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Girls With Game are here to play

Noelle Francis was just a girl who loved football. Now, she's a girl who loves football in front of a rapidly rising audience of more than 50k fans around the world, as one half (with her friend Fiona Rooney) of Girls With Game. Copa90 spoke to her about how she, and Girls With Game, got to where they are today.

How did you get your start with football?

Since before I can remember, I always loved football, and I’ve always been quite a tomboy. My dad used to bring me out to games as a kid and I’d like to play.I was always looking for a team, but there were never many girls’ teams around. So then I remember, I was about 12 and I found a team about 30 minute away and my dad brought me and I joined. Everything was good – I mean, we lost nearly every game like 8-nil – but I was just so happy to actually play on a girl’s team.Then I started to find other teams around that were maybe closer to home. I joined Bohemian Football Club in Dublin, which is probably a really big club, and in 2010 we won the treble and things started to get really competitive for me.And then that team caved in, and I went back to my local team. I’ve played there ever since.I just love football so much; it’s the best thing for me, really.

What teams do you support?

I love Manchester United; I have since I was a kid. My dad loved them, so he got me into them.But I just love watching football. In La Liga, I support Barcelona — in Italy, I support Juventus — I just love watching any game. If there’s a match on TV, I’ll tune in. It’s an obsession really.

How’d you get into football boots, specifically?

As a kid, I was always asking my dad to buy me the latest boots. Obviously he loves that I love football, but then it got to a stage where I wanted new ones all the time so he said ‘No. No, you have to work for this.’ So I’d babysit and stuff, or do some chores around the house, to try to save up a bit of money, and I’d actually buy my own pairs.And I remember Predators — Adidas Predators. They were so expensive, even back then. And for a kid to be saving all her pocket money to buy boots...I was always just fascinated with them. I always had to buy the best boots.Then, as I got older and had a job, I’d go online and was always looking for deals — boots that were on sale. And then it just became an obsession; it was madness, I was buying boots then every few months. And now, I don’t even know how many I have.

How did you transform that obsession into Girls With Game?

I was posting on my own Instagram for ages — that page goes back to 2014 or 2013, maybe. I was just posting pictures of all the boots that I was buying.And then ProDirect Soccer got in contact with me, asking to send me a pair of laces to put on my boots, and I was like ‘oh cool, thank you!’ And then people were always asking me questions, and for advice on what’s good to buy, and then it kind of went from there.I was told by a lot of people that I should start a blog — so then I sort of started a blog, for myself. And then after a few months I said to my friend, who is brilliant at graphic design and videography, I asked her if she’d be interested in getting involved.And then we tried to come up with a name, which is when I came up with Girls With Game, and we started it.In February 2016 we set all our little pages up and we began posting then, and we set up a YouTube channel — so yeah, we’ve been going about a year and a half, and we have almost 50,000 followers which is insane for such a short amount of time.It’s pretty big to have such a following of people who just love asking advice and who love what we do — it’s really, really cool.

Having built such a large support in such a short amount of time is incredible, but unfortunately being a woman in football isn’t only met with support. What’s been your experience with sexism?

Oh, there’s so many things I could say. You have people who are so supportive, especially family and friends, but then even they can come out and say something that’s kind of hurtful. I remember my dad said something that really annoyed me — and he’s my biggest fan, he’s amazing — but he said: ‘I think that women shouldn’t have the full-size goals. They should have a smaller goal.’ And I laughed at that and said, ‘Excuse me? I think that’s absolutely ridiculous.’ Like fair enough, men are generally taller than women, but it was crazy for him to come out with that. And I mean, after, I gave him all of my views and he was apologetic and said that he didn’t mean to be so sexist. But you have to think before you speak on things like that, you have to understand that it’s not really nice to hear when you’re so crazy about football and you’re being told that women aren’t really as good as men.I was always in school playing with the boys, and when I see them now they always say ‘You’re doing well, and I remember playing football with you in school and you were always the best one there.’ So, on the other hand, it’s great to hear from guys who do support.But on Instagram, maybe I’d post a comment on a picture of, for example, SportBible. And I would just comment my feedback or my views and I’d be told, ‘Shut up, you don’t know anything, go to the kitchen.’ Things like that, it’s like, oh my god — I’m a football fan, I play football. And you are here to give your feedback on this player or this goal; why am I not allowed to do that?At the beginning, I really found it hard to accept these comments and forget about them. But now I am so much better at handling it, I kind of laugh it off or I’m ready for it. I have my answers ready for these people who are just so rude and arrogant.You just have to deal with it, really. Women’s football now — it’s getting a lot more support from people all around the world, but there’s still ignorant people who will never, ever understand and who will never be kind about it. Someone was abusing me on Instagram because they said I didn’t know anything about football because I’m a woman and that nobody cares about women’s football, so I said to him: ‘Ok, fast forward ten years’ time, when you have a little girl and she wants to play for a football team. Are you going to tell her no, girls can’t play football?’ And he didn’t know what to say. That’s my way of making people think about why they’re saying what they say to me. But it’s rare you get an apology anyway.I think that with the media putting it out there that women’s football is an amazing sport and it’s growing so big, I think that we can overcome it. I hope.

