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Lining up for Tessa's Tigers

Thursday, June 9, 2005

By Julie Bindel  (The Guardian 9th June 2005)

As relief from her ministerial duties, Meg Munn takes to the pitch with Tessa's Tigers, the Labour party's first women's five-a-side football team, alongside Vera Baird QC (MP for Redcar), Claire Ward (Watford), Bridget Prentice (Lewisham East) and, sporting the captain's armband, culture and sports minister Tessa Jowell. Average age 47. Ward, who is president of Watford Ladies FC, started playing two years ago in an attempt to wind up the (male) parliamentary team. "I said to the captain, 'You do NOT represent parliament. How can you? There are no female players!'" She was invited to join in. "I forced myself to learn while playing, and kept trying to persuade other women in the House to form our own team. But they would take one look at my bruised legs and say, 'No way'. Eventually I won some around."

The inaugural game was a fundraiser for Piggy Bank Kids, the charity set up in memory of Gordon Brown's daughter Jennifer, who died in 2002. The Chancellor came to cheer them on, but they still lost 10-6 to the National Women's Football Academy. A spokesperson from Brown's office said: "Their opponents were gentle with them, otherwise the score might have been more devastating."

Jen O'Neill, editor of women's football magazine Fair Game, says it is the players' ages, not their gender, which makes them different. "Thousands of girls and young women take up the sport every year. It is not a big deal. But middle-aged women getting involved is great - it breaks taboos."

But if they want to encourage a new generation of middle-aged female footballers or are to have any chance against the England team later in the year, the Tigers need to brush up their act. Baird admits it is hard to coordinate training sessions. "We are talking of regular matches and proper coaches," she says, "but we are busy women."

Do they all understand the offside rule? "Not necessarily, but we'll get there." And what about the dark art of politics? Does it seep into the game? During their first match, players kept hearing an MP shouting from the sidelines every time Jowell had the ball: "She's the Secretary of State! You'll get more funding if you let her win!"

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