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Rise of the female fan

Football is still male-dominated, but it's not the men-only affair it was. Over the past 10 years, more and more women have been heading for the stadium to watch the game and buy the merchandise.

In the 1980s, when football was widely regarded as tribal and cultish, the province of white young men, when facilities at grounds were poor and the game was marked by violence, even many male supporters stayed away. After the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989 and the subsequent Taylor report, which called for grounds to be upgraded, things began to change.

In the 1990s facilities improved dramatically, and serious writers started producing bestsellers about the game, spawning a new category of fans: the Hornby Set. Football became a marketable commodity, increasingly attractive to women. John Williams, director of the Sir Norman Chester Centre at Leicester University, which carries out social and cultural research into football, says women enjoy the more player-focused aspect of today's game. "Women are more interested in individuals,"he says. "The way the game has developedsuits them."

The centre's annual Premier league survey, the results of which were published this month, found that women now accoun for 14 per cent of all spectators in the top division. One third of all new fans - those who have started watching football in the past five years - are women, with some teams, such as Leeds United, selling almost 50 per cent of new season tickets to women. One third of all male fans attend Premier league games with a female partner.

And though the boards of most football clubs are male preserves, women are sneaking in. Lorraine Rogers, chairman of Tranmere Rovers, is, at 36, the youngest chairman in the game, though she is not the first woman to make it to the top. Karren Brady is managing director at Birmingham City and Vicky Oyston was briefly chairman at Blackpool in the mid-Nineties.

Football has become an expensive hobby. A family ticket for two adults and two children can cost nearly pound;100. At some London clubs the cheapest ticket is pound;25 and some season tickets cost more than pound;1,000 at Chelsea where, according to the Sir Norman Chester survey, 60 per cent of season ticket holders earn over pound;30,000 a year. Newcastle has one of the lowest percentages of female ticket holders as well as one of the lowest percentages of high earners, with only 18 per cent earning more than pound;30,000.

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