Tag Archives: Marta

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…

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Who’ll be the Queens of Canada?

The Football World Cup starts on Saturday. I suspect most people reading this will think “Wasn’t the football World Cup last year?” Well yes – but this year it is the Women’s World Cup in Canada (for simplicity’s sake – and to annoy sexist FIFA – I’ll be hitherto calling it the World Cup). So I thought I’d try another preview/prediction post. What can we expect in Canada over the next month?

It should be an exciting event despite two complaints. Twenty four teams is a ridiculous number. The women’s game has improved so that 16 teams was too few – but it should have gone up to 32. First it would have gave women equality to men and secondly twenty four is an uneven number that means third place teams have to go into the knockout rounds which makes the tournament harder to predict. The second beef is the artificial turf. No more needs be said. A men’s World cup will be played on turf on the twelfth of never. The women should be playing on grass. But having made those complaints what might happen in Canada. First let us look at the groups:

Group A – Canada, China, New Zealand, Holland – What Canada will turn up? At the 2011 World Cup they lost every game. Just a year later they got a bronze medal at the Olympics. They have the players – especially Christine Sinclair – but can they cope with being hosts? I think they can. Home advantage helped Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics and I think it will help them here. A Semi Final is a possibility perhaps even the Final. Of the other teams in the group Holland could have done well – but young prodigy Vivianne Miedema will miss the first game and might miss more. Without this player they would not be in Canada and won’t be able to compete here. At the 2013 Euros Holland (without Miedema) did not score a goal. New Zealand will compete well. Even against good teams  – Great Britain (at the Olympics), Brazil, France and Japan – they lose narrowly. While it will be interesting if China – who lost the 1999 World Cup only on penalty kicks – have begun to reverse their decline.

Predicted Qualifiers – Canada, New Zealand, Holland

Group B – Germany, Norway, Thailand, Ivory Coast – One of the more clear cut groups. Germany are one of the elite teams. Stuffed with stars – Celia Sasic, Nadine Angerer and the brilliant Dzenifer Marozan – they could well win a World Cup for the second year running. European runners up Norway should qualify with them. Thailand and the Ivory Coast will struggle and as Germany score a lot of goals even the team that finishes third might very well not qualify as the third place teams that qualify might very well be decided on goal difference.

Predicted Qualifiers – Germany and Norway

Group C – Japan, Switzerland, Cameroon, Ecuador – Japan were surprise winners in 2011 and have been underestimated again. But they are a good team – no outstanding individuals but a team – and will make a good defence of the title. Switzerland resemble Belgium in the men’s game. At the last Euros they trailed miles behind Germany in their qualifying group but they have a group of emerging players led by the experienced Lara Dickenmann and young stars like Ramona Bachmann and they could be a surprise team. Cameroon were poor at the Olympics and will need to improve. Ecuador are an unknown quality but based on Cameroon’s form might just scrape through in third.

Predicted Qualifiers – Japan, Switzerland, Ecuador

Group D – USA, Nigeria, Sweden, Australia – Every World Cup has a group of death – and here it is. Unlike the men’s game the USA are one of the favourites with a galaxy of stars – Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Megan Rampone among them – and they will contend again. The squad has an average of 100 caps and that is both a help (experience) and a hindrance (some – like Wambach – might be past their best). Sweden are a powerhouse of the women’s game but they have struggled in the last year – beaten 3-0 by France and 4-0 by England for example – and could be shock underachievers. Lotta Schelin might have to score a lot of goals to compensate for a leaky defence. They could be vulnerable to Nigeria – the best team in Africa and Asiast Oshola – the first BBC Women’s player of the year – could be a star. She was top scorer in the under 20 World Cup in Canada so has the advantage of knowing the grounds and the conditions. Australia – like in last year’s men’s World Cup – have an awful draw. In a different group the “Matildas” could have qualified. But not in this one.

