26 Jan 2011

Why Sky pundit Andy Gray’s sexism surprised no-one

The departures of Sky Sports pundits Andy Gray and Richard Keys over sexist comments is irrelevant, says sports writer Joyce Woolridge – women will still be regarded as outsiders in football.

Sky pundit Andy Gray's sexist comments about Sian Massey surprised no-one, writes Joyce Woolrdige (Reuters)

My brief and inconsequential career as a football writer was unwittingly launched by Peter Osgood in 1994, who questioned both my understanding of the technicalities of modern game and my sobriety on a national radio phone-in.

“Well, Joyce, darling”, the 70s icon explained, very slowly, “It’s complicated”, inspiring an impassioned article about the all-pervasive sexist attitudes in football, kindly published by those enlightened new men who edit the alternative football magazine When Saturday Comes.

In the 90s, a small and short-lived space opened up for women to become more high profile throughout football – as fans, in the business and, as long as their impeccable footballing knowledge was twinned with a stunning face, as presenters for Sky. But, though Gabby Yorath now fronts the BBC’s Football Focus, attitudes have not changed.

Though Gabby Yorath now fronts the BBC’s Football Focus, attitudes have not changed.

Although the media has united in its denunciation of Andy Gray’s “dinosaur” comments about lineswoman Sian Massey, is there seriously anyone out who is surprised by them?

I thought that they were relatively mild and exactly what you’d anticipate hearing, in private, from an ex-professional of Gray’s age and pedigree. Football is at least as sexist as any other business.

As Alan Hansen once remarked, in a debate I took part in for the Radio Times, when asked whether there might ever be a female football pundit on television: “It is very difficult to give an opinion on something you haven’t done yourself and the great danger is that you could have someone making a fool of themselves.”

Many men would agree that women should have no place in football, except in the service industry (and I’ll leave it up to you how widely you define the range of possible services).

I have always considered myself an outsider in football because I am female.

Kicking a ball around, however badly, with the addition of testicles, qualifies you as an expert opinion and potential official; just the testicles make you a real supporter. Women have, for some of the hardcore, done their bit to dilute the atmosphere within grounds and get in the way of the matey, blokeish experience.

The worst I’ve ever been called in print, in a fanzine, was a “c**t”, with the asterisk included (and a fulsome apology for any offence caused followed later) – even the current Culture Secretary has been dubbed that on the airwaves.

But I have always considered myself an outsider as a supporter and writer because I am female, just as Sian Massey and those who follow her will continue to be regarded as for a long time to come.

And no amount of supportive tweets from that unlikely feminist Rio Ferdinand leads me to expect any different.

Joyce Woolridge writes on football and is a contributor to When Saturday Comes