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Chauvinists all live in a mad world indeed

lAST January, The Sun newspaper ran an article posing the question: 'Can women referee men's footie?' It was one of those 'for and against' formats and seemed innocuous enough. That is, until you took a closer look. Former Arsenal player Perry Groves was (to put it mildly) against the idea. At the risk of ruining your Sunday, here is an excerpt from what he wrote:

"When it comes to consistency and logic, women are a different species. I know a lot of women and they're not consistent from hour to hour. Footballers want the rules to be applied consistently and this wouldn't happen with women refs . . . Also, let's face it, women have periods and we all know how hormones affect them. Would women refs be banned [from refereeing] during their 'time of the month' because they might be more emotional, depressed or aggressive?"

The really sad thing is that Perry Groves is no Ricky Gervais and he wasn't fooling around. On the contrary, he meant every word of it. Ordinarily, Groves' comments wouldn't merit a thought. But it is interesting to revisit them in the context of sexist comments made last week by Sky Sports 'personalities' Richard Keys and Andy Gray regarding female Premier League official Sian Massey and their assertion that women can't understand the offside rule.

It reminded me of an old sketch produced by British comedian Harry Enfield, parodying a certain archaic attitude towards women drivers. In the short scene we are shown an old-style car. The narrator begins: "Look at this motor car. A beauty, isn't it? Easily has 20 years' happy motoring ahead of it. Or does it? Oh dear. Here comes a woman!"

When the woman decides she's going to give it a try, the narrator tries to discourage her: "It's a complicated motor vehicle based on the principles of the combustion engine, a machine far too complicated for your pretty mind." Needless to say, the hapless woman reverses the car into a wall and we are given the punch-line/moral: "Women, for pity's sake, don't drive".

The suggestion by Keys and Gray, that a woman couldn't possibly understand the intricacies of the offside rule, is equally comical. Granted, offside is probably the most complicated rule in the sport, but it certainly wouldn't be as complicated as say, second class arithmetic or scrabble, and definitely not as complicated as the 'principles of a combustion engine'.

Such considerations don't really matter, however, because when is comes to chauvinism, football is the comedy that just keeps on giving. One Ron Atkinson had a quaint opinion about the opposite sex too: "Women should be in the kitchen, the discotheque or the boutique, but not in football".

So, is the arrival of 'birds' on the scene truly a sign that, as Richard Keys lamented, "the game has gone mad"? You could hear real foreboding in his voice as he warned: "I can guarantee there will be a big one today and Kenny (Dalglish) will go potty."

Keys' implication here was that a bastion of good sense like Kenny Dalglish wouldn't be one to suffer any feminine silliness, and any mistake from this upstart woman would have King Kenny put her back in her box. And in the sad world of Richard Keyes, he would be right to do so, because the world has indeed gone mad and it should be put right, even if things have to get ugly.

Funnily enough, Dalglish's daughter Kelly Cates doesn't seem to see things that way and came through with a classic of her own: "I've just been reading something called the offside rule; too much for my tiny brain. It must be clogged with nail polish fumes," she joked. Cates obviously has her old man's savvy, and knows that ridicule is the best way to handle blokes with neanderthal tendencies.

With all their nonsense, Keys and Gray totally missed the point about Sian Massey, and it has nothing to do with her gender. It has to do with her age. At 25, she has reached a level of excellence most officials don't reach until much later, if at all. To even consider becoming a Football Association referee, five tough modules must be completed, including 'laws of association football', and rigorous assessment follows each module. It is a remarkable accomplishment for anyone at such a young age.

A few years back, our hero Perry Groves published his autobiography entitled We all live in a Perry Groves world -- a line inspired by a chorus from his playing days, which Arsenal fans used to sing along to the tune of Yellow Submarine. It is a sad indictment that in this day and age, Perry Groves's world remains one where women must continue to prove the same tired old points, over and over and over.

Consider this: Would the nimble-footed Sian Massey have failed to spot a blatant handball by Thierry Henry on a certain November's night in Paris? I watched her in action last weekend and I'm thinking she wouldn't.

Sunday Independent