I’m always shocked by people who comment on things saying that ‘nobody cares,’ because clearly they’ve cared enough to comment.

Exactly. I saw loads recently when Toni Duggan got signed to Barcelona, and the comments on the post — I was so annoyed, I was telling myself to stop reading them, but I couldn’t stop. The comment that annoyed me the most, and this was horrible: ‘I think I saw her on PornHub’...And then there were a few saying ‘Is that the new physio,’ ‘is she the cook,’ ‘why is the football player’s wife holding the jersey’ — stuff like that. And these comments were getting loads of likes. And I mean the people who said it are horrible, but the people liking these comments are feeding them.Eventually I did have to stop reading them because I got home from work and was so upset that I couldn’t sleep that night. It really did get to me, but I had to think that this is the internet; once you put something up you’re going to get that regardless. And unfortunately, not everyone is going to think like you or have a decent input.

I hope that Toni doesn’t read the comments.

If I got so upset and it wasn’t even me, I can just imagine her.But you know how you can see who likes a post? I saw so many famous Premier League or Spanish footballers liking the post , and if these people could only see their idols are actually liking these pictures in support, that they’re so supportive of women’s national teams. Why can’t that show the kids — or immature men — that we have to support these women. They’re representing us, they’re representing the country, and they could probably nutmeg you with their eyes close. They deserve so much more than they get.

It’s especially good, then, to have platforms like Girls With Game to show women are here to keep playing no matter what.

Exactly.Although I’ll admit, in the very beginning, I could not get a reaction from anyone. I have friends in the Instagram industry that were nice and followed me, but I was trying to get Girls With Game out there and I was just getting something like 100 followers, 200 followers, which was exciting, but none of those guys would give Girls With Game the time of day. Our content is 100% original, so we would always hope that people would share our pictures or our concept boots, but it honestly took months and months for anyone to share a picture — even though we were getting huge reactions on our page. But eventually, when people actually saw that we’re actually doing something and were getting bigger, then those accounts who were quite friendly with me would follow Girls With Game.It took so long for people to believe in us. I wondered if it was because we were girls, if it was because we’re called Girls With Game — but eventually I kind of got over that, because now we’re getting so big and are actually bigger than the accounts I was worried wouldn’t work with us. It’s nice to see that if you’re persistent and you just keep you doing what you’re doing, then you’ll get there.But it’s funny because I think that 86% of our followers are men, now. It’s brilliant. We actually want to target more girls, but it’s brilliant to have their support; they’re always commenting on and sharing our stuff. We get the odd comment that says we’re just silly girls, but the block button is a great thing.We’ve actually started making our own custom t-shirts, and we’ve branded it with ‘GWG.’ And guys were saying that they wanted some really badly, and so we said that it stands for Guys With Game as well, just to show that GWG means that we’re all together and we all love football. That’s what we’re trying to put out there.We were worried at the beginning that guys wouldn’t like it, but it’s actually the complete opposite. It’s a big pat on the shoulder for us.

So what’s your message to those people who still can’t accept that women can play and watch football?

The hate — it goes over the head. Whatever they say, we know what we can do. And eventually haters become supporters, so we’ll just keep hoping that happens one day.