Joan Smith: There's more than race in this case of handbags

Share

Almost 1.4 million women and girls play football regularly in England. Women's football is the third largest team sport in the country after men's football and men's cricket, and 843 women have trained as referees. So what, I wonder, did they make of last week's events in a London court, when two of the country's top footballers admitted that they use demeaning and contemptuous language about women?

The case hinged on an accusation of racism against the Chelsea and former England captain, John Terry. In confusing evidence about a confrontation between Terry and the QPR defender Anton Ferdinand during a match in October last year, Terry's QC said his client sarcastically used the word "black" because he thought Ferdinand had accused him of using it. Terry was cleared after receiving support from the Chelsea and England player Ashley Cole and the former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.

I expected Terry to be acquitted and I'm happy to accept he isn't racist. What I'm not happy about – and I suspect a lot of women and girls who play football aren't either – is the reflexive misogyny highlighted by the trial. Brace yourself, for here is Ferdinand giving his version of the spat: "He called me a cunt, and I called him a cunt back." Ferdinand said he went on to explain to Terry why he deserved the insult, claiming that "you shagged your team-mate's missus".

I've never believed that this unedifying series of exchanges has much to do with race. It's in a tradition of confrontations in which professional footballers – some of the most widely admired and highest-paid sportsmen in the world – reveal that the very worst insult they can think of is a slang word for the vagina. Slang names for the penis also get used on the pitch but they're much more ambiguous – I'm sure some players are actually quite proud of that part of their anatomy – but no man wants to be compared to a vagina. It's a way of attacking a rival's masculinity, and that takes us straight to "honour".

In this hyper-masculine world, a man's "honour" is a fragile thing and he has to defend it at all costs. The then French captain, Zinedine Zidane, was sent off during the 2006 World Cup Final for head-butting an Italian player who called his sister a "whore", and Zidane refused to apologise for years. Players claim to be defending their female relatives, but what's really wounded is their pride. In this context, having an affair with a team-mate's wife or girlfriend would be unacceptable not because it involves deception, but because it invades another man's territory.

Terry and his club will be hugely relieved at the outcome of his trial, but it's no vindication of professional football in this country. In a breathtaking aside after the match at Loftus Road, Terry and Ferdinand met in the dressing-room and apparently agreed that their row was "just handbags, innit". It isn't: players, clubs and the FA should hang their heads in shame. Or do they really care so little about the poisonous misogyny at the heart of the professional game?

www.politicalblonde.com; twitter.com/@polblonde

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference