Scotland’s shame…and pride?

I was going to write about something else today. But something happened yesterday that made me so angry I had to write what I am about to write. I’m still angry even as I type this.
I’ll start with a question. Apart from being blatantly sexist what do the following remarks have in common?

“If I had my way today’s Premiership fixture between Motherwell and Ros County would have been cancelled. That’s because Fir Park should have ben torched on Thursday in order to cleanse the stadium after it played host to women’s football.”

“Can you believe that? Women don’t know the offside rule”. Why is there a female linesman? Somebody’s —- up big”.

“But put political correctness to one side and ask whether the clamour for equality justifies the amount of cash resources being thrown at it (women’s football) when grassroots football is in neglect”.

“I hope she’s looking after your needs. I bet you’d love a bounce on her falseies”

“She’s dragged herself out of the kitchen”.

The answer is that they all involved Scots. From the top down Tam Cowan, Andy Gray, Gordon “Jurassic” Parks* Malky Mackay (I don’t know if him or Ian Moody wrote that text) and Sir Alex Ferguson (to a female journalist on International Women’s Day 2013). To my mind that is more than a coincidence. Five different Scots involved in sexist remarks. Add to that Alan Brazil’s remarks about Robin Williams’ suicide and George Galloway MP and his views about rape and you have a clear pattern. Scotland is a sexist backwater full of dinosaurs. Frankly if I was running an English football club I would not employ a Scottish manager. if I ran an english TV or radio station I would not employ an ex Scottish player as a pundit. I don’t know why Scotland is like this. My mother – god rest her soul – called non whites “Pakis” – we had furious arguments over this – and of course the West of Scotland is full of sectarianism. Also the current independence referendum has turned nasty with “No” posters being vandalised by the SNP’s lunatic fringe. I am ashamed to be from Scotland. And yet as I will write later there is another side to this story…
But before I go on to that two further points about the Mackay affair. The League Manager’s Association (LMA) called the texts (there were also racist and homophobic remarks) “banter”– a word with which we are becoming depressingly familiar with and seems to be becoming a catch all defence to allow people in football to say what they want. I know a trade union – which is what the LMA is – is meant to defend their members but there are – or should be – limits. Even worse is an article in today’s “Daily Telegraph” in which Henry Winter writes “Educators must take action as FA will not”. The FA should not be investigating this. As I have said before football should have an independent regulator – most other UK industries do – which could investigate matters like this. Having the FA investigate is like having football investigate itself. It won’t work.
But back to Scotland. Despite the fact that the country would appear to be a sexist backwater there are signs of hope. A Scot – Andy Murray – has appointed a female coach. A Scottish club – Stirling University has just this week appointed a female manager – Shelly Kerr. Of the four main political parties in Scotland two have female leaders and another has a female deputy leader.
And in a bizarre paradox this sexist backwater has a good women’s national team that has at least a 50-50 chance of going to the World Cup in Canada next year. It has produced in my opinion the best female player in Britain’s history Rose Reilly** as well as Julie Fleeting and an early female football pioneer in Nettie Honeyball. The current Scottish women’s football team has players like Kim Little – the Americans wish she could play for them – and Lisa Evans who plays for one of the beat teams in Europe Turbine Potsdam. Frankly Scotland has got a NWT it does not deserve (its home games are shown live on BBC Alba – a Gaelic channel so the commentary is not in English!). Frankly if this team qualifies for the World Cup amid the hatred of the sexists it would be an amazing feat. Good luck to them. If they play in Canada next year hopefully they will get support and show Scotland in a different light.

*A sports journalist with the Scottish Daily Record (the nickname is mine). He thinks football in Scotland should not be on TV – a view that died out elsewhere in the 1980s – and that fans should be allowed to drink alcohol at grounds. In a country where there are riots at Rangers v Celtic youth games that is asking for trouble. I bet he wishes James Callaghan was still in Number 10…

**Rose Reilly deserves to have a book written about her. Banned from Sottish women’s football for life in 1975 she carved out a career in Europe. She won an unoffical women’s World Cup with Italy (her adopted country) in 1983 scoring a 40 yard goal in the Final. Among her feats was winning the League title in two different nations in the same season (1978-79.). That season she played on Saturday evenings for Italian team Lecce and Sunday afternoons for French team Reims – and both won their League titles! Add to that the fact that Jock Stein’s Celtic sent a scout to watch her when she played for her local boys club (she had to cut her hair short and call herself Ross to play for them. When her ruse got discovered she was banned) and you have a remarkable person. And I stand by my view that she is the best female player Britain has produced although she is from my part of the world (North Ayrshire) so I could be biased.

Finally the British journalist and academic Carrie Dunn is doing a sponsored 10k walk on September 28th to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society. If anyone reading this is on Facebook or Twitter please ask their followers to go to http://www.justgiving.com.carries-memory-walk280914 and donate to this wonderful cause.
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Too much too young

An unusual sporting event starts in Williamsport, Virginia. It is the Little league World Series a baseball tournament for 11-13 year olds. The unusual thing about it is it is live on ESPN Television in the USA and has been on American TV since 1953. It used to be on TV in the UK too but not now. I could never watch it anyway – partly because Little League’s record on gender equality is awful* but mainly because in my opinion treating children like professional athletes is just wrong.
You think I’m exaggerating? This appeared in the Boston Globe in 2004 (reprinted in Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano’s excellent “Playing With the Boys” (page 242) and is about the response to a team of Little Leaguers from Saugus, Massachusetts in 2003:

Highlights from their Little League games were even shown on the jumbotron at Fenway Park. When the team returned home and the bus pulled into the high school parking lot on Aug 25, the players were greeted by 200 fans. As the police held the crowd back, the Little leaguers signed T-shirts, baseballs and hats on the back of a pick up truck that said “Saugus Americans, New England regional champs”.The team was also honoured by the Red Sox, and with a motorcade through Saugus”.

And this for a team of children – who weren’t even American champions. For the team that did win the US Championship – from East Boynton Beach Florida – “recognition came during Game 3 of the Major League World Series between the New York Yankees and the Florida (now Miami) Marlins. The boys met President George W Bush and Florida governor Jeb Bush and were recognised at a Miami Dolphins (American) football game. As McDonagh and Pappano say (page 242-3) this reveals a system seriously out of kilter. It will be virtually impossible for those Little League players to do anything in the future without it being noted they were members of that team. That is true even if they make it to the majors. Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds is an all star and runner-up in the 2014 Home Run Derby. And still they mention the fact he was a member of the Toms River New Jersey team that won the 1998 Little League World Series.
Of course this does not just apply to baseball. Women’s tennis used to be full of 14-year-old whizzkids – Austin, Jaeger, Hingis, Seles, Capriati – but most of them burned out too young. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) quite rightly introduced a rule that stops anyone under 15 from playing at all and limits the events 15 to 17-year-olds can play. The result? Fewer cases of burnout and 20 is considered young to be a Grand Slam finalist these days.
Not that we in Britain can gloat. Anyone who attends a boys’ football match in Britain can hear parents shouting at young children while living out their fantasies and pretending to be Mourinho or Wenger. It is an obscene spectacle and quite rightly the FA are trying to stop it.
Nor is this unique to sport. In 1974 a 10-year-old called Lena Zavaroni won Opportunity Knocks (think Britain’s Got Talent) for five weeks in a row. But the fame destroyed her. By 13 she was anorexic, and by 15 she was clinically depressed. It is at least possible her early fame was a factor.
And we haven’t learned the lesson, even today. Just last week Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole had a row over 14-year olds in the X Factor (he was for she was against). Cheryl is right. The age limit should be 16.
The point I am making – wither in sport or show business – is just let children be children. Don’t treat them like professional performers until they are ready. Let them enjoy their sport or their signing. There is plenty of time for money and fame when they are old enough to cope with it. And Little League should not be televised. Let the children enjoy themselves. Free from TV cameras and media hype.

*In 1951 Little League Baseball(LLB) introduced a rule saying “girls are not eligible under any conditions”. In 1974 they had to admit girls after they lost a New Jersey court case and the US government passed legislation allowing girls to play. Their response was to set up Little League Softball for girls on the basis that girls (aged 11-13!) could not play baseball with boys. According to John Kovach (“Where’s the Ponytail?” 2007)”At almost every Little League season sign up if you are female you are sent to the softball line and not told you have a choice. The choice is made for you”. Since 1974 only 18 girls have played in the Little League World Series – the 17th and 18th are playing this year. It could be said LLB lost the battle in 1974 but won the war. And to think this organisation has a Federal charter from the US government – meaning that “its mission and values should support those of the United States government”. I did not know it was US government policy to deny girls freedom of choice. LLB, in my opinion, must be the most sexist sports organisation in the world.

Sorry alex: Why I’m voting “No” on September 18th

Tonight sees the biggest debate in the brief history of televised political debates in the UK when Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling go head to head on Scottish Television (STV). Why is it so important? The future of the UK is at stake.
For on September 18th Scottish voters go to the polls to decide if Scotland should be independent in a referendum we didn’t want with a choice we don’t want to make. How did it come to this?
To find the answer you have to go back to the Scottish Parliament elections of 2011. Most voters wanted Alex Salmond re-elected with more seats but not a majority. But he and the Scottish National Party (SNP) won a majority for two reasons. One was Nick Clegg going into coalition with the hated (in Scotland) Tories sending his vote in Scotland into meltdown. The second was a bizarre affair known as the “Meatball Marinara Incident” where then Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray was chased by a group of anti-cuts campaigners into a Glasgow branch of Subway – all in front of TV cameras! Gray was humiliated in the press being called “chicken” the Labour vote also went into meltdown and the SNP won a landslide with 69 out of 129 seats – amazingly under a PR system designed to stop one party winning a majority. The SNP majority meant a referendum on independence was inevitable – and yet it was hardly ever mentioned in the campaign. It was more a case of as Herbert Morrison (Peter Mandelson’s grandfather) said of the 1950 UK General election “The British electorate has a habit of knowing what it wants and a habit of overdoing the getting of what it wants” (quoted in the British General Election of February 1974 page 268). Substitute the word “Scottish” for “British” and you have what happened in 2011.
So we got a referendum we didn’t want. Even more bizarre, most Scots according to the polls want more powers for Scotland but within the UK – the so called “Devo max” option – which is not on the ballot paper – because Alex Salmond and UK Prime Minister David Cameron couldn’t agree – so we will be voting on two options – independence or the status quo – that we don’t want. What a shambles!
So why will I be voting “No”/ First I don’t like Alex Salmond. As Iain Macwhirter writes (in “Road to Referendum” page 271) “Salmond genuinely feels that every Scot of whatever background living in Scotland should support the SNP. He can’t see why people won’t”. I suppose Vladimir Putin feels the same about the Russian people!
Second Britain is a small island – as Mr Putin said recently – so why weaken it even more by splitting it into two parts?. As the current centenary of the start of World War One shows us Britain combined has achieved great things. Things it could not do divided. United we stand divided we fall!
Thirdly there are too many questions Salmond has not answered. Here are just a few.
What would the currency be – the pound the euro or something else?
Would an independent Scotland be allowed to stay in the EU?
If the answer to the above is “No” and we had to reapply how long would it take – or would we be accepted? Remember at least two other EU nations – Spain and Belgium – have nationalist factions and won’t want to see an EU country break up – or want a new state to become a member.
How would an independent Scotland defend itself?
Would a UK Government insist on passport controls at the border to stop immigrants getting into England through Scotland?
How much would it cost to set up Scottish embassies abroad?
What happens when the oil runs out – or if the price of oil falls?
Would we still get the BBC programmes we like post independence? Would we get Sky or BT – both British companies – if we’re not British?
And that list is the tip of the iceberg. And it leads to my main reason for voting “No”. Independence is a “leap in the dark”. We don’t know if it is good for Scotland until it happens. But – and it is a big but – it we vote for independence we cannot reverse this decision. We are stuck with it forever. It is not like say voting for Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister in 2015. If we think he is rubbish we can turf him out in 2020. If we vote for independence we can not do that. And that in my opinion makes independence far too big a risk.
Finally I should say that the SNP’s internet supporters – the “Cybernats” as they are known – do not like people speaking out against them and heap abuse on anyone who dares to speak out – as the author JK Rowling recently found out. I’ve got a message for any “Cybernat” reading this. Say what you want. You won’t bully me!

