If you’re looking for real evidence of football’s sneering, misogynistic attitude to women then there have been many more revealing places to look over the past few years than the email account of the Premier League’s chief executive Richard Scudamore.
You could have been present at Cardiff’s Celtic Manor hotel when a Welsh woman journalist asked Sepp Blatter how one might secure a professional role with Fifa. “Lady, I’m single,” Blatter replied, to general male amusement. You could have been there when a high-profile manager at the top of the English game gave a withering response to a woman TV reporter the season before last and enjoyed a good laugh at her expense five minutes later, when in the company of all-male newspaper reporters. Or when radio reporter Michelle Evans had the temerity to ask Gordon Strachan about a particularly poor defeat when he was Celtic manager. “Explaining it to you is impossible,” Strachan told her. “It would be like you explaining childbirth to me.”
Things hadn’t moved on since Sir Alex Ferguson wrote to a woman physio who had applied for a job at Manchester United, to tell her that “most of the players felt that football was very much a male sport and did not really like the thought of females being involved with the treatment of sports injuries within the training complex”. Only last December Laurent Blanc, managing Paris Saint-Germain, told a Swedish journalist, Aftonbladet’s Johanna Franden, who had asked him about his shift from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3: “Women talking football tactics, it’s so beautiful. I think it’s fantastic. You know what 4-3-3 means – don’t you?”
If some or all of these incidents are news to you, it is because they barely warranted a place in the margins of the football conversation. Check any of them out and you’ll see: Ferguson – one newspaper reference, Strachan – two, Blatter – none, Blanc – none. Just a laugh, a flustered press officer, a woman who wants to be anywhere but that room, and the gilded football world packs up and moves on.
Scudamore’s clubby email chat with his lawyer pal Nick West is different. Who am I to say how the women who read it might have felt? But the offence was certainly compounded by the fact that some of the misogyny was about one of his own people. You despair that a £1.8m salary did not bring enough emotional intelligence to make this man see that the situation required an immediate, fulsome apology, and perhaps an orchestrated briefing with which to deliver it.
Scudamore was devastated last Monday, after the story broke: that much was clear from staff who saw him early that morning. But he just could not see beyond his own understandable indignation about a temporary secretary, whose employment at the Premier League had totalled a mere seven weeks, syphoning off hundreds of his emails and publishing the tasty ones when it suited her.
Contrition might also have allowed nuance to speak its name – giving voice to some significant distinctions in this story. That it was Scudamore’s chum who came out with the worst of the misogyny. And that the senior Premier League executive whom Scudamore warned West to keep off his “shaft” feels this business has been overblown.
She, Peta Bistany, certainly did not seem to have been got at by the Premier League’s communications staff when she conveyed that to a journalist on Friday. After a lot of conversations about this, I find it hard to dispel the notion that everyone was involved in innuendo about graphite shafts, before a golf day in which Mrs Bistany was to have been a participant. You hesitate to write this and be consigned to the Neanderthal camp, too. But facts found scant space last week when a media storm took hold and Scudamore – a man with a noticeable lack of friends – was engulfed.
It would be harder to sustain the argument that he should keep his job if there was a vast reservoir of evidence out there of his serial misogyny. The Premier League always felt that there would be no fresh allegations in the Sunday Mirror’s second splash on Sunday. But that is not to say that the last 10 days have been of no significance. Women in football ought to take from this storm a far greater expectation that the Blatter, Strachan and Blanc school of gender equality will be consigned to the past. And that the recipients of some of the worst of all this stuff – women journalists – will not just have to sit by when a manager takes the mickey and the rest of the blokes laugh along.
It’s about two months since Women in Football – an organisation whose 1,000 members are all in full-time jobs within the sport – responded in very high percentages to a survey about their workplace experiences. Nearly 60 per cent said they had witnessed sexist banter. Around 54 per cent said they worried that their appearance was judged ahead of their ability to do their jobs. “I’ve pretty much experienced it all. I’ve been slapped on the backside by a colleague and asked to ‘get the tea’, said one respondent. “You can imagine my response.” The story was published in one national newspaper.
Mike Ingham, the master of eloquence not just witter
A light has gone out on Wembley now that BBC Radio’s Mike Ingham has commentated on his last FA Cup final. In a world where the command of language seems to carry dwindling significance and 140 characters are everything, Ingham was a beacon for me.
We talked about language last year when I was writing about football commentators and there was even an eloquence in the way he remembered those of his brethren whom he had loved most: like the BBC’s Bryon Butler, whose words “fitted like an overcoat in winter and made you feel comfortable and warm,” as Ingham remembered it.
There was also the imitable Peter Jones, remembered for the empathy and eloquence with which he described the scenes which unfolded at Hillsborough, on the dark afternoon in 1989 when 96 lives were lost. “Peter could have described a couple of ants, crawling across the floorboards,” Ingham said. “He almost blue-printed the commentary that everyone else followed.”
John Motson tells me that he feels the proliferation of commentators and pundits has removed the audience’s awareness of those behind the microphone, while Ingham suggested the abundance of live games removes the sense of “an event”. It was fitting that his final final should have been such an indelible one.