I’m a woman who loves football. Why the abuse?: Portsmouth's Rebecca Markham on sexism, trolls & fighting back

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The Blues follower of 25 years has also worked for Chelsea, Spurs, West Ham and Fulham

The torn knee muscles serve as a reminder of the dangers posed by the hill overlooking the Sixfields Stadium, although thankfully the iPhone pickpocketed on the Northern Line has now been replaced.

Rebecca Markham laughs when recollecting another eventful away day with her cherished Pompey family, a recent trip to Northampton Town written indelibly in friendship folklore.

Nonetheless, the Blues fanatic is exhausted with football.

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Tired of suffering vile social media abuse, tired of unwillingly hogging headlines in recent national newspaper articles, tired of the misogyny encountered during nine years working in the game which left her requiring treatment at Sporting Chance.

Rebecca with her dad, John, at Wembley for Pompey's 1-0 FA Cup final win over Cardiff in 2008.Rebecca with her dad, John, at Wembley for Pompey's 1-0 FA Cup final win over Cardiff in 2008.
Rebecca with her dad, John, at Wembley for Pompey's 1-0 FA Cup final win over Cardiff in 2008. | Rebecca Markham

An intruder in a gentleman’s club, blackballed, barracked and barred for being female - yet Markham is no longer prepared to be the victim of gender politics.

Having already publicly outed vicious trolls targeting her on X, formerly Twitter, now she’s ready to shine a light from within on an industry she regards as rife with sexism.

It’s time to speak up.

‘One abusive message once told me: “You’re a horrible s**g, you need to stop making Portsmouth your entire personality”. Well it is a lot of my personality, what’s wrong with that?’ said Markham, who has chosen The News for her only interview.

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‘I’ve been branded a "UK Beast" on social media. I’ve looked it up, it’s what they refer to ugly drunk women. It seems women cannot go to a game and have a laugh. Whereas with a bloke, it’s fine, good on you mate.

‘When younger being in this male environment, I thought I couldn’t join in with the chants, I was a bit scared. I don’t care now, I will sing and sing and sing.

Pompey fan Rebecca Markham is no longer going to be a victim.Pompey fan Rebecca Markham is no longer going to be a victim.
Pompey fan Rebecca Markham is no longer going to be a victim. | The News

‘Even now, in football as a woman, you have to be able to laugh things off because you get all sorts of stuff. It’s instilled in you, as long as it doesn't get nasty or violent, just laugh. Make fun of yourself before somebody else has the chance.

‘People kept telling me to ignore the comments on social media, how the worst thing you can do is retaliate. Then I actually thought “No”. The only way to stop this is by calling it out. They need to be held accountable.

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‘I’m not a celebrity, I haven’t signed up for that, I am a normal person earning a normal living, just like anyone else. Yet because people follow me on social media, they think it’s okay to abuse me.

‘What’s wrong with people showing decency? I’m not a bad person. If I was to make a mistake, it would never be intentional. I believe I have okay morals. I am not perfect by any stretch, I have been diagnosed with ADHD, but I wouldn’t go around being nasty to someone without reason.

‘We teach kids to stand up to bullies, yet the answer to everything at the moment is don’t give the trolls any airtime, don’t react, just ignore it. Yet if we don’t call things out they will continue.

‘I’m a woman who loves football, so what? Is that wrong? Am I a bad person because of it? Well, it’s time to no longer be the victim, I’m fighting back.’

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It was October when Markham found herself the subject of a social media pile-on which devastated her.

Following a 3-2 success at Reading, Pompey encouraged supporters to post their videos and pictures from the League One fixture.

Rebecca Markham with her 'Pompey family' outside the team's coach at Chesterfield in November.Rebecca Markham with her 'Pompey family' outside the team's coach at Chesterfield in November.
Rebecca Markham with her 'Pompey family' outside the team's coach at Chesterfield in November. | Rebecca Markham

The Fratton End season-ticket holder’s contribution was a clip capturing her celebrating Colby Bishop’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time, involving being paraded on the shoulders of a male friend and singing.

It was a moment she soon regretted, attracting a deluge of abuse from inexplicably offended fellow X users, prompting the distraught 36-year-old to temporarily delete her account.

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Then, on the Monday evening, she initiated her revenge, screenshotting 20-25 offensive messages, of which some had been sent in private, and posting them for public consumption. In the aftermath, one troll was dumped by his appalled girlfriend.