Moeen Ali, sport and politics

As well as writing this blog I sometimes comment on stories on the Daily Telegraph’s website. The debates can be “interesting” but I’ve never caused so much trouble as I did with my comments on the Moeen Ali affair. So I’m using this platform to explain my views on this issue.
For those who don’t know Moeen Ali is an english muslim cricketer who during the third Test between England and India came out to bat wearing wristbands saying “free Gaza” and “save Palestine”. The ECB who run english cricket said he’d done nothing wrong but the ICC the sport’s equivalent of FIFA banned him from wearing them. To my mind as a human being concerned about the death of children he had every right to comment on that issue. But the Telegraph’s readers slaughtered him coming out with that old chestnut “sport should be kept out of politics”.
There is one problem with this argument. Sport can’t be kept out of politics. The late great Nelson Mandela would confirm this. As did ex Pakistani cricketer Asif iqbal when he said “Sport is politicised the moment nation states take the decision to enter the sporting arena under their national banners” (Anyone but England, Mike Marquesee, page 250) Or Jennifer Doyle when she said “there is no such thing as an apoltical space” (The Sport Spectacle, Olympic Problem, August 2013). Sport is part of the real world. So is politics. They can’t avoid each other.
That raises the question: Why does the sporting establishment want to keep sport out of politics? What I am going to say now is just my theory. It might or might not be true.
I think – and most people would agree – that the sporting establishment can be racist, sexist homophobic, authoritarian and corrupt. Some governing bodies might be all of the above. As Margaret Talbot* says “sport remains one of the most conservative and inflexible areas of public life, lagging far behind other social structures”. Jean Williams has said “In England at least the topic of women’s sports should be more politicised” (A Game for Rough Girls? page 150). And Des Wilson ** asked “is sport accountable to no one? Why should it be unique in its ability to be so?”. Wilson has hit the nail on the head. The sporting establishment does not want to be accountable for its behaviour so by spreading the myth that sport and politics should be kept apart it prevents itself from suffering its worst nightmare. An independent regulator for sport as suggested by William Buckland in his book “Pommies” (pages 264-5) something that other industries face. Put simply the sporting establishment wants to do whatever it likes.
There is one irony though. By choosing dictatorships to host sporting events – from the 1934 World Cup to this years’ Winter Olympics – the sporting establishment causessport to be politicised as dictators from Mussolini to Putin use sports events as their “political plaything”. The sporting establishment in my opinion likes dictatorships – no pesky free press or protesters to worry about – so much so they don’t even realise they are bringing politics into their own events – the one thing they say they don’t want to do.
As for Moeen Ali yesterday he took six wickets to help win the Test match for England while being cheered by the crowd. That suggests either the public forgave him for his protest – or that they thought he had done nothing wrong in the first place. Either way the bigots of the “Torygraph” and the ICC are out of touch with the British public. Not for the first time…
*She was speaking at a European Women and Sport conference in 2000, but what she said could still apply today.
** Des Wilson is an interesting man. A New Zealander who came to Britain in 1960, among other things he founded the housing charity Shelter, stood as a Liberal candidate in Hove in 1973 and February 1974 and was the campaign manager of the Lib Dems in 1992. He was also a director of BAA plc and has written books on poker. He took a job at the ECB in 2003 but resigned a year later when he made the quote I used above. Described as an “anti-establishment radical” it will surprise no one that he is not now a Lib Dem and has been scathing about Nick Clegg (although he left the Lib Dems long before 2010). What does surprise me is that he took a job with the conservative and establishment ECB in the first place and it was no surprise to me he didn’t last long.

