A touch of context here – those of you who know me might already know that much of my time is spent working as a sports journalist, and I’m also writing my PhD thesis on female sports fandom. So it’s not unusual to find me watching football matches at the weekend, and that’s exactly what I did yesterday, watching Wolves v Liverpool.
What was a touch unusual was the fact that one of the officials in this game was a 25-year-old woman, Sian Massey, and she made the crucial decision to keep her flag down, permitting Liverpool’s Raul Meireles to play the ball through to the on-running Fernando Torres, who put the ball in the back of the net for his side’s first goal.
I was going to do a quick blog about this anyway, but then my dad, bless him, texted me this morning, saying that he thought Massey had had a better game than nine out of ten male assistant referees. Now, my dad is a lovely man. He was the one who took me to football as a kid, and introduced me to cricket and rugby, and it’s probably down to him that I’m in the job I’m in now. But his text was very similar to lots of male pundits’ views – comparing her performance to the men, when surely an assistant referee should be judged on their decisions rather than their sex. (I told my dad that it wasn’t his fault, he’s imbued with the sexist patriarchal binaries that mean that he can’t avoid comparing her to the men, but I’m not sure he appreciated it.)
Still, praising her (and there are lots of blogs around this morning commenting on what a great development it is to see female officials in the Premier League) is better than the obnoxious comments from Sky Sports’ Richard Keys and Andy Gray, who (unaware they could be heard) suggested pre-match that someone should go and explain the offside law to Massey because “women don’t know the offside rule” (it’s a LAW, Gray, not a RULE, you fool); and criticised West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady for complaining about sexism in football, with Keys uttering the immortal words: “Did you hear charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Do me a favour, love.”
Well, on the plus side, at least Keys has made Brady’s point for her; and it certainly won’t have been the first time Massey has heard the “women can’t understand offside!” comment. On the downside, while the football authorities continue to refuse to deal with sexism as a problem, there is no way prevailing attitudes will change.