“There have always been female fans” — Felicia Pennant, SEASON Zine
BY Jennifer Lee O'Brien
The first thing to know about Felicia Pennant, editor of SEASON Zine, is that she has an encyclopedic knowledge of football. She probably knows more about football than you do.
During our hour-long conversation at Café Kick in Exmouth Market, football players and managers and moments drop into the conversation like party guests; by the time we leave, the near-empty bar feels packed with football’s auditory ghosts.
Felicia is a Chelsea fan, just like her dad; although he wasn’t responsible for her getting into football. “It’s the closest stadium to my house, so I support Chelsea,” she says. “It just so happens they’re doing really well.”
Felicia would be a Chelsea fan even if they weren’t doing really well because Chelsea is her club, and Chelsea is her club because Stamford Bridge is close to her house. Geographic tribalism is still a really good reason for a football fan to support a team; it’s the same reason Felicia is drawn to the colour blue, although she wears mostly black.
“When Chelsea were in the Champions League final, I went and put blue at the bottom of my hair,” she says. “And then Chelsea won. It was the best feeling ever.”
She could talk about Chelsea all day. “There’s so much banter with Chelsea,” she says. “People are jealous! Just like they’re jealous of Manchester United.”
Felicia can talk about Chelsea and Manchester United; the Premier League, Parisian football clubs (and not just Saint-Germain), the Euros, the World Cup. She talks about scandals (“Mourinho just leant over and poked this dude in the eye!”), rivalries (“For a long time, I didn’t like Liverpool”), her frustration with England (“You have to have another team to put your hopes on”) and a worry she has about America getting good at football (“I feel like America has that winning mentality”). She talks about how surprised people can be that she’s talking about football at all.
“It’s funny. If you’re a girl you can really freak someone out with it,” she says, laughing. “Like, you made the wrong assumption.”
In Café Kick, a match is on the TV; Celtic vs Rangers at Celtic Park.
“I don’t know much about Scottish football but I do know that the rivalry between Celtic and Rangers goes way beyond football,” she says at one point during our conversation. “It’s religion — Catholics vs Protestants.”
The other night, Felicia was on the tube coming home from a friend’s house. There had been a match on that evening at the Emirates Stadium; Arsenal vs Bayern Munich. Arsenal had lost to Bayern, 5-1. Felicia noticed a man on the tube dressed in his Arsenal gear, coming back from the game. She asked him how it went.
“I never have conversations on the tube,” she says. “He was an older guy, in his late fifties, early sixties. It was great to talk to him about Arsenal. I asked him about the whole Wenger situation.”
And then Felicia tells us about the whole Wenger situation. How Arsenal have stuck with one manager; how the man on the tube thought it was at the point where they needed to sort it out. She agreed with him. “They need to do something,” she says. She tells us about the time that Wenger pushed Mourinho at the touchline at Stamford Bridge; how he’s misrepresentated as a gentleman (“he’s got a mean streak in him!); how he gets away with so much more than Mourinho ever would, with just a slap on the wrist for bad behaviour.
“Fans have such a long memory,” she says. “When you’re new to a club as a player or manager, it’s a new start; but fans of that club will remember everything.”
We ask her to explain.
“So, Rafael Benitez was quite rude about Chelsea. And then he turns up in our club, and people don’t like him.
“It’s like, Benitez!” her voice becomes theatrical, like she’s talking directly to him, “You said all this about us! Like how you said your fans didn’t need plastic flags. And now you come here, clearly using the job as CV boost, and want us to cheer for you?”
“Fans take things very seriously.”
We’re talking about the USA women’s football team when, on the television, Clint Hill scores a goal.
“Is that 1-1?” asks Felicia.
The cameras pan over the crowd of screaming fans, and back to the players
— shaking the net, throwing their bodies at each other in excitement. It’s the end of the 86th minute, and it’s an equalising goal.
“You can feel how much it means to them, though!” she says. “See how crazy they go? I just got goosebumps, for how much it means to them; just seeing that passion. It’s not even my team!”
The first time Felicia saw that kind of passion in football was during the 2004 European Championships. It was summer and she was bored, so she turned on TV. It was the key game: Portugal vs Greece.
“Cristiano Ronaldo. God, he must have been seventeen? Eighteen?” she says.
“Portugal got to the final and they lost to Greece, and it was a massive thing. Like, how have you lost to Greece on your home turf, in front of everyone?