Commonwealth Games and the disunited Kingdom

The opening ceremony of the biggest sporting event ever held in Scotland, the Commonwealth Games takes place tomorrow in Glasgow. While we wait and see how it compares with Danny Boyle’s brilliant opening ceremony for London 2012, it is interesting to see the BBC hype what is really a harmless anachronism – the games started in 1930 as the British Empire Games but of course the British Empire doses not exist anymore – and treat it like London 2012. BBC 1 will have coverage all day from 9.00 am to 10.00pm – breaking off only for the news – while BBC 3 will also cover it from 9.00 am to 10.00pm. The BBC are even moving their popular soap opera “EastEnders” to BBC 2 for the duration of the Games. Yet if the BBC think that this event will be as popular as London 2012 they are mistaken.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that these games do not have the once in a lifetime feel that the Olympics did. The UK had not hosted the Olympics since 1948 and I reckon we’ll be all dead when/if they next come here. In contrast the Commonwealth Games were in the UK four times between 1948 and 2012 and even Scotland has hosted them twice before (Edinburgh 1970 and 1986). They were here as recently as 2002 in Manchester (the athletics were held at what is now Manchester City’s stadium). This is no unique event.
However the main reason this event will not be 2012 revisited is the fact there is no team GB to cheer on. Britain will be divided into seven different teams*. Personally I hate the division of the UK in sport and I wish it would stop. I suspect no one reading this will agree with me – only the MP for Tewksbury Laurence Robinson has come out in support for this – but no other country in the world would divide itself this way. Imagine the 50 states of the USA having their own teams or Australia splitting itself into its states. It wouldn’t happen – even though like Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland the states of the USA and Australia have their own governments. The Australians will probably top the medal table at Glasgow 2014 yet I reckon if team GB were in the Games we would beat them – as we did in London 2012 and the Aussies must be laughing at us. Also last week the Daily Telegraph revealed that English athletes are worried they will be booed in Glasgow. While I don’t think that will happen I am certain it would not happen had we all been united as team GB.
In the case of football the division is even more serious as it is an obstacle to gender equality in two ways. English women players Casey Stoney and Kelly Smith have come out in favour of a team GB women’s football team at Rio 2016 (provided England qualify in the World cup next year) but as the (male dominated) FAs of Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland won’t risk it in case it means they have to give up their independent status they would have more chance of being listened to by the speaking clock. Doubtless people will say we don’t have a male team at the Olympics either but that misses the point. Men’s football does not need the Olympics. Women’s football does. That is sexism disguised as equality. Which makes it worse.
Another point is the Laws of the Game. As Jennifer Doyle has pointed out FIFA rules allow children, the disabled, the ‘old’ and WOMEN (her capitals) to play on smaller fields with smaller balls and goals. While Doyle is right to say this is wrong it is not FIFA’s fault it is the UK’s.That is because the laws of football are made by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). This organisation has eight members – four of them from the UK. As law changes have to be approved by a 6-2 majority that gives the UK a veto over the laws of football. You’d think the UK would realise that is a nonsensical anomaly but no. Stewart Reagan of the SFA – an organisation that makes its English equivalent look progressive – has said a GB Olympic team would mean “no seat for Scotland at IFAB” which raises the question “why should they have one”? The UK having a veto over the laws of football would have been out of date in 1924 never mind 2014. What on earth are the UK FAs scared of?
It is clear that both in the case of national unity – a big sporting event should unite a country but the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup both divide the UK – and fairness – that the splitting up of the UK in some sports is an anachronism that unlike the Commonwealth Games is not harmless. A rule should be brought in that to be in a sporting event a country must be a member of the United Nations. With no exceptions.
* The seven British teams in the Commonwealth Games are England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. To make it more absurd last week a Daily Telegraph letter writer suggested Cornwall should have its own team. Where will it end?

Will Kerrigan pass his second Test?

