The wry announcement beforehand ‘so *is* there sexism in football?’ wasn’t a great start was it? Neither was scheduling it for 10.45pm, tucked away after the lottery draw. Okay, so it was never going to be telling us anything new but BBC1’s ‘Sexism in Football?’ documentary was at times refreshingly honest, even if as Anna Kessel pointed out the ‘?’ wasn’t really needed. Any women working in football has a story of being asked to make the tea, explain the offside rule or point out which player they fancy but nevertheless Vicky Kloss’s description of being barred from the tunnel was still shocking to me, perhaps because I cover non-league football, where there are fewer security guards with superiority complexes and sometimes no actual tunnel to speak of.
Hearing some of the top women in the game talk about their experiences, experiences which were startlingly similar to some of mine at the other end of the pyramid was great but it would have been nice to hear from women at all levels of the game. What about the female physios who endure the jeers from fans? What about Caroline Barker from the non-league show? And where were the fans who now make up a quarter of all crowds and a third of those watching at home?
I have had managers refuse to tell me who new players are during pre-season friendlies ‘because its nothing to do with you’ – before chatting to male reporters at length, like Vicky Klosse thinking the security guards blocking her way were joking I thought this guy was having a laugh, nope, he was serious, no details for me. When Gabby Logan said she was initially hesitant about getting involved in a programme about women in the game because ‘you want to get on and prove you can do the job’ I found myself nodding in agreement. But then I’m already involved in the game myself, for the young women who are not it would have been nice to hear about what inspired some the likes of Vicky Kloss, Jo Tongue and Jacky Bass to get involved in the game and how they started.
It’s not all wolf whistles and pervy looks – on the whole, it’s fine but there is a niggling undertone, something which never really goes away, that as a female reporter have to make sure my reports are flawless and every detail is spot on because as a women writing about ‘a man’s sport’ I am under more scrutiny. On the occasions where there is a female official I get even more self-aware/self-conscious, perhaps because I was once accused of ‘being sexist’ and ‘not standing up for the sisterhood’ for criticising a fellow woman, whose poor refereeing marred a game I had covered. The inference that as a woman myself I should have shown sympathy to the woman in black was infuriating at the time, the referee’s sex wasn’t the point I was trying to make in the report it was the fact she had failed to award a clear penalty not some pseudo feminist nonsense. Mark Chapman’s assertion that you always hear ‘and she did well’ coupled with every reference to a female official is spot on, post-Keys and Gray the fear of being seen to criticise has not abated.
Earlier this season the afternoon after I’d attended a Socrates blogger meet-up, I was at Bishops Stortford, covering the game against Gloucester City. Sat in the press seats I was asked to move, ‘because these seats are just for reporters dear’ – the local reporter’s jaw dropped when I explained I was a reporter and he backtracked ‘well, good on you love.’He later asked if I needed help reading the team sheet and proceeded to spend the whole game explaining why rugby was superior to football, strange chap, but he was very much a dinosaur of the past and not the norm. Much like the neat dismissal of the ‘but you’ve never played the game’ argument, the notion of a woman in the press box is no longer a foreign concept in the professional game and its spreading down the leagues too.
But as Kloss pointed out when she described the sinister undertone to some of the behaviour towards women in the game there are a few who still act in a completely inappropriate way. Being asked to move seats is far from the worst treatment I’ve had at games – the most striking incident I can remember was when a player, an unused sub sat in the stand in front of the press box, turned around and showed me an explicit picture of (presumably) himself which he had on his phone, just because he thought it was funny, it was a pretty odd thing to do to a complete stranger and I’d question whether he’d have chosen to do that to a male reporter. Having him and his teammates sat in the stands laughing at me as I tried to concentrate on the game was a pretty humiliating experience.
But like Gabby said, you don’t want to moan because it shows weakness. That said, I’ve seriously considered giving up writing about football in the past year because of comments posted about me online, personal insults similar to those described by several of the women on the documentary, everyone has an achilles heel. Things are changing in non-league football – perhaps not as much as in the professional game but its getting there, look at Manda Rigby at Bath City, Carolyn Still at Mansfield – there are more and more women in the boardrooms (and not just making the matchday cuppas), the press box and the stands.
Then perhaps we should look at the pre-Samantha Brick outpouring when Carolyn Still was announced as CEO of Mansfield Town, it was an opportunity for muck-raking and name calling, just as there was when Jackie Oakley was announced as the first female commentator back in 2007. Heather Rabbatts aside, the FA is still far too male, but as she points out big business is pretty much the same. Positive discrimination, like in Norway, could be one answer but the quota question is a difficult one, it is too much of a token gesture. This is part of the dichotomy – how do you improve female representation at every level of the game without resorting to tokenism? With female participation increasing and women making up an increasing proportion of crowds at home and at the ground it goes without saying that it will increase, it just won’t happen overnight while Sepp and his FIFA gang want us to wear short shorts.
This BBC documentary may not have said anything particularly new to me, it might not stop me being asked to move out of the press seats or stop the odd idiot acting like moron but I have the faint hope it might be shown in years to come to illustrate how archaic the game once was.
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