“Ronaldo was crying on the pitch. I didn’t know you could be so emotional about football, because I wasn’t really into football. I decided, this is cool; I’m going to get into it.”
Women getting into football isn’t new, or novel. Felicia estimates that a quarter of fans attending matches in the Premier League are female; it’s a number that shouldn’t be surprising, but feels it anyway.
“There have always been female fans,” she says. “And there’s always been a gap in the discourse about them.
“Football is considered such a male domain, that if you’re a woman, it’s still likely people will assume you’re there with your dad, or your boyfriend. Not necessarily because you have your own independent interests.
“There are so many female fans and women working in football; but you barely see or hear from them. I want SEASON to be the voice and platform that changes that.”
In 2009, Felicia began a course in Fashion History and Theory at Central St. Martins, one of the world’s best fashion schools. Fashion means as much to Felicia as football does; when they converge, it’s even better.
“I listen to football every day, I read back pages,” she says. “But I always balance it with fashion; I put fashion in the same kind of space as football.”
Felicia’s final year thesis explored metrosexuality, perceptions of masculinity, and footballers wearing suits in fashion shoots. She spent hours looking through the Condé Nast archive and scouring through photoshoots, magazines and fanzines in the British Library.
“I found this really amazing book called the Fashion of Football by Paolo Hewitt and Mark Baxter,” she says. “It chronicled footballer’s style and their involvement in fashion from the 1960s until the early noughties — when David Beckham was becoming a star.
“The book was fab, but there were no women in it. I wanted to address that.”
The first issue of SEASON Zine launched in early 2016. In the introductory pages, Felicia wrote: ‘It’s about time women who enjoy fashion and football like I do are celebrated, and SEASON’s first issue brings a fascinating group of them to light.’
Issue One featured FKA twigs’ makeup artist Naoko Scintu, British Vogue editor Verity Parker, fashion student Kayleigh Walmsley. The zine included an essay on female football shirts; an exploration of Instagram’s #goonerette phenomenon; stories from female fans and their fathers; a piece on Caitlin Price’s SS16 collection and the return of the tracksuit; and stickers, for the reader to place throughout the pages.
“The whole idea was to marry the football zine with a fashion magazine and elevate the content, but still have that fandom resonate from the pages,” say Felicia.
SEASON zine issue 01 shared some of the conversations Felicia has had with fellow fashion and football fans and showcased the myriad ways football fandom can be expressed.
“So the FKA twigs link, for example,” she says. “Naoko’s signature makeup look for FKA twigs is dewy skin, which is based on footballer’s skin on the pitch when it’s glowing, glistening with sweat and healthy.
“She talks about how Fernando Torres has the best freckles, and how freckles are such a big beauty trend. It’s her way of engaging and interpreting football, and bringing it into her life.”
In the first issue of SEASON, women talked about makeup, working at British Vogue, Gucci, dating players, and their disdain for Ronaldo’s “thin, flat eyebrows” (‘It really upsets me to the point that I can’t even look at him,’ said Naoko).
But they also talked about their fandom; the clubs they supported; their first memories of watching football; the feeling when their team wins.
‘Can you rate Italy’s performance in the 2014 World Cup?’ Felicia asked Naoko.
‘Disappointing,’ replied Naoko. ‘The bite thing was ridiculous but I really like Luis Suarez so it’s really weird. He’s terrible, but because he’s such a good player I overlook it. When he went to Liverpool I watched every single game.’
In an article titled Why We’re Not Wearing Ladies Football Shirts, Felicia examined ladies football shirts and questioned whether brands like Nike, Adidas, Puma and New Balance were getting it right.
‘Ladies shirts acknowledge female fans in a public and permanent way, but unisex styles would reflect the fact that men and women follow their teams in the same way,” she wrote, later concluding the article with, ‘there are more stylish and less offensive and expensive ways for women to show their support.’
That football culture is commercial is undeniable; that the business of football isn’t catering to female fans isn’t just astounding, it’s insulting.
“People have their own ways of interpreting sport, and you need products to reflect that,” says Felicia. “There are 3.5 billion football fans in the world; even if only one percent of them were women, there is so much opportunity as an untapped market.
“As consumers, we’re standing here like, I have money, but you’re not selling anything to me yet. My money is the same as a male fan’s; why am I not being catered to?
“Look,” she says, “If I liked the kits, I’d buy the kits. I’d buy everything Chelsea. But it has to be nice; I have to like it.”
Felicia doesn’t call SEASON a feminist football zine; at least not in a candid way.
