Durham University: The hidden stories of female Newcastle United fans

The stories of female Newcastle United fans from the 1950s have been revealed as part of a new research project by Durham University.

The study tells the stories of the women’s experiences of watching their beloved Magpies play and what it was like to be a female fan in football’s ‘golden age’.

Matchdays, victories and heroes
The newly launched website, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, features the testimonies of the women talking about matchdays, the barriers they faced in being fans, the FA Cup victories and the heroes of the day such as Jackie Milburn and the Robledo brothers.

Their testimonies are an important part of football’s history, which up until now have been largely hidden.

Dr Stacey Pope from our Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences interviewed 50 fans of different ages of the men’s team at Newcastle United to get an insight into their matchday memories, the atmosphere between home and away fans, as well as the barriers they faced and attitudes towards them as fans.

Fans’ memories
Krystal* remembers how the West Stand had a wooden floor, rather than concrete, which played an important role in generating the match-day atmosphere: She said: “When you had Newcastle on the attack people used to do that (stamps feet) and the whole of the West Stand used to shake, and of course now with concrete you do that and there’s nothing.”

One key difference between football in the 1950s and now is that of course many more women go to games today. As Jackie* says: “I think far more women go to football now than they used to. I mean when I first started going, I was very much a novelty. A woman on the terraces. Gosh not having that. But now, women are much accepted at football. I think possibly clubs should make more of an effort to increase the attendance of women.”

Newcastle United won the FA Cup three times in the 1950s: in 1951, 1952 and 1955. Joan* recalls the excitement in the city when the team got to the FA Cup finals: “Oh, yes, there was banners out. The streets were all in black and white, and in those days, you didn’t dye your hair, but some of the kids would have the white streak, with the black and white – black, here, and a white streak down it. Everybody went to town, in those days. They had their faces painted.”

Gender and sport
The aim is to expand the project and website to include memories from women fans of Newcastle United Football Club from the 1960s through to the present day as well as work on fans of the England women’s national football team. The project is part of wider work led by Dr Pope which focuses on gender, sport and inequality.

Our research has previously found that the UK has entered a ‘new age’ of media coverage of women’s sport, with a shift towards greater gender equality. However, this study also showed that openly misogynistic attitudes towards women’s sport are still prevalent.

Another study by Dr Pope showed that female sports fans struggle to be taken seriously and feel they are regarded as being less committed than male fans.

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