Predicted Qualifiers – USA, Nigeria, Sweden

Group E – Brazil, South Korea, Spain, Costa Rica – An interesting group but not one that will produce the winner. Brazil have the best player in the world  – Marta – but they are not supported by their FA and do well despite a sexist FA. Also judging by the under 20 World Cup they don’t have the emerging talent that other teams do and the Marta generation might be a one off. Spain are an emerging team with the talent – especially Vero Boquette – but another sexist FA. They have had the same manager since 1988 – but as since this is their first World Cup this is because the FA don’t give a toss rather than because the team was doing well. South Korea should also go through – they boast England’s player of the year JI So -yun – while Costa Rica like Australia – might have qualified from another group and also have a star player in Shirley Cruz Trana.

Predicted Qualifiers – Brazil, Spain, South Korea

Group F – France, England, Mexico, Columbia – The qualifiers should be obvious here. France are absolutely loaded with talent but like the South African male cricket team have a reputation of crumbling under pressure. But they should win this group. England have a  lot of good players. Strikers Toni Duggan, Leanne Sanderson ,Ellen White, Eniola Aluko and Fran Kirby midfielders like Fara Williams, Jordan Nobbs and Karen Carney and defenders like Casey Stoney are examples. All are good but with Kelly Smith now retired none are outstanding and that could be England’s problem. They could be knocked out in the last 16 the last eight or  – if they play really well – they have an outside chance of a Semi Final. However they should get out of the group – probably in second place behind France. Mexico probably won’t be the threat they were in 2011 – when they drew with England and nearly stopped eventual runners up the USA from qualifying for the tournament. Columbia are described by  football writer Jennifer Doyle as “exciting” and could be dangerous but I suspect the third place team in this group won’t qualify.

Predicted Qualifiers  – France, England

So what will happen form there?. With no confidence whatsoever I predict the following:

Winners – USA. If both they and Germany win their groups and they keep on winning they will meet in the Semi Finals. The winner of that match will probably win the event and I think the USA’s experience will trump Germany’s youth.

Runners up – Japan

Semi Finals – Canada and Germany

Quarter Finals – England, France, Brazil and Switzerland

Last 16 – Ecuador, Sweden, Holland, South Korea,  New Zealand, Spain, Norway and Nigeria

My wish for the event? That the UK press behaves itself. The BBC in the UK are covering every match live for the first time and the sexists are already moaning that no one wants to watch it or it will be rubbish. First point. I want to watch it. But I don’t admit that because my friends would ridicule me. I – and I’m sure I’m not the only one – am “a shy women’s football fan”. That is because the press have made women’s football so toxic that no one will admit to liking it (there is a similarity here of course with the “shy Tories” who wouldn’t admit to voting Tory and thus made the result of the recent UK General Election such a surprise to pundits). The second point? There will be bad football at this World Cup – as there was in Brazil last year. Having sat through Nigeria v Iran and watched Brazil’s awful defending in the Germany semi-Final I know that to be true. But the vast majority of the football in Canada will be far above the level the event’s sexist critics could aspire to. I hope the press recognises this.

Good luck to all 24 teams in Canada. May the best women win!

Sport is still rife with sexism

A couple of months ago I was watching TV when there was a knock on the door. I answered it and a friend came in. He noticed that I was watching a women’s tennis match involving Canadian Eugenie Bouchard and he said the following:

“You can’t like watching this crap! The only reason you’re watching it is to look at her legs!”

I don’t know how I didn’t lose my temper. At first I was angry that he thought I was so shallow as to be only watching Bouchard to look at her legs. He knew me. He must have known I wasn’t like that. But then when I had calmed down I realised it wasn’t me he was insulting but Ms Bouchard. And here’s why:

Although she hasn’t played as well this year Bouchard is a player who aged 21 has reached a Wimbledon Final and two other Grand Slam Semi Finals. She is ranked six in the world. In other words she plays tennis better than 99 per cent of the human beings on this planet. And yet this guy thought the only reason she was worth watching was because of her legs!

The reason I suddenly thought of this incident was it was an example of the sexism that still pervades sport. And recently there were two spectacular examples of sexism in sport.

