It's time to play fair -- football is no longer simply a man's game
THE most-quoted line about football's attitude to women was uttered by Ron Atkinson, who knows all too well the perils of speaking without disconnecting the microphone.
The former Manchester United manager said: "Women should be in the kitchen, the discotheque and the boutique, but not in football." That was in 1989, but to hear Andy Gray and Richard Keys, it might be imagined nothing has changed. In reality, women are now involved at all levels of the game.
Female support has increased massively, as has participation in girls' and women's football. Some 19pc of Premier League spectators are female, with a third having come to the game within the past five years.
The irony is that Sky TV has much to do with this. Its enormous financial investment in the game has enabled clubs to modernise their stadia, making them more female and family friendly. Its presentation has made the sport more attractive, encouraging women to follow it.
There are women in important positions at many clubs, led by Delia Smith (co-owner of Norwich City) and Karren Brady (vice-chairman at West Ham United). Less high-profile are the female secretaries, lawyers and physiotherapists.
That said, females remain under-represented in many areas. Sian Massey, the referee's assistant at the centre of the Gray-Keys furore, is exceptional. The belief among the authorities is that the incident will boost recruitment of female officials as it will increase awareness of what is possible -- Ms Massey is a role model not just for being female, but for reaching the Premier League at the age of 25.