Caitlin Hayes gets it, and football should listen to her

Caitlin Hayes gets it, and football should listen to her
Caitlin Hayes, after Glasgow Rangers 1-1 Celtic FC | via Caitlin Hayes

A chilly grey Sunday in Glasgow. A 1-1 draw between two of the greatest rivals the world of football has ever seen. Blue seats. A message to everyone about the game.

After the full-time whistle had gone at Ibrox stadium, Celtic FC centreback Caitlin Hayes turned to the sidelines and revealed an undershirt with the words 'Football without fans is nothing' printed on it.

An hour after the match had ended, Hayes posted the same shirt in the empty dressing room. Along with a message expanding on why its message was so important to her.

Via Caitlin Hayes instagram

"Football without fans is nothing," Hayes wrote on social media.

"Today women's football in Scotland was let down. In a weekend where the Emirates was sold out and the growth of the game took an applause, the same could not be said 401 miles away. You simply can't advertise a fixture based upon the opportunity to see representation on a stage, with the false intent to grow the game, when the same opportunity isn't there for the opposition.

"Take colours away and you're denying opportunity for young girls, in particular, to see what they can be, if they dream that dream. That dream isn't exclusive to the colours you wear but inclusive to all, just like the foundations women's football was built upon. Whatever the circumstances may be; don't host if you can't accommodate, plan and fund, accordingly. It's the reputation of the game that gets damaged. A reputation we are ALL collectively building."

The photograph and sentiment went viral. But live, at Ibrox, no one could see the message. In the days leading up to the derby, known as the Old Firm, Rangers opted to lock out spectators.

"It is with regret that all tickets purchased by Celtic FC supporters for Sunday’s match at Ibrox have sadly had to be cancelled," Rangers said via a statement on Friday.

The Glasgow club claimed that they had received "intelligence" that certain "risk" Celtic fans were expected to attend the match in the designated away section. After talking to Celtic and Police Scotland, it was deemed implausible to get adequate resources together for Sunday's match in order to deal with the fan presence.

It was notable that this edition of the women's Old Firm at Ibrox, the club's main stadium, was with a dedicated away section for the Celtic support. Rangers women also play home matches at the 8,000-capacity Broadwood Stadium. That ground was sold out for a match against Glasgow City earlier this season.

Tash Flint celebrates scoring for Celtic in the Scottish Cup final against Rangers

"Rangers is committed to ensuring there are away supporters at our matches for both our men’s and women’s teams. However, a unique selling point of the women’s game is the unsegregated, family-friendly atmosphere, with many children attending these matches," the club said.

"Taking all of that into account, Rangers’ security team decided it would be unsafe to allow these ‘risk’ supporters into the stadium, and with Celtic unwilling to cancel just their tickets, the decision to cancel all tickets was taken."

Rangers and Celtic men have faced each other roughly 438 times. With another few dozen meetings on the women's side. Police Scotland, and the clubs involved, know exactly what it takes to safely host this match. They are experienced, they are prepared. They just need to take the game seriously.

The statement from Rangers should - at the very least - apologize to fans that THE CLUB itself did not make adequate resources available. As Hayes eloquently put it, this is "false intent" on Rangers' behalf.

To deny the same resources because it is the women's clubs shows a double standard and a shortcoming. One that is both sexist and anti-growth.

If you're not serious about the women's Old Firm matching the men's, or even surpassing it, then you shouldn't be hosting it.

Within Rangers' decision to cancel tickets to Sunday's match also lies a growing debate about women's football in general. What is the desired stadium environment?

Until recently it was the norm to have no away sections at women's football, but over the past two seasons teams in the English Women's Super League have been making more of an effort to incorporate this.

Previously, all matches were: sit wherever you want no matter who you support. Now there is a bit of tension arising when supporters do not sit in the correct section. Which has been common parlance in the men's game for what feels like forever.

For Rangers to court an "unsegregated, family-friendly atmosphere" shows their cards for what they envision for the women's game.

It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, that a safe football environment for all is essential. There's no two ways about it. Violence, racism, homophobia, or any other form of physical or verbal hate are never okay.

But to enforce a "family-friendly atmosphere" isn't the answer either. You need to let the women's game develop naturally without forcing and locking people out. Everyone can be a women's football fan.

Over the past 150 years, football has breathed life through the millions that sit in the stands. Their passion. Their commitment. An unwavering, dedicated, and vivid palette of colours and emotion.

Behind close doors, we lose what makes football special. People coming together. Community. We break up why time and time again we keep coming back to simple children's ball game to inspire us, to connect with friends, or to break up the ordinary.

Beyond Glasgow, this issue is brewing. How do we grow women's football and not treat it differently? Infantilize it? How do we maintain what has been so important about the existing environment of the women's whilst also allowing it to mirror the best parts of the men's matches?

The answer is 100% clear. But a lack of preparation and resources is certainly not it. Football stakeholders around the world need to heed Hayes' words and understand the vital importance of allowing a fan environment to naturally thrive in women's football.

As Andre Carlise says: "go to games." After all, football is nothing without the fans.