One came in Italian football. The President of the country’s amateur football association Felice Belloli is alleged to have said when asked about funding for women’s football  “That’s enough, we can’t always talk about giving money to this bunch of lesbians”. He denied saying that but a woman offical said she was at that meeting and that he did make the remark. To no ones surprise he is still in post.

The other example is closer to home. On the 14th of May the women’s editor of the Daily Telegraph Emma Barnett wrote an article about women’s sport. The next week she received the most ridiculous letter I have ever seen It was written on pink paper by a person who did not reveal their name. The letter said:

No one wants to watch women’s sport love, its a joke, pony tails swaying, tits bouncing, come on get serious. Put ’em back in the kitchen where they belong and leave sport to the warriors of the species not the dykes.

As UK journalist Richard Littlejohn would say “You couldn’t make it up!’

While it is true that sport is by no means the only place you see sexism in the unique thing about sport is that the sexism generally does not come from male participants. They are exceptions to this – French tennis player Jo-Wilfred Tsonga made sexist remarks about female tennis players and footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic made sexist remarks about female footballers after the Swedish press asked him if  the best female player in Sweden Lotta Schelin was as good as him – cases of sexism by elite sportsmen are rare. Generally they respect their female colleagues. Most of the sexism in sport comes from journalists, officials like Richard Scudamore and Sepp Blatter or fans like my friend or whoever wrote that letter to Emma Barnett. And to my mind that makes the sexism worse.

While it is wrong for Tsonga and Ibrahimovic to make the remarks they did at least they are elite sportsmen. The likes of Blatter, Scudamore and what World Soccer magazine (April 2005 issue) called “intransigent, cynical, beer-swilling blokes plonked in front of Sky at four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon” would not last five minutes against elite female footballers. So why on earth do they make sexist remarks about people who play football better than they ever could? Same with my friend who made that remark about Bouchard. Why do people think they can get away with deogratory remarks about people who do the job better than they do?

Next month sees the Women’s Football World Cup in Canada. For some reason women’s football attracts more press and public odium than any other female sport (even women who play other traditional male sports like cricket boxing and rugby don’t get attacked as much). One thing that can be predicted with depressing certainty. There will be a lot of sexism at this tournament. And the really annoying part of that will be that the vast majority of that sexism will come from armchair critics who will be incapable of producing football anywhere near the quality the likes of Alex Morgan, Marta, Lotta Schelin, Eugenie Le Sommer, Vero Boquete, Lara Dickenmann,Toni Duggan, Nadine Angerer and the brilliant Dezenifer Marozan – to name but a few – will produce. And that proves that not only is sport rife with sexism, the sexism in sport is more nasty than in any other field.

For at least in other fields (politics to give one example) a lot of sexism is done by other politicians. Which doesn’t make it right but at least means the people who are doing it are good at the job. Where as in sport I would love to see the sexist journalists, officials and fans who spout this rubbish take on elite sportswomen on the field. They wouldn’t last five minutes. It would be very funny. And it might shut them up!

Who should win the Ballon d’or?