I suspect nobody reading this can remember what they were doing on Wednesday August 21st 2013. However I bet that one man can. He’ll wish he can’t but I bet he never will forget. That man is cricketer Simon Kerrigan, then a 24-year old slow left arm spinner from Lancashire.
For on that day Kerrigan achieved the ambition of every cricket mad young boy in England. He made his Test debut for England. Not only that it was against Australia in the Ashes – in the fifth Test at the Oval. He must have been so happy. Until England captain Alistair Cook gave him the ball in the 21st over of Australia’s first innings. And then the nightmare begun.
Actually his first two deliveries went for singles. OK, nothing to worry about. But two of his next four – one a full toss – were hit for four by Australia’s Shane Watson. Ten off the first over. Not good. Surely his second over would be better?
Well no. it was worse. Much worse. Four of the six deliveries were hammered for four by Watson and another one went for two. Eighteen off the over leaving him with figures of 2-0-28-0. To make maters worse, most of the deliveries were short, slow long hops that I reckon EMMA Watson could have hit for four never mind Shane. To use cricket slang it was an over of “pies”. Worse he looked terrified.
Understandably, Cook had seen enough and dispatched him back to the outfield before inviting him to try and do better in the 56th over of Australia’s innings. However he did not do better. He didn’t concede as many runs – but that was only because Cook had men on the boundary to turn fours into ones and because some of his deliveries were so bad the batsmen couldn’t reach them to hit. Cricinfo – the world’s most popular cricket website – was typng the words “long hop” and “full toss” with depressing frequency and when he did land the ball on the spot he got an ironic cheer from the crowd. He only bowled eight overs in the day (for 53 runs) and his dream had turned into a living hell. Unsurprisingly Cook did not risk him for the remaining four days of a drawn match and he vanished from the scene like a minor character in a film. Which is what he was.
The press reaction was predictable. I still remember the front page of the Daily Telegraph’s sport section showed a picture of Kerrigan looking terrified with a headline “LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER”. The “Cricketer” magazine gave him a rating of 0 out of 10 for his performance (actually I was surprised he got that high a mark!) while the cricket bible Wisden said Watson was “swatting away some undistinguished deliveries as 28 came from his first two overs” also adding “he (Kerrigan) was a peripheral figure for the rest of the match” (Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2014, page 362). Everyone was agreed on one thing. Kerrigan would go down as a footnote in history. Just like Alan Butcher (1979), Paul Parker (1981) John Stephenson (1989) Neil Williams (1990) and Alan Wells (1995) he would play the last Test of the season fail and be banished to county cricket forever destined to be no more than a historical curiosity.
Until Sunday that is when Kerrigan – now 25- was named in England’s 14 man squad for the second Test against India at Lord’s to general astonishment. How did that happen? Well events went in his favour. England’s best spinner Grahame Swann retired the next best two Monty Panesar and James Tredwell can’t get into their county teams. Scott Borthwick and Moeen Ali have been tried and found wanting and England’s spin cupboard is like old Mother Hubbard’s…only barer. Add to that the fact that England’s coach Peter Moores was Kerrigan’s coach at Lancashire until this year and you have the reasons for his recall.
So the question is: If Kerrigan plays will he do any better? Well some great players have recovered from awful Test debuts. Len Hutton scored 0 and 1 on debut in 1937.And he did all right. Viv Richards (scored 4 and 3 in 1974), Graham Gooch (0 and 0 in 1975) Marvin Attapatu (0 and 0 in 1990) and Shane Warne (took 1-150 in 1992) all had bad debuts and became good or great Test players. But the omens for Kerrigan are not good. Today’s Daily Telegraph has the headline “Nervy Kerrigan fails Test dress rehearsal” and mentions that “two of Kerrigan’s first three bals were full tosses” an alarming reminder of what happened back in August last year. Add to this the fact that India’s batsmen are the best players of spin in the world and it doesn’t look good.
So the questions start to be asked. Will he get picked? If he is picked when will Cook bowl him? Will he cope with the pressure? if he bowls full tosses and long hops and India’s batsmen hammer him like Watson did will he fall apart again? How much rope will Cook give him? Oh and the eyes of every cricket fan in the UK will be on him with a mixture of hope and fear. The pressure on Kerrigan will be huge. But that is why we call it Test cricket…

