Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Why football is not a beautiful game for us women

Andy Gray and Richard Keys' comments about a female official saw them suspended from Monday Night Football.

It's not quite up there with Big Ron and the use of the "N" word, but Sky's Richard Keys and Andy Gray caught-off-air rant about woman linesman Sian Massey and West Ham United vice-chair Karren Brady show that beneath the PR bumph some things never change in the world of football.

For some, it will always be a man's game.

During Saturday's Wolves v Liverpool match at which Massey was officiating, presenter and pundit gave a dazzling world view, almost thrilling in its simple-mindedness.

Maybe they were writing dialogue Gene Hunt. Certainly, if you closed your eyes and listened, you would almost swear that it was 1974.

Following Massey upholding a controversial goal by Liverpool, Keys dragged up all the old hoary cliches - the only problem being he and Gray seem to think they are fonts of timeless truth:

Keys: "Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her."

Gray: "Can you believe that? A female linesman. Women don't know the offside rule."

Keys: "Course they don't. I can guarantee you there will be a big one today. Kenny (Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish) will go potty. This isn't the first time, is it? Didn't we have one before?"

Who knows, maybe Keys and Gray are just aficionados of cutting edge comedy, parodying neanderthal attitudes, satirists to the nth degree?

Or maybe they're a pair of dinosaurs letting slip their true feelings about the place of women in "the beautiful game". The irony, of course, is that Massey was correct in her decision but why let that stand in the way of a bit of casual misogyny. (She's not a "one" Richard, she's a woman.)

And dragging Kenny Dalglish into it sets off another interesting tangent. If women can't understand the offside rule - which obviously they can't despite what FIFA say - how can "they" even present footie on the box.

You know people like Gabby Logan, Kirsty Gallacher, Georgie Thompson and, er, Kelly Dalglish, former Sky colleague and daughter of Kenny.

Maybe they're just tokenistic eye-candy ...

But Keys was only getting off his tracksuit in the chauvinist stakes. Referring to an article in the papers that morning by Karren Brady in which she had the temerity to complain of rampant sexism in the game, Keys quickly put her in her box: "The game's gone mad. Did you hear charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Do me a favour, love."

That "love" says it all, doesn't it? Patronising, dismissive, and deeply fearful.

The game (for which read the world) has gone mad - women in football/women in the workplace/women fullstop. After all, Sian Massey may have spent years getting her badges and certificates. But that doesn't count for anything. She couldn't possibly understand the offside rule. Only a blokey bloke bloke could possibly grasp its complexities. It's in the genes.

But why get upset about two old throwbacks indulging in a bit of badinage? Well, because Sian Massey has dedicated years of her life to a game which she probably loves with as much intensity as Keys and Gray (and probably collects only a fraction of their financial rewards).

More so, trying to make her mark in - as Keys and Gray amply demonstrate - an absurdly macho culture like football takes courage, guts and a thick skin.

To have all that so casually dismissed in a pathetic "pee the highest" bout of braggadocio isn't just a case for shrugged shoulders and "what do you expect?"

Keys and Gray are the front people for the sport generally and Sky Sports in particular.

Sky never tires of telling us how it "revolutionised" the game, bringing it to a whole new fan base. Football into the living rooms of oh, so polite middle class Britain.

New Britain, New Football ...

But Keys and Gray's remarks show that it hasn't - multiple camera angles or not - really changed that much. Yeah, it's nice to pretend it's for all the family but when it really counts, when you think the mikes are turned off and you're among your own kind, well, the truth will out ...

I think it's time for the referee to brandish a couple of cards.

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