Tag Archives: Andy Gray

For women’s football to suceed the culture of UK football must change

So the Women’s World Cup has been going on for a week – and predictably the dinosaurs have come out of hiding. The worst comment has come from Marconi Aureilo Cunha head of women’s football development at the Brazilian FA who thinks make up and shorter shorts is the key to growing women’s football. Its obvious this twit would vote for Sepp Blatter in a FIFA Presidential election. God knows what Marta – the best player in the world – thinks of that. If I were her I’d have done a Diego Costa quit Brazil and qualify to play for a country that treats female footballers with more respect.

That would not be the UK. A friend of mine – who has never seen a women’s game – thinks you could pick eleven men off the electoral register at random and they would beat the eleven best women. And when Oliver Holt wrote a sympathetic article on women’s football in the Mail on Sunday the comments were horrific. They were complaints that women’s football was being rammed down people’s throats by the BBC (and here is me thinking TV sets have remote controls so you can easily get away from anything you don’t want to watch. I don’t like golf. Guess what? I choose not to watch it!) But I suspect it is partly the culture of male football in the UK that makes it hard for women’s football to be accepted here.

The perception of women’s football in the UK is that with the ball at their feet women can be as skilful as men but the game lacks pace and power. I should say I am not saying that is true. The skill bit is. Anyone who has seen goals by Eugenie Le Sommer, Maren Mjelde and Daniela Montoya – among others at this World Cup  – will agree with Jean Williams when she writes (in “A Game for Rough Girls?” page 121) that “Girls and women are clearly physically able to execute the skills”. That makes football different from say baseball where I don’t think women can hit 400 foot home runs or throw 95 mph fastballs. But it doesn’t matter if the perception is true or not. That is what people think about women’s football (even the players themselves think this).

That would not be a problem for women’s football if football fans liked skill. But in my opinion UK football culture does not think skill is as important as pace power and tackling and that is why women’s football struggles to gain public acceptance. There are plenty examples of this attitude. In the 1970s skilful players were called “fanny merchants” by fans. Note the reference to female anatomy. Glenn Hoddle – one of the most skilful players English football has produced was nicknamed “Glenda” by the UK press because he didn’t tackle and run about like an idiot. Again note the female reference. And this continues to this day. Andy Gray – in the second most ludicrous thing he ever said – kept saying about Lionel Messi – a candidate for the greatest footballer of all time – “Could he do it on a cold rainy night at Stoke?”. He said this because Stoke at the time were the most physical team in the Premier League (they have refined their style since then).  The implication being that small skilful players can’t cope with the physicality of English football. Only a culture that holds skill in contempt would even dream of asking that question.

More examples of this culture come from German football writer/broadcaster Raphael Honigstein. In his book “Englisher Fussball” he writes that “during a Sunday kickabout in England you get tackled to bits” and that English players “steam into each bone crunching challenge with a happy sense of abandon”. Yet no one would say German football was soft and even a German was horrified  by the physicality of our game.

And the fact that Lee Cattermole gets employment in the Premier League sums up the UK football culture. Cattermole is a physical player who loves to tackle. He got 14 bookings in the Premier League in the season just finished. But as the Daily Telegraph put it in March 2014 “He struggles with the ball at his feet”. Yes you have read it right. A guy who struggles with the ball at his feet earns a living playing football (the clue is in the name of the sport). There are a lot of women in Canada who don’t struggle with the ball at their feet and yet earn less than this nonentity who in my opinion would not gain employment as a footballer in any other country in Europe. I should stress that tackling and power have a place in football but surely if you win the ball in a tackle you should be able to know what to do with it.

This football mentality is also in my opinion why England’s men have failed to win a major international event since 1966. And it explains one of the fundamental reasons why women’s football is not accepted here (there are plenty of others). But if a sport is perceived to be skilful in a culture that doses not regard skill as highly as pace power and tackling it will struggle to gain acceptance. Until the whole culture of UK football changes women’s football will always struggle to gain the recognition it deserves. And even for those who don’t care about women’s football there should be a motive for getting rid of the likes of Lee Cattermole and prioritising skill over physicality. It might give England’s men a chance of winning something again…

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.