THERE are times when the very existence of a debate is more embarrassing than the issue itself.
A time when you seriously have to scratch your head and wonder why someone has a problem with what seems like a straightforward development.
It’s 2019. The most advanced year in the history of the planet in terms of technology, medicine, communications and suffrage, and yet some people aren’t happy with women appearing on male football programmes.
In many ways, I’m reminded of the scene in Anchorman where the four lads complain that the presence of a female newsreader will result in bear attacks, based on a rumour that they’re attracted to the scent of menstruation. That’s how ridiculous it’s been.
This began in earnest last week when, on live television, Graeme Souness sneered at fellow pundit Alex Scott’s use of the term “low block”. He asked what it meant. She looked confused and went on with her point; that the low block had become a deliberate tactic to draw out the opposition. Bring them onto you and there’s a chance of a counter attack behind them if you’re quick enough to move the ball into the available space.
A fair and valid point. After all, it was a characteristic of Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side and City did something similar at Anfield earlier this season.
Souness wrinkled his nose at “this modern terminology” and muttered: “OK. Defending deeply,” with a heavy amount of disdain.
Now, I’ll admit a prejudice here. I know what he did and didn’t do as a manager, and I’m more than aware of the biggest mistake of his Liverpool career, but I like Souness. He’ll always be in my top three Liverpool players and I like his no-nonsense, hard-as-nails views.
Crucially though, he knows more about central midfield than I do and is quick to frown at players being overpraised. Also, his description of the 2014-15 Arsenal side as “a team of son-in-laws” still makes me giggle to this day.
But I wasn’t a fan of this. It seemed… I don’t know… Ungallant. Impolite.
Would he have acted that way to a male pundit? Quite possibly actually. He’s certainly spiky enough. Maybe he just hadn’t heard that term before. After all, in my day “the press”, “the high press” or “gegenpress” was simply known as “putting him under (pressure)”.
“Put him under, Redknapp, you tit,” etc.
The language changes even if the issues and tactics do not. Possibly just a misunderstanding.
But the following night when West Ham game, he talked over Scott again. He stared at her, stunned at her temerity to hold a view about high-line defences, while he said that that was the last thing both teams should be worried about. It was uncomfortable to watch as we, the viewer, expect discussion from the experts, but this wasn’t about an opinion. This was about a lack of respect.
Of course, Souness isn’t alone in this regard. Sky’s appointment of Alex Scott came afted the Old Boy’s network of tedious sexism which had existed for years. Andy Gray and Richard Keys infamously derided the appointment of Sian Massey as the lineswoman in our game with Wolves in 2012 in an off-camera recording.
That discussion began with Keys wondering if someone was going to explain the offside rule to her in the tunnel and ended with the Partridge-esque: “Did you hear the charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Ugh. Do me a favour, love.”
Im not out here trying 2 be better than any Male/Female. There is room for us all to rise! I’m just trying to be the best ‘I’ can be in the role I am ‘employed’ to do.Have fun along the way, learn from people around me, grow/be better! FYI..back in the studio the weekend,haha😉 pic.twitter.com/mkUNrl8AoU
— Alex Scott MBE (@AlexScott) 5 February 2019
Football has, for many years, resisted the call for women to be involved and, though times have changed, the vapours of that institutionalised sexism still hang around. While Keys and Grey’s blatant misogyny far outweigh Souness’s sniffy demeanour, it still made for uncomfortable viewing.
As you’d expect, many fans condemned Souness for his rudeness while others took the opportunity to criticise Scott. One wrote: “She has to be one of the worst pundits on TV. Brings nothing new, repeating cliché-ridden reporting.”
And I’m fine with that. Not pleasant, of course, but an opinion nonetheless — and we all have those. Not agreeing with a pundit is hardly a misogynistic act. However, he ended his comment with: “Tell her to stick to netball or women-only sports.”
And there is the agenda. Like when Ryan Babel told a female fan who disagreed with him on Twitter a few years back: “Stay in ur lane.”
Another comment from a Liverpool “fan” said: “It’s football, not Loose Women.”
In 2019. Where, apparently, women should only be interested in the things men think they should be interested in.
There’s an argument that this isn’t about gender and more about the ability to analyse at this level. Despite an excellent spell as part of the BBC’s World Cup coverage, some have argued that Alex’s bonafides are not up to scratch.
Alex Scott hasn’t played Premier League football so can she be qualified to offer insight to the viewers? After all, Sky don’t employ wannabe pundits from the lower divisions to commentate on the Premier League.
Of course, she couldn’t play in the Premier League for fairly obvious reasons. Does that mean she lacks the incisive insight as, say, league title winners Paul Merson — “There’s only one person who gets you sacked and that’s the fans” — and Owen Hargreaves? — “Both goals he scored hit the target.”
Furthermore, the game she’s watching has the same rules as any other level so is it necessary to have Premier League-only pundits?
Are her views somehow invalid because she would struggle to tackle Diego Costa?
The debate was extended further by BT Sport who had Rachel Brown-Finnis, the former England international, on the panel at the Amex Stadium for the Brighton v Burnley game. She said that she played at the very highest level, but still has to prove herself time and again with each media appearance. The former Liverpool and Everton Ladies goalkeeper collected over 80 international caps in a 16-year career.
Now, I’d guess that she knows a lot more about goalkeeping than most of us being, y’know, an international goalkeeper.
And isn’t that the point of punditry? The role of the ex-player pundit is to analyse what’s just happened and to share their experiences. Steve McManaman knows more about playing in the Champions League than I do. That’s fine. I’ll listen.