She added: ‘I was told I look like Jonjo Shelvey in drag - I actually look like my dad in drag, if anyone! Shelvey gets comments about his nose, but I think I’ve got a nice nose. Apparently my eyes are too far apart from my face and I have Turkey teeth. I need Botox too - well I am 36!

‘But there I go again, I’m trying to laugh it off, it’s what I do. People think I’ve got loads of confidence, I’m bubby, always joking, but it’s a mask, a barrier I’ve constructed to hide the fragile person I am. These trolls have made me cry, left me questioning the person I am, and left me needing therapy for my mental health.

‘Sometimes when you call out behaviour and stand up for yourself, it gets turned back on you. Somebody can treat you badly, yet your reaction is viewed as the problem rather than what they actually did.

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‘Let’s get this straight, I haven't cost someone their girlfriend, their behaviour has cost them their girlfriend. They wanted to keep it behind closed doors - a cowardly DM calling me a “s**g” - and I’ve called them out.

Rebecca Markham at the 2010 FA Cup final at Wembley, where Pompey played Chelsea.Rebecca Markham at the 2010 FA Cup final at Wembley, where Pompey played Chelsea.
Rebecca Markham at the 2010 FA Cup final at Wembley, where Pompey played Chelsea. | Rebecca Markham

‘After I outed him, his girlfriend contacted me. Her exact words were: “Just to let you know I am so sorry for that, it’s sickened me to my core as a girl and I’ve ended it with him”.

‘At first I felt bad for him, but if you’re going to privately inbox somebody with comments like that then you have to deal with the consequences. Then it occurred to me, I’ve probably done her a favour. He’s now deleted his account.

‘Anybody that calls someone a ‘s**g’ is vile. Men use that word too freely, you don’t have to sexualise women. You want to call me a “bitch” fine, call me that. Why do you have to say “s**g”?

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‘That hurts, it really hurts. Then men say “Why are you offended by that if you’re not one?”. Well, I am offended. The minute someone sees somebody else calling you a ‘s**g’ they think you must be one, it has a knock-on effect. I hate it. It makes me feel the lowest of the low.

‘I’ve spoken to my dad about this and those words are not in the vocabulary of someone who isn’t misogynistic. If you are racist, you’re going to use racist words. If they are simply not in your vocabulary then they won’t slip out, you will not accidentally type them.

‘I’m so glad I outed these people and the support I’ve subsequently received from other women going through the same experiences has shown me I’m not alone. Funnily enough, I didn’t get a single apology from the men I outed.

‘I know some will question why I remain on social media, yet without it I wouldn't feel connected with anyone, I’d be lonely. I live by myself, that’s why I sometimes take things to heart. I’ll read them and there’s nobody there saying “Don’t be silly Rebecca, you’re brilliant”.

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‘I once had a boyfriend who made me come off social media. Over that year I wasn’t on there, I barely heard from anyone, I felt I’d lost friends. I’ve made friends on there, especially in Lockdown, so would find it really difficult to come off entirely.

Rebecca Markham with Pompey hero Pedro MendesRebecca Markham with Pompey hero Pedro Mendes
Rebecca Markham with Pompey hero Pedro Mendes | Rebecca Markham

‘Then again, why should I have to come off?’

Certainly Markham’s voice needs to be heard on the issue of misogyny in the football industry, with her own working experiences since 2014 offering compelling insight.

In September, The Times broke a story centring on AFC Wimbledon managing director Danny Macklin’s resignation after a secret recording captured him allegedly making violent and sexist remarks about an employee - Markham.

By the time of his exit, she had already departed as ticketing manager four weeks earlier, ending a nine-month stay with the League Two club, although an ongoing NDA commands her silence.

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As a result of the 36-year-old’s distressing Plough Lane experiences, the Football Association funded therapy at Tony Adams’ Sporting Chance clinic in Liphook to help with her mental health.

Meanwhile, ex-Leyton Orient chief executive Macklin was last month charged with misconduct by the FA. Days later, his disappearance prompted a police appeal amid concerns over his mental health, before found safe in Looe, Cornwall.

Yet with latest developments covered by The Sun, The Mirror and Daily Mail among other national media, it once again dredged up painful memories for Markham.

