The most-quoted line about football's attitude to women was uttered by Ron Atkinson, who knows all too well the perils of speaking without disconnecting the microphone. The former Manchester United manager said: "Women should be in the kitchen, the discothèque and the boutique, but not in football."
That was in 1989, but to hear Andy Gray and Richard Keys, it might be imagined that nothing has changed. In reality, women are now involved at all levels of the national game, from owning clubs to keeping players fit. Female support has increased massively, as has participation in girls' and women's football.
Some 19 per cent of Premier League spectators nowadays are female, with a third having come to the game within the past five years. England's women's team reached the final of the last European Championships and will compete at the World Cup this summer. A semi-professional league finally starts in April.
The irony is that Sky TV has much to do with this. Its enormous financial investment in the game has enabled clubs to modernise their stadia, making them more female- and family-friendly. Its presentation has made the sport more attractive, encouraging women to follow it. However, Sky has yet to follow the BBC and appoint a female commentator.
There are women in important positions at many clubs, led by Delia Smith (co-owner of Norwich City), Karren Brady (vice-chairman at West Ham United) and Anuradha Desai (chairman of Venky's, the owner of Blackburn Rovers). Less high-profile are the female company secretaries, lawyers and physiotherapists, while departments such as ticketing, catering, marketing, HR and public relations employ as many women as any decent-sized company.
That said, females remain underrepresented in many areas. Sian Massey, the referee's assistant at the centre of the Gray-Keys furore, is exceptional. The belief among the authorities is that the incident will boost recruitment of female officials as it will increase awareness of what is possible – Massey is a role model not just for being female, but for reaching the Premier League at the age of 25.Reuse content