Women's Sport: The Watford Ladies documentary proving women's football doubters wrong

James Dickman and Watford Ladies Documentary

England's games were shown in more pubs than ever before during last summer's Women's World Cup which only prompted Sunday league-playing blokes across the country to point at the TV and announce that "lads, we could easily beat them."

I found myself in that exact situation. The day after the Lionesses played one of their group matches, I met up with my football-obsessed male friends who, despite my arguments, were adamant that their amateur Sunday league side would turn over the professional England Women starting eleven. 

To me, the mindset is laughable, but much to my horror, plenty more men have the same idea of the women's game, which is why journalist James Dickman from London Live decided that something had to be done.

And so Keeping Up with the Watford Ladies: The Documentary was born.

In a fifty-minute long episode for London Live, James' immerses himself in the Watford Ladies side, taking part in fitness regimes, training sessions and observing matches. The team are still semi-professional and play in the third-tier of English women's football, the FA Women's National League South.

I caught up with James to discuss his tenure as an adopted Watford Ladies player, how the documentary was received and his views on the society's view of the women's game.

Before he began training, James didn't shy away from honest reflections of his own footballing skills, citing himself as a decent player having spent the majority of his life playing amateur football in some sort of capacity, be that Sunday league or six-a-side evening games.

I imagined his preconceptions of women's football to be somewhat in line with my male friends but was delightfully proved wrong.

"I had very little preconceptions of [women’s football] because I knew so little about it," James told.

"Some of my mates were very critical of it but I'm not sure why I didn't think like that. Although I didn't think it was fantastic straight from the off, it was the Women's World Cup that got me into it and that’s the reason I wanted to make this documentary. I and my friends would go to the pub and watch it quite regularly and get into it, so we learnt all the names of the England side."

Although last year's World Cup sparked the interest and gave James the foundations to a great documentary, it was American journalist George Plimpton that inspired him to lace up his boots and get involved.

"Plimpton wanted to go and train with an NFL side for a full season and then write a book based on being allowed to train with them. The idea was that he wouldn't tell the players that he was a journalist so that they would just think he was a rookie.

"After years of convincing, he got involved with Detroit Lions and wrote a book called Paper Lion about his first-hand experiences, and I thought to myself 'why is this not more of a thing?'" explained the London Live journalist. 

"As a bloke who's really into football I tried to think about what I would find most interesting and the growing thing at the moment is women's football. I thought I would find it entertaining, some bloke trying to hack it with a top women's football side," he adds.

"The women's game is not kicking off because they're trying to seek approval from men."

Although he rated himself as a decent Sunday leaguer, James went into training with Watford under no illusion that it would be a breeze.

"I did expect to struggle quite a lot because of fitness. I used to be okay at football but I was just miles, and the game is played very differently amongst women.

"During training, the girls tell me that they're not too bothered about power and pace. Their thing is keeping the ball down, being more tactical and having their heads screwed on - they were thinking ten steps ahead of me."

Despite his lack of fitness, James assumed that his gender would give him an advantage when it came to speed.

"I did think that I’d be able to outpace someone on the wing or go in quite hard and win the ball back, but I couldn’t even get the ball because I was constantly just being outmanoeuvred."

He goes onto tell me of the doubt people had towards the documentary. His peers would question the point of the piece, and it wasn't until filming had finished that James realised himself.  

James Dickman and Watford Ladies Documentary

"On reflection, the main point of this documentary is that I'm so used to hearing people call women's football rubbish - but what is the point in making that claim? Would they like a medal for thinking they're better than women at football? The point is to shut up and to go and watch a game because they might like it," he says.

"There's a misnomer in this country that football is a men's sport"

"I also want those people to know that it's a very, very different game to the men's. And it's really good. It's entertaining. I can't remember the last time I left the London Stadium after watching West Ham men's side feeling entertained, because the men's game has almost been diluted by how much money is at stake - it's boring. I'm so glad women's football is kicking off because it is so entertaining."

The more I talk with James, the more he reiterates the differences between men's and women's football, preaching that the female game has nothing to do with their male counterpart.

"People need to know how redundant it is to compare the two - don't do it, you're wasting your time.

"A lot of the men that criticise the women's game want a reaction, but that's not why women play football The women's game is not kicking off because they're trying to seek approval from men. That's not why these girls give up all their time to play - it's because they love the game," he says.

As we discuss the state of women's football in England, James tells me of his friends in America and how they wanted to watch his documentary. Although they enjoyed the piece, they had one piece of advice for the journalist.

"They told me, 'you know if you made that documentary in the U.S. you’d be totally killed for it?'" he says whilst laughing.

"It's because women's football in the U.S. is just football. It's done well and it is their sport. Whereas it's all about misconceptions in this country. Women need to be more engaged in women's football because there's a misnomer in this country that football is a men's sport, but in the U.S. it's totally different."

When asked what he'd taken away from the project, James was quick to mention respect. He went onto explain that he couldn't imagine wanting to dedicate that much of his life to something whilst holding down a full-time job, as much of the Watford Ladies do.

Throughout our discussion of the documentary, we chat Women's Super League, including the top of the table clash between Chelsea and Man City last month that James went to.

I then tell him of my mates that think they can take on the Lionesses, asking him to give them some words of advice.

"I would tell them that what they're saying makes no sense and is pointless. Don’t bother. Even if they could win, they’re proving zero points by doing that. That’s really not the point of why women should get into the game.

And they wouldn’t [win] anyway, they’d lose.

They’d totally lose."

Keeping Up with the Watford Ladies is available to watch now on London Live.

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