Time to end monopoly of ex player mafia

We’re going to start today with a history lesson. Let’s go back to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico generally reckoned to be the best ever and won by the best Brazil team ever including Pele, Jairzino, Tostao, Carlos Alberto and Rivelino. It was the first World Cup to be televised in colour in the UK although only 500,000 households had the required sets.It is hard to believe now, but England’s hopes were so high UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson called a general election for the day after the Semi Finals “it occurred to political commentators that a buoyant electorate would be less inclined to turf out the incumbent government if England reached the Final” (England – the Quest for the World Cup, Clive Leatherdale, page 139). But England were knocked out in the Quarter Finals on June 14th – and on the 18th Wilson lost the election. Amazingly some people think the football defeat played a role in the election result!
The TV coverage in 1970 featured something new – namely “the Panel” – a group of people who commented on the game before it started, at half time and after the match had ended. The panel appeared on both TV networks – the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Independent Television (ITV). The BBC used Ian st John, Bob Wilson, Don Revie and Brian Clough, while ITV had Pat Crerand, Derek Dougan, Malcolm Allison and Bob McNab – all past or present players or as I call them the ex player mafia (EPM for short).
A lot of things have changed since 1970. Everybody in the UK watches TV in colour, and in digital with multi channel content (in 1970 we had three channels). The Brazil team are their worst ever,and no UK Prime Minister would dare call an election during the World Cup and rely on England’s progress. We can share our opinions by using Facebook and Twitter or we can blog. But one thing has not changed in 44 years. You still have to be a member of the EPM to comment on games on TV. Only the names have changed. We now have Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen, Robbie Savage, Gordon Strachan and Glenn Hoddle among others. And both the BBC and ITV have studios in Brazil which in the case of the BBC is a waste of licence payers’ money*.
In my opinion a question that must be asked is why do you have to be a member of the EPM to comment on football on TV? One important side effect of this is the lack of women in World Cup TV coverage. The BBC have one woman in Brazil – Gabby Logan who is not in the studio – while ITV does not have quite as many. One of the excuses for this is you have to be a member of the EPM to comment on football but there are ex women players – Hope Powell for example – who could do the job. But it shouldn’t have to be ex players anyway. CLR James’ phrase “what do they know that only cricket know?” can also apply to football.
But the EPM monopoly does not just discriminate against women. It discriminates against 99 per cent of the people of the UK. Anyone who has watched a game in the pub, took part in an internet forum or listened to a radio phone-in will know the EPM does not have a monopoly of football wisdom. One example is the excellent Jennifer Doyle. Anyone who has read her blog or Twitter comments will know she produces more sense than 90% of the EPM. I’d rather read her than listen to Robbie Savage any day. And there are plenty of people like her. I think Sir Alan Sugar – an ex football club chairman – and Karen Brady – the managing director of a football club – are perfectly capable of talking sense about football.
Now I’m not saying the EPM should not be on TV at all. Some of them are excellent – Gary Neville, Andy Gray (before he made a fool of himself) and Alan Hansen for example. But some are awful – Phil Neville, Savage and Mark Lawrenson to name but three. Are we really saying no one outside of the EPM can be better than them?
As so often a look outside the football world can expose the EPM’s monopoly for the absurd anomaly it is. Another UK obsession is politics. The BBC has a weekly political debate show called “Question Time”. The panel on that is never all past or present politicians. Businessmen, agony aunts, pop singers, historians and journalists have all appeared. Even footballer Joey Barton has been on this programme. If a footballer can comment on politics why can’t a politician comment on football?
It is time for the EPM’s monopoly of football comment on TV to be called out for what it is. Blatant discrimination against 99% of football fans in the UK.In an ideal world football would be like “Question Time”. Some of the people talking about the games would be ex players. But some would not and at least one would be a woman. Who knows the mixture of “insider” and “outsider” perspectives might produce a better standard of debate.
Football on TV is dominated by a clique. Just like the UK Conservative Party. To do well in the Conservative Party it helps to be white male and an old Etonian. Yet Conservative MPs have been attacking football because of its sexism. When you are getting lectures on equality from the snobbish and elitist Conservative Party you know you have problems. It is time to start solving them. It is time to end the EPM’s monopoly.
*If anyone from outside the UK is reading this they might not understand the phrase “licence payers money”. The BBC is funded by a licence fee – currently £145.50 a year – that you have to pay if you have a TV. Even if you don’t watch a second of the BBC’s output. A lot of people call this “the TV poll tax.” A lot of people think sending a gang of ex footballers to Brazil for a month – when they could watch the games in the BBC’s Salford studios – is a waste of money.