Welcome to 2015! I hope everybody had a merry Christmas and a happy new year. But now it is back to normal – as I found out on Monday when I had my first unwanted phone call (some guy trying to sell double glazing) and I switched on Sky News and saw Ed Miliband speaking and thought “Oh god four months of this to go before the UK’s General Election”. However, back to normal means award ceremonies – and as the first one of the year is the FIFA Ballon D’or awards on Monday I thought I would write on who should win – and how we the people can embarrass Sepp Blatter.
The main award is the Ballon D’or (“Golden Ball”) which is awarded to the FIFA male player of the year (not the female one. Women aren’t worthy of winning the Ballon D’or apparently.) The three contenders – who would all be worthy winners – are Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Manuel Neuer. But who should win?
It is important to remember that we are not considering them on their careers, but just their from in 2014. In that case Messi must be the outsider (which shows how strong the field is).Although he scored 58 goals in 2014 Barcelona did not win a major trophy last year and Argentina did not win the World Cup. For some reason which must remain a mystery he was voted the tournament’s best player but even Messi did not agree with that. A great player perhaps football’s GOAT (Greatest of all time) but not the best in 2014.
The other two are harder to separate. Ronaldo won the Champions League and Copa del Rey* with Real Madrid and scored 61 goals in 2014. Neuer won the World Cup with Germany and the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal* with Bayern Munich. They met three times in 2014 with Ronaldo’s Real beating Neuer’s Bayern 1-0 and 4-0 in the Champions League Semi-Final (Ronaldo scored two goals) but Neuer’s Germany beat Ronaldo’s Portugal 4-0 during the World Cup. But who should win?
To my mind it has to be Ronaldo as the Champions League is a meritocracy but the World Cup is not. Every player can win the Champions League provided he is good enough to attract the attention of a team that can win it. The World Cup is an accident of birth. If you are born in San Marino you can win the Champions League if you are good enough. You have no chance of winning the World Cup. To my mind that is not fair. That dinosaur Michel Plattini thinks a German World Cup winner should get the award but it is not Ronaldo’s fault that Portugal weren’t good enough to win the World Cup. In fact if it wasn’t for Ronaldo they wouldn’t have qualified for the tournament in the first place. The fact that Portugal weren’t good enough to win should not be held against him. For the sake of fairness Ronaldo should win.
Talking of Neuer, the Sky Sports website is making a fool of itself by saying he would be the first goalkeeper to win the award since Lev Yashin in 1963. Actually a goalkeeper won the award only last year – but that was Nadine Angerer, a woman and obviously she doesn’t count (would it kill Sky to insert the word “male”?)
That brings me on to the women’s award. Three nominations here too – Marta, Nadine Kessler, and Abby Wambach. In one sense this award is harder to consider – no World Cup or European Championship for the women last year – plus a lack of TV coverage makes the contenders harder to assess. But the fact that one player should not have been nominated makes it easier. Wambach is a great player. But she was not great in 2014. In fact the US website Soccerwire.com says she should be dropped from the US team. Hardly the form of a player of the year. Quite why Kim Little the American League MVP was not nominated is a mystery.
Which leaves us with Kessler and Marta. Like the male award the key is the Champions League where Kessler’s Wolfsburg beat Marta’s Tyreso in the Final. Add to this a Bundesliga win and the fact that UEFA have already voted Kessler the beat player in Europe and it is clear that this award should be more clear cut than the male one. And unlike the male one it should be a German victory.
But Kessler should not be the only female player to win an award. Another award is the Puskas award which is for the best goal of 2013-14. The three nominations are Robin van Persie, James Rodriguez… and Stephanie Roche an Irishwoman. Her goal is magnificent (watch it on You tube if you haven’t seen it) and it deserves to win on merit. Besides as Sepp Blatter hates women the thought of him presenting Roche with this award is too good to resist. Unlike the other awards this one is by public vote so let’s all go to http://www.fifa.com/ballon-dor/puskas-award/ vote for Stephanie Roche and hand the sexist football establishment a humiliating defeat. You know it makes sense…
*the Spanish and German equivalents of the FA Cup.

