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Married To The Game Samantha Tarkowski Taylor Ward Interview

"Married To The Game" Is Combating Sexist Stereotypes About Footballers' Wives

married to the game
Image Source: Amazon Prime

"There are so many misconceptions about being the wife of a footballer," says Samantha Tarkowski, one of the stars of "Married To The Game" on Prime Video. "I feel like most people think that we just lounge around and live off our husbands's money which isn't necessarily true." The 32-year-old has been with her husband James Tarkowski, Everton centre-back and England National team player, for nine years and is constantly faced with negative stereotypes. "I've never wanted to live off a man or be funded by a man," she tells POPSUGAR on a Zoom video call from her home in Liverpool. "I've always wanted to pay my own way and that's how I was brought up." However, these stereotypes have been deeply ingrained in British media for years.

In the mid-2000s, the wives and girlfriends of premiership footballers were ubiquitous in pop culture, from Victoria Beckham to Cheryl Cole and Coleen Rooney. The paparazzi were fuelled by their every move, capturing their oversized sunglasses, shopping sprees, multiple-page wedding spreads, and more. The tabloids's obsession with these women was glossed over as public interest, but the coverage was actually deeply rooted in sexism. To label women based off of their partners's fame instead of their own achievements was deeply misogynistic.

NUREMBERG, GERMANY - JUNE 15:  (L to R) Singer Cheryl Tweedy the girlfriend of Ashley Cole and Victoria Beckham the wife of England Captain David Beckham, attend the FIFA World Cup Germany 2006 Group B match between England and Trinidad and Tobago at the Frankenstadion on June 15, 2006 in Nuremberg, Germany.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)Image Source: Getty Images / Ross Kinnaird

In recent years, some could argue that we are seeing a change in attitude towards the partners of men in sports. In 2023, after winning the highly-publicised Wagatha Christie libel trial, a vindicated Rooney covered the September issue of British Vogue. Whilst across the pond, popstar Taylor Swift's relationship with the Chief's Travis Kelce has reportedly brought the NFL an estimated $331.5 million in revenue between print, digital, radio, TV, highlights and social media - and a surge of new interest. Of those surveyed by Adtaxi in November, 45 percent of respondents said Swift impacted their interest in American Football.

But have the harmful stereotypes surrounding the wives of premiership footballers really changed amongst the British public in 2024? Five wives and girlfriends of footballers think these sexist outdated views still exist and have come together with hopes of undoing them.

Amazon Prime's six-part doc-series "Married to the Game" gives viewers a unique insight into the couples's lives during the summer break and the transfer window. From the outside looking in, it might appear to be a glamorous lifestyle, but strip away the instagram filters and underneath, these women are dealing with the same life challenges that affect us all from work/life balance and self doubt to loneliness and relationship strains — all under a glaring media spotlight.

Throughout the series, we watch a refreshingly unfiltered Tarkowski open up about yearning to step out of her husband's shadow. She recently got her personal training qualifications and has dreams of opening a female-only gym. "For a while I felt like I didn't have a place to do that," she admits. "I thought I just had to be in the background, wait for my husband to come home and just be the mum - but that's just not my personality. These feelings and ideas of who I should be only fuelled me to create something for myself."

During the second episode, she opens up about her struggles with an eating disorder and low self esteem. Tarkowski tells POPSUGAR "Whilst filming the show it made me think differently about what I went through. I started thinking deeply about it and realised I really had a problem — the way I was living was so unhealthy."

She was happy to open up on camera about it, with hopes of helping viewers. "If someone can see my story and say, 'Oh, my God actually feeling that way is really not right,' then I've done something positive. Especially being in fitness and training women - I don't want them to be coming to train because they want to be super skinny I want to train because they want to feel healthy and strong."

As a mother of three, including six-year-old daughter Ivy, Tarkowski wants nothing more than to be a positive role model for her. "I'm so passionate about my daughter not growing up to feel that way." In 2024, there are young women who aspire to be a wife of a footballer due to their rosy perception of what they think it's like, but Tarkowski is against young women thinking this means relying on a man. "The fact woman or a young girl would aspire to a life where they live off somebody else and live off their name - I think that's so sad. It's so important as a woman to feel empowered - I want Ivy to grow up knowing that she can do anything for herself."

"A lot of people just presume that because you're married to a footballer your life is automatically easier. Don't get me wrong, we get some amazing perks but that doesn't mean that it's always easy."

Although many may assume that their lives are always full of parties and events - being the wife of a footballer is actually pretty lonely. When 25-year-old Taylor Ward found out that her husband Riyad Mahrez was going to be transferred from Manchester City to Al-Ahli Saudi FC last summer, she was devastated. For Ward, knowing she would have to uproot her life to Saudi Arabia away from her support system was initially very daunting.

During the first episode, we see her hysterically crying as the news unfolds. "It was such a shock for me, all my family and friends are in Manchester and I've always had such a huge support system around me. It was quite overwhelming to know I would be in a foreign country without them," she reveals. Whilst transfer deadline day is often a time of excitement for football fans as they anticipate their favourite players' next moves, for the wives of the players it can be an anxiety-fuelled waiting game.

Ward isn't new to the world of football or documenting her life on TV. Her father, Ashley Ward, is a former premiership footballer and her mum, Dawn Ward, starred on The Real Housewives of Cheshire. You would think she would be used to the ups and downs of such a demanding career, but she admits that being on this side of things is much more challenging. She explains, "My mum definitely gives me lots of advice - she's been there and done that. However, growing up I didn't really realise any of the struggles she might have been going through."

Although Ward and Tarkowski both recognise the privilege and access they have in life, they are not exempt from human emotions and feelings of loneliness. Ward explains, "The boys are travelling quite a lot and there's a lot of times where you are just on your own. Even when they are back home they are so focused on football. It's hard to separate normal life from football."

When Ward was pregnant with her first child, she had fears that Mahrez would miss the birth. "That was a massive concern for me because it's such a vulnerable time and you just want your partner there – luckily it all worked out in the end and Riyad was here for the birth, but even then, he had to get on a flight for pre-season training when Mila was six days old. There's no control over these things and I'm not complaining because it's an amazing career and it only lasts for a short period of time, but it's not all rainbows and butterflies all the time."

Taylor Ward
Image Source: Amazon Prime

"There are people with way more high profile jobs that earn way more money and they don't get the shi*t. There is just something about being the wife of a footballer the fuels such negativity online."

With an Instagram following of 2.8 million and a successful jewellery business, Ward knows first hand the effects of social media. "Of course, online negativity can take its toll," she admits. "I find it more difficult when people say things about my family. I get defensive over them. When it's about me, I can brush it off."

As the show airs, both women want nothing more than for viewers to understand that they just lead normal lives, despite the lucrative jobs their husbands have. Ward says, "I share a lot of my life on social media but I only share all the good moments so I really wanted to give a more realistic picture of our day to day lives. It's not always glamorous." Tarkowski agrees adding, "I hope viewers can see that this whole stereotype surrounding us is so wrong. My life is quite normal and hopefully also relatable."

"Married To The Game" airs on Amazon Prime on 23 February.

Image Source: Amazon Prime
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