Stone-age sexists are sad, shocking... but not surprising

Richard Keys and Andy Gray's dismissive comments about assistant referee Sian Massey are shocking to hear, but somehow not surprising.

Believing they were safely off-air, their casually sexist remarks are a sad reminder that stone-age attitudes linger in some parts of the game.

It is four years since then Luton boss Mike Newell outed himself as a dinosaur with his outrageous attack on female officials after his side's loss to QPR.

“This is Championship football,” said Newell. “This is not park football, so what are women doing here? It is tokenism, for the politically-correct idiots. She should not be here.”

Sound familiar? It is 2011 and still there are men tempted to judge women on gender rather than ability.

Amy Rayner, the assistant referee who was the target of his rant, made history last February, under her married name Amy Fearn, as the first woman to referee a League football game when she took over from the injured Tony Bates in Coventry's win over Nottingham Forest. Newell's last managerial job saw him sacked by Grimsby in 2009.

Now Massey has been similarly thrown into the spotlight by men heaping scorn on her simply because she is a woman.

Most women working in football would have their own horror story they could share, whether it is being handed a dirty plate in the media room before the game as someone assumes you’re a dinner lady, or being confronted with a sign in the tunnel saying ‘No women beyond this point’.

My own comes from an awards do when a manager I had never previously had dealings with thought it was acceptable to ask the following series of questions. “Do you like football? Do you know anything about football? Can you explain the offside rule?”

One positive to come out of this whole thing is the number of influential people who have declared Keys and Gray’s comments unacceptable.

England captain Rio Ferdinand said on Twitter : “Did anyone see the decision the lineswoman made in the liverpool vs wolves decision. Judge them like men on their ability to ref  I'm all for women refereeing in football, discrimination should not happen in our game at all...prehistoric views if u think otherwise..”

And retired referee Graham Poll may at times appear as self-important as Keys and Gray, but his fierce defence of women's right to officiate at the top level , and hope more women will be encouraged to take up flag or whistle, is welcome.

While women officials remain a rarity they will always be to some extent newsworthy.

My Mirror colleague Simon Bird's comments on Twitter after the Keys/Gray audio appeared showed the dilemma.

He wrote: “Black marks to Gray and Keys. Sian Massey was lino at #safc over Christmas and was excellent. Got tight calls correct. Pondered highlighting Massey's performance at the time,concluded sexist to highlight her prowess just because she was a lass and looks 15.”

Do we highlight the achievements of a woman in a bid to encourage more to believe the opportunity is there for them if they are good enough? Or are we at the stage where female assistants should be seen only as assistants – their work only commented on if you would make the same comment about a linesman?

With so few women operating at the highest levels of the game, they end up being standard-bearers whether they want to be or not.

As LadyArse wrote in her blog yesterday : “When a man gets it wrong (which they do often, just see the linesman in the first half of the Arsenal match yesterday if you want a few examples) he is simply branded useless. When one woman gets something wrong, then all women are branded useless and told they have no place in the game.”

The sad thing is, Massey hadn't even got anything wrong – she was being pre-judged purely on her gender. Fortunately Keys and Grey have given us plenty of material on which we can judge them.


Further reading:

Why Keys and Gray should be sacked - Anna Kessel, Guardian

Offside rule incredibly straightforward – Daily Mash

Why all officials should be women

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