What’s wrong with wanting to be a footballer’s wife?
Author: Susan James Relly
Posted on: 18th January 2017
Toward the end of last year I attended a conference on education and employer engagement. One session in particular interested me and I sat in the audience of a panel session discussing employer engagement and governance. The session actually revolved around multi-academy trusts and employer engagement. It was heavily schools focussed, particularly on the children and young people who attended these schools, and the importance of exposing them to the world of work as soon as possible to raise aspiration. Aspiration to the golden route of higher education, that is. This conversation reached its zeitgeist when one of the panellists told the audience that the aspiration of young girls needed to be raised so that they did not want to become a footballer’s wife or a hairdresser. Vidal Sassoon was surely rolling in his grave. And if there were any hairdresser employers in the audience, all of whom would be trained and skilled, that were wondering why it was so difficult to get employers engaged in education and training, well, this insult would have them wondering no more.
The statement made by this panellist was, unfortunately, not surprising. It was the perfect example of Alison Wolf’s summation of how the vocational route is viewed – it is for other people’s children. It probably should have been equally unsurprising that this statement about footballers’ wives and hairdressers was deemed appropriate but it was not. I was horrified, angry, and indignant that a panellist at a conference filled with attendees ranging from educators from schools and further education (FE), to employers, academics and policy makers thought it was okay to make this statement. Is this really the message we want to be sending to young people and the best language to use?
My anger and indignance prompted me to look at the qualifications and experience of footballers wives to try to understand if the criticism was warranted. The following table shows the qualifications of the partners of 12 of England’s current top footballers.
|Qualification & Occupation||Partner/Footballer|
Model for Hugo Boss fragrances
Eponymous beauty line on QVC
|Taralee Heaton||Chartered accountant||Tom Heaton|
|Mari Burch||Model||Ryan Bertand|
|Gemma Acton||MBA (Wharton Business School)
|Jessica Unsworth||Make-up artist
|Annie Kilner||Beauty Therapist
|Millie Savage||Fashion designer
Runs the Vita de Lusso clothing brand (luxury sportswear)
|Hazel O’Sullivan||Model||Andros Townsend|
|Andriani Michelle||Hairdresser||Jack Wilshere|
|Carla Howe||BTEC National Diploma (Acting)
Model and actress
|Kate Goodland||Fitness instructor||Harry Kane|
Table 1: Qualifications and occupations of the partners of England’s football players
Of these 12 women, a number have qualifications leading to a profession (e.g. chartered accountant, actor) or into entrepreneurship and business (e.g. fashion designer). All of these women have successful careers. I then was prompted to think about their European counterparts, especially as our vocational system is often compared to those on the continent. Table 2 shows a list of the qualifications and occupations of 19 partners of the World’s top 21 footballers.
|Qualification & occupation||Partner/Footballer (team, country)|
|Antonella Roccuzzo||Model||Lionel Messi (Barcelona, Argentina)|
|Sofia Balbi||Hairdresser||Luis Suarez (Barcelona, Uruguay)|
|Carolina Dantas||Medicine||Neymar (Barcelona, Brazil)|
|Emma Rhys-Jones||Hairdressing||Gareth Bale (Real Madrid, Wales)|
|Erika Choperena||Bachelors degree in Education||Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid, France)|
|Anna Ortiz||Hair stylist
|Andres Iniesta (Barcelona, Spain)|
|Nina Weiss||Studying at the School of Economics and Law in Berlin||Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich, Germany)|
|Elena Galera||Intermediate Vocational Health
Vocational Advanced Level in Health
Worked as a nursing assistant, assistant physical therapist and assistant dentist
|Sergio Busquets (Barcelona, Spain)|
|Paul Pogba (Juventus, France)|
|Vanja Bosnic||Registered player’s agent||Luka Modric (Real Madrid, Croatia)|
|Jessica Farber||Studied tourism and works in the industry||Toni Kroos (Real Madrid, Germany)|
|Martina Maccari||Former model||Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus, Italy)|
|Lisa Trede||Semi-professional dressage star
|Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich, Germany)|
|Michele Lacroix||Studied at the University of Hasselt
Works at a model promotion agency
|Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City, Belgium)|
|Anna Lewandowska||Polish athlete
Specialist in nutrition
|Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, Poland)|
|Ilaria D’Amico||Commentator and host on Italian television||Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus, Italy)|
|Maria Teresa Matus||Mother||Arturo Vidal (Byern Munich, Chile)|
|Karina Tejeda||Argentinian pop star||Sergio Aguero (Manchester City, Argentina)|
|Shakira||Colombian singer, songwriter, producer
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador
|Gerald Pique (Barcelona, Spain)|
Table 2: Qualifications and occupations of the partners of the world’s top 21 football players
Given the aforementioned comparisons, and the way labour markets are regulated with licence to practice requirements in most countries on the continent, it is not surprising that more of the women in Table 2 have qualifications than those in Table 1.
However, regardless of whether these women are from the UK or elsewhere in the world the point is they are not the flibbertigibbets they are portrayed as by the media (or on conference panels). They are professionals in a wide variety of industries and often leaders in their fields, with good earning power in their own right. The negative language used to describe these women’s occupations and careers is one that infiltrates much discussion around qualifications and education that is outside the mainstream route. This vocabulary is one of undermining and misrepresenting the true value of the achievements of people through following the vocational route (including further education and apprenticeship). Some of these women do have higher education qualifications; many have vocational qualifications and years of work experience. Most were successful in their professions and occupations before meeting their football-playing partners and have more qualifications than them.
The purpose of this blog post is not to focus on footballers’ wives, but to challenge antiquarian notions on qualifications and occupations. We all need to think carefully about the rhetoric that surrounds vocational education and the choices that young people are faced with. When we continue to use language around career options, such as ‘just a hairdresser’, or ‘only an electrician’, we perpetuate the myth that the vocational route is lesser, that it is for other people’s children. Next time a young girl states her aspirations are to be a footballer’s wife, rather than a ‘no, you don’t’ answer, perhaps the response should be more along the lines of:
‘Which one? Victoria Beckham, the multi-millionaire entrepreneurial fashion designer, Gemma Acton, the journalist, or Jessica Unsworth, the make-up artist and businesswoman?’
 Not all partners of England’s football team are included as it was not possible to ascertain their qualifications or occupation, and some players do not currently have partners. As such 12 of 25 are shown in the table.
 I understand that this will be a contentious list as many football fans will not agree that these are England’s top footballers; however, for simplicity sake I have taken the 25 players on the current England team on the assumption that they have been chosen to represent the country due to them being the ‘best’.
 Cristiano Ronaldo and Alexis Sanchez do not seem to currently have partners.
 I could not find a website listing the top European footballers so expanded the list to cover the world although the vast majority of these footballers play for European clubs, as shown on the website http://ibtimes.com/top-50-best-footballers-world-2016-2017-season-has-cristiano-ronaldo-topped-lionel-2392084