmetics manufacturers, to name the few.
Some footballers with their ridiculously high salaries have also made themselves into prominent multi-national brands. Take Cristiano Ronaldo who in addition to the reported $42 million in earnings last year, a Russian supermodel girlfriend and ad contracts with the likes of Nike and Castrol as well as numerous social networks endorsements, boasts 42.5 million Facebook fans and 8.5 million Twitter followers.
Therefore we girls are surely much more curious if the Beckhams are still happy together and whether Ronaldo is indeed going to marry the gorgeous model Irina than about how many goals he and other hot fellows had scored on the field. Football has become a fashionable pastime, and it’s a shame for us not to dive in.
I actually think it was David Beckham, who starting from the late 1990s, had largely contributed into popularizing and “glamorizing” the football culture. His handsome persona epitomized the metrosexual trend in mid 90s expanding it to the worlds of fashion and pop-culture. (After he revealed his impressive package in the 2007 Armani underwear campaign, the profits of the Italian fashion house doubled.) The sight of his ripped and heavily tattooed torso and a moody expression in the posters is still making girls hold their breath.
I started getting hooked to the football hysteria four years ago when I went to Monte Carlo for the UEFA Cup Final to do a story for the Russian Marie Claire magazine. Two killer teams were playing (St. Petersburg’s Zenit against Manchester United) but, granted, I didn’t go there to cover the specifics of the game (back then, I used to believe that a football field was round, not rectangular). I went to explore exactly this trend: the emerging popularity of football, especially among women.
I wasn’t disappointed. I was extremely amused to encounter legions of model-looking blondes flocking to the match dressed in designer gowns more suitable for the Oscar Vanity Fair party. There were also less posh matrons, wives of Gazprom (Zenit’s major sponsor) businessmen, young mothers clad in white and blue (Zenit’s colors), bored vacationing females willing to make new male acquaintances more than anything during the upcoming game, and many other curious characters. Men, diehard fans in particular, happened to be the minority.
And despite my initial skepticism, I, too, ended up being quite taken by the collective euphoria that overwhelmed the stadium when the Russian team won that night. In fact, sports like football are perhaps the last resorts of perfectly acceptable patriotism, similar to what watching military parades used to be in the past, only with more adrenaline and emotion.
Some longtime fans lament that football as a sophisticated professional sport is being replaced by the show where cash is the most powerful drive. While this could be true, I think the sport is one of the rare occasions when we feel united by the otherwise lacking national idea.
And, the truth be told, a football match is indeed a great pressure-free setting to meet people. Talking from personal experience here, it was at a game where I met my man a few years ago.
The views expressed in this column are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.