Lately, “Can I have your shirt please?” has become a frequently asked question at women’s football games.
More and more, fans gather pitch side with self-made signs and hope to get their favourite players’ jerseys. An ongoing debate has sparked between supporters and opponents over the new trend. But what’s behind these heavily discussed signs?
Fans appreciate the unique relationship they have with footballers across the women’s game. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, players regularly signed autographs for their supporters and posed for selfies after almost every match.
However, the restrictions aiming to stop the spread of the virus put an abrupt end to these personal moments. Fans couldn’t go to the stadiums anymore and had to cheer on their teams from home, meaning meeting players after a game was completely off the cards.
Jerseys: Heroes at a distance
For many, women’s football became an escape from the pandemic. The games gave us something to look forward to in insecure times. Watching your favourite footballer or team often was one of the few bright spots at the height of the COVID restrictions.
As a result, the sport has significantly grown in its social importance. This also applied to the players themselves. For many fans, they became heroes in lockdown. Be it through spectacular goals or great saves, the stars of women’s football made for happy moments in difficult times.
After months of stadium bans, fans will want to catch up on more personal moments. The desire to meet favourite players again has grown due to social distancing rules.
Jerseys trend: Idols in between
It seems, however, that this development is mostly characterised by new heroic and idealised perspectives on female footballers. Their actions are indeed an important source of inspiration for many. Nevertheless, the focus on single players for one’s own purpose is not what women’s football should be all about.
On the other hand, young fans especially are encouraged to idealise players. They are marketed as idols for the next generation of women’s football. There is no doubt that this is important for the growth of the game. The demand for match-worn jerseys might illustrate that this strategy is working.
Luckily, the pandemic has only temporarily separated fans and players. At the same time, the women’s game attracted new audiences. More supporters in the stands result in a higher demand for interactions with players.
Yet, it is impossible for them to fulfil every fan’s request for autographs or selfies. This is also not the players’ main task, as they are athletes first.
Jerseys: Just an alternative?
These developments create a difficult balance. The fans’ desire to be close to their favourite players seems to not always fit with the changing reality of women’s football.
Many clubs continue adhering to social distancing rules, even though the supporters are back in the stands. The actions of the clubs are justified by the unpredictability of the ongoing pandemic and its consequences.
Asking for a match-worn jersey is therefore a COVID-compliant way to leave the stadium with a personal memory. The players can throw their shirts to the fans while keeping their distance and reducing the risk of infection.
Money vs memories
In many places, the COVID restrictions have already come to an end or will soon be terminated. Still, the demand for match-worn jerseys continues.
A player’s shirt is more unique than autographs and selfies. This is why many people argue that the match-worn jerseys are more likely to end up on eBay with a high price tag, instead of hung up pride of place on a fans’ wall.
Some people even speculate that children are being told by their parents to hold up signs to gain media attention. Many users on social media have branded this as the worst feature of women’s football at the moment. Others argue that it is rather heartwarming to see fans being recognised by their sporting heroes when they do walk over with a shirt to gift.
The signs are obviously causing controversy. Beaming faces of happy supporters tell that the jerseys give them incredible joy. On the other hand, it is impossible to tell the individual reasons behind a fan asking for a shirt.
Seeing your favourite player notice you, then coming over and throwing their shirt to you is an incredible memory that lasts for a lifetime. This is something every women’s football fan will want to experience.
However, it is the player‘s decision what they do with their gear. Fans should at no means pressure players to give away things or expect them to do so. This applies especially to leagues, such as the Women’s Super League, where the footballers don‘t have new shirts for every game.
Things to keep in mind
Getting a player‘s jersey is an incredibly kind gesture from them. No supporter should take this for granted. It is therefore important to keep potential signs in a respectful tone and not to be demanding of the footballers.
Some of them might feel uncomfortable with taking their shirt off in front of a large crowd. This is an aspect that younger fans in particular might not be aware of.
To get a jersey, fans need luck above all else. Since match-issued shirts are rare and unique, a lot of supporters will leave the stadium disappointed. However, this is no reason to send hateful messages to players on social media or be angry at them in general.
It remains to be seen how long the trend of holding up signs will stay present. Luckily, most fans create cardboards with politely formulated questions for jerseys.
Asking for the match-worn shirts is certainly not the only way to express support for a player though. Fans should not go to the stadium only for potential souvenirs, but for the great games of women‘s football.
Some supporters might get lucky with their signs, some will not. However, they can take home countless other happy memories with them from the grounds.