The dyke drama at the heart of women’s football.
At the beginning of the 2023 Women’s World Cup this summer, a website called ‘Woso Couples Chart’ started doing the rounds among the WhatsApp groups and Twitter circles of the grassroots women’s football community. Clearly inspired by canonical lesbian TV drama The L Word – in which intrepid bisexual gossip-monger Alice Pieszecki starts tracking the various trysts between the queer women in her social circle via a gigantic chart on her wall – the site features a searchable web, documenting current, historic and rumoured romantic entanglements between a staggering number of active and retired ‘woso’ players (that’s ‘women’s soccer’ for anyone who doesn’t happen to be a sports-loving gay who spends too much time on the internet.)
Impressive in its scale and thoroughness, the chart was met with incredulous delight wherever I saw it shared, but it’s by no means the only corner of the internet where you’ll find people gossiping about the dating lives of female footballers. Social media is full of fan content documenting and satirising the inevitable dyke drama generated by a sport in which queer women comprise a healthy quota of players.
For a lot of ‘woso’ followers – and particularly for the many queer women who follow the sport – being clued up on this drama is a big part of what it means to be a fan of women’s football. In fact, if you’re the kind of fan who’s in deep enough to spend the final days of the WSL transfer window checking The Athletic hourly for updates on Mary Earps’s Manchester United contract saga (reader, it’s me), a working knowledge of lesbian footballer dating lore isn’t even necessarily something you have to try very hard to seek out, but merely something you tend to acquire almost by accident.
Click on one too many ‘woso’ skills compilations on YouTube, and you’ll eventually be inundated with 45-minute long video essays dissecting the entire relationship timeline of World Cup-winning couple Christen Press and Tobin Heath. Follow a few niche Twitter accounts with names like ‘woso images that precede unfortunate events’ and you’ll end up with a timeline full of rumours of a potential engagement between Chelsea star Sam Kerr and Gotham FC midfielder Kristie Mewis. Emerge from a catatonic stupor to find that you’ve spent the last 25 minutes watching Millie Bright and Rachel Daly doing TikTok dance challenges, and your For You page will soon be awash with badly edited slideshows of Barcelona Femení couple Mapi León and Ingrid Engen’s social media posts, soundtracked by unbearably saccharine pop music.
It’s not just that the private lives of elite players are a source of tantalising gossip, though. Sometimes they’re of legitimate concern when it comes to a team’s on-field performance (I tell myself this repeatedly). For starters, inter-team relationships – and the inevitable break-ups – frequently impact the transfer window, as evidenced by Chelsea power couple Pernille Harder and Magdalena Eriksson’s recent joint move to Bayern Munich, or Daniëlle van de Donk and Lisa Evans’ departures from the notoriously incestuous Arsenal women’s team after their respective breakups with teammates Beth Mead and Viviena Miedema (who, of course, are now together.)
At times, the ensuing theatrics even spill out onto the pitch. Take a particularly incendiary incident from the opening day of the Women’s World Cup, in which Ireland midfielder Ruesha Littlejohn refused to shake the hand of her Australian opponent Caitlin Foord ahead of their group stage fixture. As dozens of teenage lesbians rushed to TikTok to explain, Foord is rumoured to be dating her Arsenal teammate Katie McCabe, who also happens to be Littlejohn’s international colleague and ex-girlfriend of several years: a hilariously messy situation that anyone who has spent longer than five minutes on the lesbian dating scene will find extremely relatable.
Such entanglements aren’t confined to the professional game either, but are also rife at the grassroots level. My own team – Whippets FC – has overcome its share of dyke drama and lived to tell the tale, as have many of the largely queer teams we play against. One such opponent is Ex-Girlfriend FC, so named because it was founded by two erstwhile partners. ‘ [A] football club dedicated to watching our exes sweat’, reads the club’s Instagram bio. Their main shirt sponsor is a lube brand.
Yet not every fan agrees with the attention that this facet of women’s football receives. There are those who argue that it’s an annoying distraction from the merits of the sport itself, one that perpetuates the notion that women’s football can’t – or shouldn’t – be taken as seriously as the men’s game. There are times when the insatiable appetite for gossip constitutes an invasion of privacy. The recent World Cup has spawned a roster of deranged TikTokers whose whole schtick is interpreting ‘clues’ from social media in wildly speculative videos about players who often aren’t even out. Search for Leah Williamson on the unbearably cringe lesbian discussion forum ‘The L Chat’, and you’ll likely find numerous lengthy threads speculating on the England captain’s dating history, despite the fact that the 26-year-old has never publicly spoken about her sexuality or romantic relationships, while you’ll find a whole library’s worth of fan fictions with names like ‘The love i have for you – Alessia Russo’ and ‘You’re The One – Ellie Roebuck’ over on Wattpad.
Obsessive weirdos aside, for most of the sport’s sizeable queer fanbase, it isn’t that deep. The incendiary lesbian gossip is merely another entertaining facet of a sport that is already thrillingly dramatic, and some authentic mainstream representation largely devoid of the male gaze. And that, dear reader, is still staggeringly rare.