MY sister was always the football talent in our family. She once took part in the early stages of the FA Women’s Cup and, on one occasion, I remember her joining me, my dad and a few of his friends for a five-a-side game and being the best player on the pitch by a mile.
When you grow up with a budding footballer for a sister, it’s hard to get your head around the arguments of those uncomfortable with women in the game.
It’s why I was utterly baffled by Mike Newell’s sexist rant at linesman Amy Rayner in 2006 (for which he quickly apologised).
It’s why I was baffled by the furore over Jacqui Oatley’s commentary debut on Match of the Day in 2007 (while television companies have hired better commentators, they have also hired worse ones without attracting such staggering levels of vitriol).
And it’s why I was baffled by the behaviour of Richard Keys and Andy Gray in January, as they questioned off-air before a Premier League game between Wolves and Liverpool whether any woman could truly understand the offside law, unaware not only that their comments would soon be made public, but also that they were talking utter bollocks. (Still, at least they have the consolation of having become poster boys for a certain type of man who can’t tell the difference between banter and bullying. These men, as far as I call, seem to spend an awful lot of their lives leaving comments on YouTube videos.)
There’s no reason why a woman shouldn’t know the offside law. And there’s no reason why a woman shouldn’t enjoy a football match. About nine years ago, I took a female friend along to watch Macclesfield play Carlisle. (She still hasn’t forgiven me.)
About half-an-hour into the game, she mentioned that she’d recently been to see a performance of The Vagina Monologues. One of the things she enjoyed about it most, she said, was that there was a part of the show where the audience were told to shout the word “cunt” as loudly as possible. She found it liberating.
“Oh,” I said. “Well that’s excellent practice for coming to the football.” She wasn’t offended by any of the chanting that day.
I thought about this when I read the reports about that recent Turkish league match between Fenerbahce and Manisaspor, where only women and children were allowed to attend, with all males aged 12 or over banned as a reaction to a spate of hooliganism. The thing that really made me laugh was a report that “at least one man, disguised under a headscarf and women’s clothing, made it in to the stadium”.
That, to me, said a whole lot more about the cultural expectations of male and female behaviour in Turkey than it said about differences between the sexes. But then, to my mind, the whole thing smacked of a publicity stunt anyway.
I always struggle to take seriously any articles which purport to explain the differences between the personalities of men and women. You know the sort of thing: Women are more empathetic, men are better at building sheds. It’s rubbish. Some women are very good at shed-building.
But then some women are very good at shouting obscenities at full volume. Some women are very good at football. And, believe it or not, some women can even understand the offside law.
MOTD’s final match: West Brom 0 Fulham 0
Commentator: John Roder
A couple of weeks ago, Sian Massey refereed an Evo-Stik Northern League game between Stafford Rangers and Rushall Olympic. The match ended in a 1-1 draw, with Massey awarding both sides a penalty. Stafford scored theirs, but Rushall had already equalised when they got a spot-kick with four minutes to go, only for striker Matt Lewis to miss it.
After the game, Stafford manager Gary Clowes was critical of Massey’s performance. “She was poor,” he said, according to the Wolverhampton Express and Star. “I thought she awarded them a penalty just to even things up after giving us one.”
That comment, to me, reads as a little step along the road to equality. It is one of the inalienable rights of a football manager to find fault with the referee or linesmen after a game. But the key thing is to judge them on perceived performance, not gender – and that was exactly what Clowes did. He thought Massey was a crap referee. The fact that she is a woman was neither here nor there.
One day, perhaps, Massey will be able to make a brilliant or dreadful decision without anyone bringing up either her gender or the stench of Keys and Gray’s ignorance. Not yet, though. Not with smart-arse bloggers like me around, and certainly not on a weekend which saw Liverpool and Wolves play each other for the first time since Offsidegate.
Although there is hope. Massey wasn’t at Anfield yesterday. But she did have two borderline offside decisions to make as West Brom and Fulham slugged out a goalless draw that the highlights edit managed to make look far more entertaining than it was.
She was certainly right to flag Albion’s Peter Odemwingie offside in the second half as he chased a through ball. Her decision in the first half to raise the flag as Pajtim Kasami scored – following in when Ben Foster made an absolute pig’s ear of Clint Dempsey’s long-range shot – was a much tighter call. Maybe Kasami was just offside, or maybe he should have had the attacker’s benefit of the doubt.
Both offside decisions made the Match of the Day highlights edit but, interestingly, neither were felt worthy of discussion in the studio afterwards. A sign, perhaps, that Massey got both decisions right – but a sign as well that it’s her job to do so.
Maybe that’s a step in the right direction too. When Oatley made her MOTD commentary debut, at a match between Fulham and Blackburn in April 2007, host Gary Lineker felt obliged afterwards to ask pundit Lee Dixon: “Didn’t she do well?” It was a comment borne of good intentions, but came across as patronising. Ultimately, male or female, you should be judged on your merits – footballer, linesman or commentator.
1. Aston Villa: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
2: Wolves: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
3. Fulham: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
4. Wigan: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 1)
5. Swansea: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
6. Tottenham: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
7. West Brom: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
8. Newcastle: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
9. Blackburn: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
9. Everton: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
9. Norwich: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
12. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
12. Sunderland: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
14. Bolton: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
14. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
14: Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
14. QPR: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
18. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
18. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
18. Stoke: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
2L = On second last (Wigan 1 Tottenham 2)
3L = On third last (Liverpool 2 Wolves 1)
(Teams receive one point every time they are last on MOTD. Teams level are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. MOTD2 not included.)