Football: Graham Kelly's Column: Last orders for the game's last men-only event

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The Independent Online
IT IS staggering that, as the new millennium approaches, a female football agent has been compelled to take the Professional Footballers' Association to court to secure the right to attend the Union's annual awards dinner. Rachel Anderson won her landmark decision in the London county court last week after her client, Julian Dicks, was told he could not bring a woman to the event as his guest.

She argued that, as part of her job, she needed to attend such functions; the management committee of the PFA tried to justify its position by saying the dinner was private. This must have been difficult, since the venue is invariably a glitzy London hotel with nearly 1,000 men present. Also, television cameras are admitted, so presumably the cameramen are vetted to ensure no women sneak in.

The Union's position is all the more difficult to understand when one recalls that, under progressives like Gordon Taylor, Pat Nevin and education officer Micky Burns, it has long been regarded as a moderniser in professional football, pioneering schemes such as the community programme.

When I was chief executive of the Football Association I raised the matter on successive occasions with Gordon Taylor. With the FA becoming heavily committed to the development of girls' and women's football since the takeover of the Women's Football Association in 1993, and, moreover, with the increasing number of females attending League matches, I was increasingly uncomfortable at supporting the last official male-only event in the game.

Women involved in football administration, or working for sponsors, had begun to appear at the Football Writers' Association and League Managers' Association awards nights. But Gordon's management committee were uncharacteristically intransigent - the lads wanted their night on the town - and so I began to decline the invitation each year.

The male-only tradition was never so prevalent in non-League football, since the clubs had neither the facilities nor the inclination to perpetuate it, but in League football directors clung to the practice of separate rooms for their guests for many years - until the need to modernise their facilities forced them to face up to the issue.

At one point the Football Trust tried to accelerate the pace of change by making its grants to clubs conditional upon equal access to directors' rooms for men and women, but the Football League successfully contended that directors needed a room where they could discuss business in private and it would not be right to be compelled to admit others. As there were few women directors, of course, the line was rarely breached.

Whenever the Football Association used a League ground for an FA Cup semi-final, for example, we always stipulated that guest facilities had to be equally available to men and women. One year at Maine Road the directors' private room was surreptitiously opened, a barman materialised and a handful of FA men were given the nod to sidle in for a private chat. Unfortunately a guest not favoured with the nod grassed to a liberal national newspaper notorious at the time for typographical errors and the FA was exposed as a bunch of reactionary old farts. We were trying to keep it a secret.

When I was first making my way in football administration I craved an invitation into the directors' "inner sanctum". It was the holy of holies.

Half an hour after the final whistle the manager would trudge in, either to account to his chairman for yet another spineless display or alternatively to modestly accept a glass of wine and agree "the lads had the rub of the green today". That all changed, conventions altered as the demands of the media increased and managers no longer had the time to socialise.

One of the last bastions to fall to the march of equality was the directors' room at Oakwell. The hospitality accorded by the Barnsley directors to a guest was never less than fulsome, but if said guest was accompanied by a lady said lady was expected to partake in the ladies' room. Until, that is, quarter past five, when the ladies were courteously escorted in to rejoin their menfolk.

The funny thing was, the ladies only gravitated to a certain point in the men's room; they never got too near the bar in the corner.

They now have a new lounge, but chairman John Dennis's wife Chris and the other directors' ladies still subconsciously observe the imaginary line on the carpet!

Everton was another club where the ladies expressed a preference to have their own lounge. Lady Carter, wife of chairman Sir Philip, is a straight- talking lady whom I once saw firmly remove from the Goodison ladies' lounge a woman from Luton Town who was not entitled to enter.

Last week's judgment placed football on the news pages again, 25 years after the Sex Discrimination Act.