D uring one particularly rowdy party I was at during my time at Millwall, things got a little out of hand. One player asked a girl to perform oral sex on him in the sitting room.
Nothing unusual in itself, but at the time he was in the company of about 12 other people. While in no way did that mean she would automatically decline, she opted against doing so on this occasion. A largely typical scene from that time so far, but his response was what none of us expected. Disgusted by the rejection, he spat in her face. He was kicked out of the house and went home to his girlfriend.
The private exchanges of a few men in Sky Sports last weekend, which were leaked to the public, have brought attention once again to the hardly revelatory news that there is a certain derogatory view of women held by many who work in professional football in the UK. To judge from afar is all too easy, but the daily experiences of life in that world facilitate the formation of such beliefs. The majority of women you encounter also fulfill a certain stereotype.
It is an environment where little is beyond reach at any time. I remember a mate of mine joked that it was surely a contractual right of ours to be able to date the good-looking staff at the stadium. Spend any amount of time with a group of footballers and you'll quickly pick up on this shared sense of entitlement. Obviously not all behave this way -- and many of my former team-mates did not -- but the reason I can instantly recall who they were is because they were in such a minority.
I am not wandering too far from my own experience here by suggesting the difficulties of re-entering the real world are not made any easier by such attitudes. A reasonable portion of the personal therapy I underwent to deal with premature retirement served as a refresher course in how relationships are generally formed and maintained. These theories bore little resemblance to the reality I had known.
If social experiences, observations and the influence of peers are factors in developing opinions on anything, it would be harsh to criticise any player for forming partly negative views on women in some way. It really has to be seen to be believed, but the manner in which so many women behave would have you scratching your head in disbelief. It goes without saying (but I guess I'll say it anyway) that many lads have enough about them to realise what is normal and acceptable and choose their company accordingly. But to those who have surrounded themselves with people who have never said 'no', the distinction is less clear.
Of course, it's a lot easier to spend time with these women than those who would challenge such bullshit. Players are in an all-male environment from a young age. They are most comfortable in that world and women are never anything more than an accessory in many of their lives. This philosophy is passively encouraged by the clubs who want players to buy into the bullshit of team spirit and some spurious dressing room code. Obviously strong and intelligent women will point this out which is why they are often viewed as troublemakers or avoided by a lot of players. Deep down, a part of you knows this can't last forever.
The speed of the leaks last week and the lack of interest shown by Sky to identify their source would suggest a certain degree of opportunism. It has since emerged that both Andy Gray and Richard Keys were wildly unpopular among several of their colleagues.
As offensive as the comments are to many, the phrases used by Keys ("smashed it", "hanging out the back of it") would accurately reflect the depth of the majority of any exchange between footballers about their sexual partners. Dressing rooms are not renowned as venues for probing reflections about intimacy and love, but the emergence of footage showing Keys acting in this way was always going to lead to his departure.
While the whole episode has hardly shone a glowing light on the culture of professional football and those who work within it, little has emerged which wasn't already known. There are many who believe a woman's place exists away from the game and just cannot see the merits of female involvement in a sport so dominated by males.
The departure of both men from their jobs has done little to change this fact, though you would assume it would encourage more discretion in future among those who hold similar views. Pundits everywhere will be on their toes for quite a while. I know I will.
Sunday Indo Sport