On women’s sports media, community, and nostalgia for an internet that’s all but gone
A lot of us ended 2018 caught up in nostalgia for the internet of days past (summarised perfectly in Brian Phillips’ recent piece for The Ringer). It was a nicer place, if we remember correctly. It felt more fun and a lot less toxic than it is now. The nostalgia for what the internet was just ten years ago makes sense in the climate we’re living in, of course, where every moment spent on various social media sites is enough to tank your week.
There’s a specific type of nostalgia that I’ve found myself caught up in, however. Back when the internet was the wonderful, delightful, and weird place that Phillips’ piece talks about, there were communities being created by, run by, and populated with people who were beginning to realise there was space for their voices outside the margins of conversations. With sports, especially, queer people, people of colour, cis straight white women who had been told their presence wasn’t valid, thrived in these communities and built on (and with) one another to create ever-expanding spaces.
And an essential part of those spaces was just how much we got to celebrate just how horny soccer players made us.
Soccer players are attractive. This was never in question. In fact, the objective hotness of soccer players was often thrown in people (usually women’s) faces when they even intimated they might be interested in the sport. Soccer game viewings were often punctuated with statements like: “Ugh, you don’t like the sport, you just like how good the players look with their shirts off.” (Multi-tasking being as much an unheard of concept then as it is today. We can focus on two things at once, everyone.)
So when the internet gave us sites like the gone-but-sorely-missed Kickette, we latched onto them with glee.
Kickette became a safe haven for those of us who were sick of being gatekept any time we opened our mouths. It gave us the space we needed to kick back, relax, and talk about Xabi Alonso’s face. Needed to take a break from people asking you to explain the offside rule to them with a deep dive into Nicklas Bendtner’s love life? Kickette had you covered. Sick of media coverage on the transfer season and in need of general soccer uncoverage? Kickette had your back. Really wanted a fantasy football list that spoke to you? Kickette produced one every year.
Kickette offered the war-weary amongst us a respite (and several tall drinks of water, if you know what I mean), but it also offered new fans a relatively judgement-free zone to learn about the rules of the sport: the writers’ careful curation of thirst came with the added bonus of easy-to-follow and easy-on-the-eyes primers on teams, individual players, and leagues if readers were interested in learning more.
Granted, Kickette had a tendency of making Real Madrid fans out of all the new blood, but no site is perfect.
The safe space for discussion and horniness (both given equal weight as god intended) that Kickette created was at least in part due to the fact that it was entirely staffed by women. In a fandom where toxic masculinity reigns from clubs, to players, to fans, to the people paid to talk about all of the above, having a space run by women that aggressively celebrated both frivolity and women’s desire was paramount to so many of us remaining fans of the sport.
When Kickette shut its doors in 2012, we lost a community where engaging with the frivolous didn’t automatically mean we were disqualified from discussing the most serious issues in soccer. But the community that the site built–through its comment sections, through email threads between friends discussing its more important articles, through the memes, vocabulary, and deep appreciation for football thighs that the writers gave us–lives on. Sports media is more accepting of frivolity in the midst of more serious conversations. We’re seeing more non-cis male voices talking about tactics, serious issues that plague the sport, and just how horny players make them. We’ve got sites like Unusual Efforts that are dedicated to publishing those voices and those pieces.
The world hasn’t exactly become an easier place for most of us to live in. The internet certainly hasn’t lived up to all the hopes and dreams we had for communication and community a decade ago. But while we still have communities created and run by people who actively celebrate voices that don’t get heard as often, there’s enough to keep us going.
Ritika Bhasker grew up loving football and talking about it with anyone who would listen. When she’s not yelling at a TV screen, she’s usually talking and writing about data and elections. Her proudest moment will always be the time The Guardian hailed her for remembering who Vladimír Šmicer is. You can find her on Twitter at @mostlyinane.