Crush and Burn

The first rule of Catfight club is that you don't talk about Catfight club...Layla Carlsson on the dilemmas presented by an increasingly athletic game.

When I was a little girl, I had a bit of a crush on Ajax player Johnny Rep. Being too young to even comprehend the phenomenon ‘crush’, my adoration involved having a poster of him in my bed room – right beside a poster of some actor my mum fancied, but no way she could hang it up in the parental bedroom – and I recall I liked looking at Rep. He had a mischievous look on his face that appealed to me as a kid, as well as shiny blond hair and a nice smile.

Whenever a commentator excitedly announced “Rep has the ball!”, I mimicked the behaviour of my dad and my grandpa, leaning forward on the edge of my seat. My hero was causing excitement, and though I was too young to really understand how skilled he was as a player, if it all ended with a goal, then hurrah! Growing up, I learned a lot from watching together with my dad, who patiently answered my questions about rules and tactics. My own preferences for players and their skills and styles developed over time.

It took quite a few years until I had another crush on a player, but in 1996, Portuguese Daniel Da Cruz Carvalho came to my beloved Ajax. With his big doe-eyes, full lips and boyish charm, his appearance caught the interest of the other girls at my work place. We giggled like school girls over heartthrob Dani, and a jealous male co-worker drew glasses and a moustache on a mini-poster of our boy that we had hung up in the office.

As the Internet gained territory, I got to know other girls and women who were into football, and I soon realised that the realm of female fans can be a complicated one. The first rule of Catfight Club is you don’t talk about Catfight Club...

To put it very black and white: there are ladies who are passionate, knowledgeable supporters, and there are girls who have no clue and behave as if football clubs are boybands. The second group annoys the first group to no end, because their endless drooling over players might make us look like shallow tarts as well. And we don’t want that. Many of us love football for the same reasons as our male counterparts.

But here comes the dilemma, because there is a bit of a grey area. It is sometimes hard to find the right balance between being a knowledgeable football fan and, let’s face it, a woman who appreciates male beauty. I have watched football together with men for as long as I can remember, and I happily engage in discussions and the familiar not-so-sober match analyses at the pub. I’m one of the guys. But during every match, there are those moments when a girl needs to bite her own hand because of the attractiveness of those boys on the screen.

Can you blame me, really? It’s a smörgåsbord of fit men in tight shirts. The thrill is a primal one; they get sweaty, they get pissed off, they’re being alpha-males. If I’m lucky, they’re exhibitionistic enough to show their abs when they score, or, delight of delights, Real Madrid wear white kits and it rains. I confess, between attacks, free kicks, offsides and whatnot, I look at their bums.

Female athletes are often objectified by men, but no one questions whether those guys are sports fans yes or no. If men can appreciate the sight of a female athlete’s bouncing bosoms and short tennis skirts as well as their sports talents, then why am I so hard on myself at times for talking dirty to the sexy lot of the football players on my TV screen? I can appreciate a courageous, correct sliding just as much as the player’s shorts riding up while he makes said sliding.

I mean it when I say I don’t care if my team is ‘hot’. Pretty does not win silverware. When my guys lose, no shirtless upper bodies can soothe the pain; they could all come down and parade in their underwear in my living room, pfft, see if I care. But I’m not made of stone. Becks in Armani knickers? I gasp for air. Ezequiel Lavezzi’s tattooed bum? Lord, have mercy.

My football buddies know about my bipolar ways of enjoying the game, which naturally causes amusement and banter – and a lecture on my favourite object’s ages. Yes, I know, bad cougar, bad.

To some guys however, objectification of their footballing heroes can be a bit of a shock. During a stadium tour of the Amsterdam Arena with a friend from abroad, I was being annoying Miss-know-it-all whenever the tour guide asked the group Ajax-trivia. The tour guide was nineteen but looked like he was twelve. He was however a very nice young man with an Ajax heart and he and I happily babbled about the club. So far, so good. Until we came to the control room.

“We have state of the art cameras, which can even zoom in on seat numbers,” the guide said proudly.

“Yeah, or on the players’ shorts,” I jokingly smirked to my friend, thinking no one else had heard it.

But the tour guide had, and he stared at me while turning a lobster shade of red. I tried to save my reputation, but no “whoops!” could undo my shameless indiscretion. The poor boy could no longer look at me without blushing. I still wonder if he told his mum over dinner that evening what the naughty woman said.

Layla writes regularly for In Bed with Maradona. You can follow her on Twitter @LaylaCarlsson.