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Massey being victimised by protectors

THE peculiar part regarding Andy Gray and Richard Keys' comments about Sian Massey is that, for the moment at least, they seem to have had the desired effect. She hasn't been seen since.

In the days after the story was leaked, talking heads lined up to express their belief that football was sexist -- which is chief among its many faults that grow in the 'anything goes' culture of the football dressing-room. In other breaking news, running across the bottom of the screen -- Kennedy's been shot and a man landed on the moon.

Other than actually seeing Gray and Keys behave like boorish idiots -- something which wouldn't have taken a huge leap of imagination before all of this happened -- the last week has taught us very little after an incident which was supposed to have brought a little bit of enlightenment to the game.

"Joining me now to discuss sexism in football is former WAG Lizzie Cundy," was Kay Burley's priceless introduction to another Sky News piece from the top of the moral high-ground, a place from which they will always strive to reach in any story.

Recognising that Gray and Keys were dead men walking -- or, after Keys' 'TalkSport' interview, dead men talking -- players and managers who have lovingly dealt in their "banter" over the years rounded on the pair for their comments. The vast majority probably meant what they said but those who didn't were never going to be stupid enough to express sympathy for Gray or Keys in public.

But the one voice which hasn't been heard is Massey's who, like most good referees or assistant referees, seems to be striving for anonymity even if her chances of getting it anytime soon is nil. After making an excellent decision in a high-profile Premier League game, most officials would expect to be given a chance to build on their good form which, like players, tends to be better when they have a foundation of confidence.

Instead, Massey was stood down from being an assistant at Gresty Road for Crewe's game against Bradford City and again from refereeing Corby Town's match against Eastwood on Saturday.

In both cases, the demand for press and photographers accreditation was huge, but the Professional Game Match Officials felt she needed to be taken away from the flashlights. "The focus needs to be on the football match, not the officials. It would be unfair on the clubs involved," read their statement which, while well-meaning, won't do much for Massey's future job prospects.

If every referee or assistant was taken off their next match after being the subject of controversy in a previous one, the entire football season would last about three games because there would be none of them left.

Unless Massey asked to be taken out of the spotlight, the decision to stand her down is counter-productive and will only increase the scrutiny when she finally returns.

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When it comes to officials, anything other than the middle-aged man who looked like he never kicked a ball in his life is going to garner attention. That might be because they're a woman, an ex-player or, in the case of Stuart Attwell, younger than several of the players they are trying to control.


Almost 18 months ago, Attwell refereed his first Premier League match aged 25 but, since then, he has come in for heavy criticism from managers seeking an easy target. Granted, he didn't help himself when he and his assistants infamously awarded a goal when it should have been a corner, but, in other cases, it's hard to escape the feeling that Attwell is targeted as a smoke-screen by managers to deflect attention from their team's failings.

But at no point in the Attwell arguments was anybody criticised, sanctioned or sacked for being ageist when they questioned his ability simply because he was 25. He might be a bad referee but it should be his decisions rather than the fact that he would need ID if he was going into town that give him the label. But after Attwell made his 'ghost goal' mistake, he was stood down for one game; having done nothing wrong, Massey has now missed two.

Yet the best judgement on how much the game has moved on will come when Massey returns and makes a high-profile mistake -- which she certainly will, not because she's a woman but because she's human.

If she gives an offside decision against Wayne Rooney, will he resist the urge to tell her to f**k off or call her various names from the male and female anatomy as he would with any other referee? Will a manager affected by her poor decision be able to resist making her gender the issue rather than her decisions? Will the crowd chants of 'who's the b****x in the black?' or 'the referee's a w****r' be adapted to more acceptable forms of abuse or simply banished from the songbook?

For the sake of the game, it would be nice if no official had to put up with such vitriol but, despite the game thinking it has grown up in the last week, that's not going to happen.

Instead, after almost every decision, Massey will have to put up with idiotic comments from supporters, managers and players for the rest of her career. If, one day, she makes a decision and is unfairly castigated for it regardless of her gender, she might genuinely feel accepted.

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