Football as Work: The New Realities of Professional Women Footballers in England

Culvin, Alexandra (2019) Football as Work: The New Realities of Professional Women Footballers in England. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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In 2011, the Football Association (FA), the national governing body of football in England, launched the first semi-professional league for women. The inception of the FA Women’s Super League (FA WSL), created the opportunity for football as work for its elite women footballers, in an occupational field tied historically to a highly masculinist and thus, gender exclusive culture. In 2018, the FA WSL adopted full- time professional status. The professionalisation of women’s football in England, has provided both the opportunity to offer insight into football as work for women, and examine the workplace and employment policies available to professional women footballers. Ambiguity exists between the growing professionalisation of women’s football and the precarious work conditions in which players operate. The low visibility and status afforded to women’s football, means that research on women working as professional footballers remains particularly limited. Ergo, the outcomes and consequences of professionalisation in England are largely unknown.
This research examines the experiences of women working as professional footballers in England. Drawing upon the theoretical apparatus of Pierre Bourdieu, the research investigates how professional women footballers learn the values and dispositions (habitus) of the intrinsically male dominated football field and incorporate this into their practice. A qualitative approach was undertaken which involved conducting 30 semi-structured interviews with professional women footballers. This study employs a qualitative interpretative framework that allows for

an in-depth understanding of football as work for women in England, acknowledging participants’ realities and perspectives. Key themes examined here include, demographic information, operating with dual career/education, life in Women’s Super League, contracts, policy, life and identity as a player and post-career considerations.
The key findings of this research demonstrate women are unprepared for their new, highly gendered careers as professional women footballers. The prospect of a professional football career means women embody professional expectations of clubs and the FA. The roles, remits and expectations placed on players are increasingly complex and dynamic, placing obligations on players personal/private lives. Women are mixed into an existing system of professional football, with limited policy consideration for their needs as women professional footballers. A key contribution of this research is the neglect of essential employment and workplace policy such as education, maternity leave and post-career options. This neglect reflects the disempowered position of professional women footballers, who are devoted to making it as a professional footballer. The contribution of this research identifies implications for those players highly invested in their career as a professional footballer, once their short careers reach a conclusion.

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