‘I haven’t been allowed to close that door. I thought it was over - then it resurfaced and I went to hell and back once again,’ she admitted.

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‘When this initially broke in the press, I felt utterly humiliated. The repercussions have been awful for me and my family. They’ve been really worried about me because I live by myself, so I’ve had to deal with everything on my own.

‘I’ve recently started a new job which I’m really enjoying. I was feeling happy, then it came out again two weeks ago. I had hoped it was over, I so want to move on, but there’s that fear I’ll never be able to.

‘You want to forget about it, I wanted to run far, far away. It was horrendous, but that’s where football helps. At a match, nothing in the world matters at that precise moment. It helps you to switch off from all of your problems. I'm with my Pompey family - and I wouldn’t want to be around anyone else.

‘After what recently happened, I really didn’t want to go to our game at Northampton earlier this month, I wanted to spend the day in bed crying, being miserable. Then a friend rightly reminded me that, if we won, I’d regret not being there.

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‘So I injured my knee falling down the hill at the Sixfields Stadium and later had my phone stolen on the Tube on the way home, costing £700 to replace. Still, we won 3-0 - and I’d do it all again tomorrow!’

Rebecca Markham at her beloved Fratton Park.Rebecca Markham at her beloved Fratton Park.
Rebecca Markham at her beloved Fratton Park. | Rebecca Markham

Markham initially entered football employment as a ticketing administrator with Chelsea almost a decade ago.

She has subsequently served as a ticketing and membership executive at Spurs, ticket office manager for West Ham, and also been at Fulham, QPR, Woking and Wimbledon.

However, since last month, she has worked as a ticketing manager within the hospitality industry - and has absolutely no plans to return to football.

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‘Undoubtedly sexism within football exists, there’s a lot which needs to be done,’ added Pompey’s former Her Game Too ambassador.

‘It’s easy to say Her Game Too and it’s easy to talk about Kick It Out, but it needs authenticity. Are clubs honestly practising what they are preaching? Some are, some aren’t.

‘I find ticketing manager is not necessarily a feminine job. So when you’re in a football environment, they will pigeonhole you and want you to be in a feminine role, which would be a PA or receptionist.

‘At Woking, I was ticketing and client services manager. Yet the head of food and beverage, a man, kept on at me to change the ticketing provider. He was telling me how to do my job, without any experience in my line of work.

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‘One day I was opening the turnstiles, when I was told I needed to be in hospitality to make sure the table plans were right. Somebody else stepped in and explained I was employed to do ticketing.

‘One of the things I really struggled with was emptying bins in the office. I would fill them with a carrier bag and put up signs saying office waste only, no chewing gum or food.

‘But still they dumped stuff like half-eaten sandwiches and half-drunk cups of coffee in them. None of those men ever emptied those bins, I was the only one, and it really wore me down. I also had to hoover, nobody else would. I felt like the office cleaner.

Legendary Pompey and ex-Barcelona and Real Madrid player Robert Prosinecki meets Rebecca Markham in 2023.Legendary Pompey and ex-Barcelona and Real Madrid player Robert Prosinecki meets Rebecca Markham in 2023.
Legendary Pompey and ex-Barcelona and Real Madrid player Robert Prosinecki meets Rebecca Markham in 2023. | Rebecca Markham

‘I am no longer in football - and I’d think very carefully whether a club had the right values before considering returning to it.’

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Invariably, Markham is heading to Shrewsbury on Saturday to cheer on John Mousinho’s League One leaders against a team managed by one of her Pompey idols, Matt Taylor.

It represents an eighth away trip of the campaign following her beloved Blues, the club she has passionately supported since visiting Fratton Park as an 11-year-old in 1998.

She added: ‘Absolutely I will continue outing these people on social media. I’m not tolerating it any more, I’m not going to put up with it.

‘Pompey gives me a backbone. Remember you are Pompey, remember who we are, we don’t stand for this, we don't lie down for this. Don’t ignore it, we are Pompey, that’s what we do.

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‘Obviously there are certain times when you don’t want to pick a fight, but if you’re saying things, make sure I don’t find out about it. If I do, I will call you out. So how about not saying it, just be a decent human being, please.

‘I’m not going to be silenced. I owe it to myself and other women to call things out and remember exactly who I am. I am not a pushover. I’m Pompey.’

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