Robin Scott-Elliot: It's not just banter when football's homophobia is in a league of its own
View From The Sofa: A League of Their Own, Sky / French Open, ITV 1
Monday 04 June 2012
I have tried with A League of Their Own. This is its fifth series in two years so someone at Sky clearly thinks they are on to something but having watched one show from each series – eg: tried, but not that hard – I still have no idea what.
Last week's episode did draw a first smile – Jamie Redknapp's Scottish accent is a surprise. But then take note of what he was saying, on the instruction of James Corden, the host, in a game called Shout Like Souness. "Just spoon me, Graeme!" yelled Redknapp. It's just banter isn't it?
Reference to, and sniggering about, homosexuality was something of a theme to the show. Corden's "gaydar" picked up strong signals from Jack Whitehall; it's just joshing, saying he might be a bit gay. A picture of Redknapp and Souness at Liverpool together was about wanting to touch penises; it's just banter.
Homophobia is a problem that has yet to be adequately confronted in football. High-profile players have come out in cricket and rugby in recent years but in this country's other major ball game – it's just banter – no current player of any standing has taken that step. No player could be found willing to front a campaign against homophobia that the Football Association tried to mount a couple of years ago. Last year the FA did launch a four-year plan called "Opening doors and joining in" but it was noticeable that its accompanying literature did not feature a single picture of a current player – the admirable retirees Paul Elliott and Mark Bright did feature with messages of support.
Recent research among football supporters reveals that 70 per cent have heard homophobic abuse at grounds in the last five years; 78 per cent thought openly gay players would face abuse from opposing fans. Or should that be banter?
No doubt some of James Corden's best friends, etc etc... and it wasn't meant like that at all. But nevertheless it acts to feed a repressive culture that pervades the game. It may not be as threatening as elsewhere – equality groups have added violent anti-gay prejudices to the lengthy charge sheet being compiled against Poland and Ukraine – but it is there – as anachronistic as, say, a hereditary monarchy in the 21st century.
There was plenty of reference to the Diamond Jubilee from the ITV tennis team in Paris for the French Open, although it largely consisted of smug commiseration that while the sun was shining there it wasn't back home. ITV have imported John Inverdale and he, kitted out in a shirt that even by his stripy standards was the stripiest ever seen on British television, lent an air of familiarity.
Andy Murray was given exhaustive pre- and post-match analysis for what, unusually, was a pretty dull match. But there is credit due for giving over ITV1 to tennis for much of the day. On a weekend of salutes, this seemed like a pointed and two-fingered one in the BBC's direction.
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