“You can call it that if you like,” says Felicia. “Essentially, gender equality is what we want.”
For Felicia, SEASON zine is a publication that reflects the kinds of conversations and culture that already exist around football; in the stadium, in pubs and through the subtle and not-so-subtle ways women express their fandom.
“Football is a space where people can regress a little bit,” says Felicia. “There’s still an underlying sexism, an underlying homophobia. And racism; in certain countries you still hear monkey chants.
“There are things people say or do that they would never imagine saying or doing in their day-to-day life; but they think it’s okay when they go into a football stadium.”
Felicia thinks things are getting better. Female visibility, she says, is on the rise.
“It’s great that Eniola Aluko has been a pundit,” she says, referring to the Chelsea footballer and first female Match of the Day pundit. “There are more female footballers on the TV, like Alex Scott and Rachel Yankey.”
But the representation of female fans in football discourse — as consumers, supporters and commentators — is still a big problem. And that doesn’t just apply to the fans.
“I don’t know when the Women’s Super League starts,” says Felicia. “I’m actually interested in football, so I know it doesn’t get the same coverage. They’re not talking about it in the back pages; if they are, it’s a tiny little piece or sporadic interview.
“After the World Cup, when the England women’s team came third, they had a bit of press. Now it’s gone quiet again.”
For SEASON issue 02, Felicia went to Paris for a week during Euro 2016 to meet female fans.
She spoke to girls like French culture journalist Agathe Auproux at her Parisian apartment, and French Canadian model and PSG supporter Marinne Reed Brissonnet. She spent hours talking to fans in pop-up bar, store and football league Le Ballon FC.
‘There’s plenty to glean, not least because French football is sometimes as overlooked as female fans can be,’ she wrote. ‘I stayed in the capital during the tournament to spotlight the fashion and football scene, so I can assure you that Paris is popping with passionate and predictably well-dressed women on the frontline.’
SEASON’s Paris edition explored French female fandom and fashion with the same unpatronising and curious attention it had shown English female fans. As a collection of essays, photo shoots and interviews, it was shining a spotlight on more ways females express their love for football.
“Le Ballon FC brings people into places like this,” she waves her hand at the room, “and they have independent matches, screen games and bring people together.
“I didn’t know much about French football. You have an impression of what Parisian girls are like — nonchalant, cool — and some of them are like that, but really into football too. It disrupts how you think about things.
“I’d talk to girls about what it’s like being a female fan in Paris. They’d be like, it’s cool man, guys are pretty chill. A lot of the girls play.
“It just seems like people are a lot more chill about it.”
In the 2016 Euros, Felicia watched Ronaldo cry again. This time they was tears of joy; Portugal had beaten France 1-0. It was the country’s first major trophy.
“For him to finally be captain of that team and to win it; and the fact that he got injured in the first half. And for him to be standing on the touch line directing everyone; that they allowed him to do that, it was like, — goodness!”
She talks animatedly, barely stopping for a breath. “But he won; he got it! I was happy for him. Although I felt bad for France, after the World Cup, when the whole team was in disarray. And the whole Anelka thing. So it was redemption for France as well, because they finally go their act together, they had good players and they got to the final.”
To an outsider, football’s major narratives — its players, its rivalries; its wins and losses; its histories, spanning back over years and generations — feel more like stories than things that happen in the real world, outside of it. And in some ways, they are.
“I think football is a great escape,” says Felicia. “There are things about it that impact real life, but a lot of it exists only in the context of football. Like Zidane head butting Materazzi because he dissed his mum.”
She laughs. “Like you can’t go around head butting people, but you understand why he did it!”
More than anything, SEASON zine is acknowledging that there are more interesting conversations to be had with one another — more creative, less homogenised ways of loving football and expressing fandom. Because really, this escape belongs to all of us; the context of football is ours to create.
“My best friend and I went to Berlin, and I dragged her to a game,” says Felicia. “The atmosphere was so nice; they all have massive jugs of beer you can take in, which you can’t do here. I had my currywurst, which I love. There was this dude with massive drums and tens of thousands of people were jumping to the beat! The atmosphere was fab.
“At half time I met some people in the queue outside, and we were talking and he was like, ‘Oh you’re from London!’ So we had a nice chat about the Premier League. It’s so easy, being from England, to talk about the Premier League, because it’s the most watched football league in the world. You can talk to almost anyone about it. So wherever you are, you can build a connection with people.”
And, surely, that’s what football is all about.
Originally published in The City Talking: Sport.