Rachel Brown-Finnis knows more about when and how to come out for a corner than I do. That’s fine. I’ll listen. Her gender doesn’t enter into it. Why should it? Again, the laws and scenarios don’t change.
Her inclusion on the team didn’t smack of tokenism. It was just having a former goalkeeper on the panel. One who has walked the walk.
You want to talk about tokenism in the game? How about wave after wave of ex-player turning up on screen because they’ve played the game, even when they can’t hold a balanced argument together? That should be the main issue, here — the quality of punditry.
But let’s leave Danny Mills out of this for the time being (sorry, but he does my head in).
It’s the talent to describe the game that should be judged, not the gender of the person speaking.
Women enjoying football is not a new thing. It’s just that there are more of them at the game now, for a variety of reasons.
Is it too much to expect to see the same on TV?
The truth is that the game has moved on and those who have a problem will just have to get over it.
The idea that women have no place arguing about tactics etc., in the most argument-heavy sport of all is absolutely ludicrous.
It’s 2019 and times have changed. For the better.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo
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Well said. The quality of the punditry is all that matters, I don’t care what gender they are. I’d take either of these ladies over some of the ex-players I hear each week spouting barely coherent nonsense.
Spot on KC, as ever.
Danny Mills can fuck right off.
I am still waiting for him to lnock Klopp out… and still pissing myself laughing at what he said. The man is a tool.
I person’s gender is irrelevant, it’s the quality of comment that’s important. Unfortunately there are very few pundits who have anything worthwhile or interesting to say. Most are of the Redknapp and Shearer type who spout platitudes, cliches and generalisations. Souness is excellent compared to Robbie Savage or anybody on ‘phone ins, whilst the standard of comment on TV varies from the interesting but watchable Roy Keane to the execrable Andy Gray. That said I am afraid the current quality of female pundits veers towards Dowie not the Hansen. That’s not because they are female just because they are not very good.
What I want from a pundit/analyst is a well articulated insight into what is happening in a match that I cannot easily discern for myself. That insight should be informed by experience of playing at the level of the match I am watching – Premier League, Champions League, World Cup, etc. If the pundit/analyst does not have that experience, or cannot provide that well articulated insight, whatever their gender, then they have no credibility with me.
Cant say I’ve seen her. Is she any good? If so, then great. What isn’t great is not being allowed an opinion and having to force the status quo – or risk being sexist or not progressive enough.
Too often, the mere fact that something is seen as progressive, like what you mention in your article simply HAS to be acceptable these days, but thats wrong in my view.
I’d take Souness over any pundit, any day, he knows his stuff, he’s been around and he’s won practically everything you can in the modern game and he speaks well and to the point.
If someone is good enough at the job being asked it shouldn’t matter what gender or background they are from, however, I would take some issue over experience on the subject matter. I’m far less inclined to listen to Robbie Earle, Robbie Savage and Danny Mills than someone like Roy Keane or Michael Owen for example.
Those players where run of the mill, won next to nothing and turned in average performances in their playing days.
Women can play an important part in football, Gabby Logan and Reshmin Chowdhury are excellent presenters for example.
Isn’t this simply a case of unfamiliarity? here’s this woman rocking up and speaking articulately and intelligently but 90% of viewers have, in all honesty, never heard of her.
Lizzie Armitstead, Annabel Croft, Denise Lewis etc are all immediately accepted as the viewers generally know who they are and what they achieved in their sport – sports that, ability wise, are not really judged differently to men. Maybe that again is due to viewer familiarity. Wimbledon ladies tennis gets the same coverage as the men and has done for as long as I can remember. The Olympics are the same.
If and when women’s football becomes covered widely in the mainstream media, and people’s attitude to the perceived quality changes, then this current fume will die down, but it’ll take time in this modern day, raging torrent that is social media.
My 12 year old daughter is a massive Red which is a great relief with her being been born in London with me having left Merseyside 20 odd years ago. We are travelling up for the Munich match and can’t wait. She also plays for Lewisham girls down here and I coach her under 12 club team on Peckham.
Girls football is taking off big time. Believe me, she notices when a female pundit is on TV. It shows her women are part of this passion of hers.
I am totally with Karl. Football is no longer the sole domain of men like it was 50 years ago and the TV should mirror that and indeed inspire those girls like my daughter who are breaking the mould. We’ve put up with a lot of embarrassingly bad male pundits over the years so let’s not jump down the throat of those pioneering young women who are prepared to take on the likes of Souness- who great player as he was, started a 30 year decline of the greatest team in the world.
Women’s World Cup this summer.
Shouldn’t matter what sex, colour, creed, religion or whatever you are, it’s about talking sense and being knowledgeable and insightful… FFS, Jamie Redknapp makes up more bollocks than anyone and they give him airtime and he was shit.
I am as puzzled as Souness though with all the wonderful new expressions such as low block, because it is just defending deeply. I watched teams do it when I was a kid. Likewise I watched Liverpool sit deep, contain and counter attack. All this new bollocks is like the word upskill which is basically get training, information and instructions in something different… again a new fangled load if tripe for something that’s always been the case. Same as upsell… WTF!!! You mean buy some additional shit. Just say it and stop the crap. Even Lord Sugar pulls faces at the bellends trying to sound clever on the apprentice with all this horse shit. So Souness may have a point… however I am in the camp of he’s a twat. Great player for us but boy did he shaft us in the arse as manager and sign some garbage… so his opinions count for nowt.