Why Syed is talking a load of rubbish

Last week the UK sports journalist Matthew Syed wrote an article in “the Times” where he said sportswomen don’t deserve equal pay with men. He rightly took a lot of stick for that, but he also said something else. While writing about black athletes being banned from playing with/against whites he said “women have never faced such bans”.
Oh dear. Syed doesn’t know the history of sport does he? In fact women are treated worse than blacks in sport. Once blacks proved they could play with whites they weren’t banned. But there are examples – which I will write about below – of cases where girls/women matched or outperformed boys/men. In every case the sport establishment responded by banning them.
Case 1 was in swimming. In 1922 Sybil Bauer broke the world record in the 440-yard breaststroke. The men’s world record that is. She didn’t just break it, she took four seconds off it. Understandably, as the fastest 440-yard breaststroker on the planet she wanted to compete against the men at the 1924 Olympic Games. Surprise, surprise she was not allowed to, the establishment saying that the segregation of the sexes had “ages of precedent behind it”. Using that logic, nothing would ever change. Bauer won gold in the women’s race and died, aged 23, in 1927. The press called her a “mermaid” implying she was a freak.
Case 2 was in baseball. Teenage pitcher Jackie Mitchell signed a contract with the AA Chattanooga Lookouts. The team’s owner. Joe Engel. announced he would play her in an exhibition game against the Yankees. On April 2 1931 she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The response? She was pulled from the game. And a few days later baseball commissioner Keneshaw Mountain Landis banned her from AA on the basis that baseball was “too strenuous for a woman”. A cynic might say it was because she had dared to embarrass two of the sport’s superstars but surely not. The press in its usual sexist way produced the headline “Her curves confused the mighty Babe”.
The next case is shooting. Olympic shooting had been mixed since 1968 but no woman had won a medal until American Margaret Murdock won silver in 1976. Actually she tied with US team-mate Lanny Basham but the judges for some reason gave Basham the gold. Perhaps it was a coincidence but most shooting events became gendered in 1984 with only a couple of open events left. In 1992 a woman – Zhang Shan of China – won gold in an open event – and from 1996 all Olympic shooting events were either male or female. Funny how they didn’t become gender segregated until women started winning medals…
Now two examples from the English FA’s “Hall of Shame”. In 1978 a 12-year-old girl Theresa Bennett was picked on merit for a hitherto all-boys team. The FA banned her, but a court ordered them to let her play. The FA appealed and the Appeal Court sided with them. Yes the FA really did go to court to stop a 12-year-old girl from playing football. They couldn’t sink any lower could they?
Oh yes they could. In 1999 an Employment Appeals Tribunal said the FA had discriminated against coach Vanessa Hardwick by refusing her the Advanced Coaching Licence. Hardwick’s legal team discovered that eight men had passed the course despite having lower grades than Hardwick, and five men had passed with the same grade. The FA had been caught red-handed but worse was to follow. They preferred to pay a £10,000 fine rather than give her the licence she had earned. Incredible.
Some people would say “Yes but things have changed”. Really? While it is true a 2014 Theresa Bennett would be allowed to “play with the boys” being “allowed” is not the same as being “welcomed”. I’ve spotted interviews with three elite female players – Kelly Smith and Dunia Susi (England) and Eugenie Le Sommer (France) where they stated they weren’t exactly made welcome in boys teams to put it no stronger than that. And Marta, reckoned to be the world’s best female player, was banned from a boys team for being too good. Jennifer Doyle summed it up “The shitty thing for girl footballers world over is that you can get away with playing on boys teams – as long as you don’t offer them any competition. The minute you do, they want you off the pitch”. Pathetic, isn’t it?
And for adult women, it is the same. Since 2004, footballer Maribel Dominguez, skier Lindsey Vonn and cricketer Sarah Taylor all either wanted to, or in the case of Taylor, thought of playing against men. The first two were banned from doing so, and Taylor got such sexist abuse from the UK press she backed away from the idea. That wouldn’t happen to a black.
And even when women have the choice it is a spurious one. A woman can’t play in the English Premier League, but she could manage a team, or referee a game. But first the football establishment – a club or the FA – would have to appoint her. Secondly it would take a very brave woman to volunteer to cop 90 minutes of sexist abuse every week. And that would happen. And here’s the proof. Chelsea have a female first-team doctor, Eva Carniero who has a MSc in sport and exercise medicine which proves she is qualified to do her job. When Chelsea played at Manchester City recently she had a sexist song sung at her by City’s fans. To no one’s surprise no one has been punished for this. After all it adds to the atmosphere – and is that not what the Premier League is lacking?
All this proves is that Syed is talking a load of rubbish. Yes blacks in sport have been treated shamefully. But women were – and still are – treated far worse. And don’t get me started on homophobia…