Thursday 19 September 2019

If men had any balls they'd share the beautiful game

Andrea Byrne

QUOTING Gordon Sinclair, a male friend said to me recently, "If women were meant to play football, God would have put their tits somewhere else." Now, I am quite a passive person, I rarely lose my temper, but some things just get under my skin.

Who decided that the world of football was the preserve of men? I am sick to my molars of defending my footballing affiliations. I hear the football-loving female tribe echoing my sentiments and empathising with my cause.

Men think I am joking when I tell them that one of my favourite books is Jimmy Burns's The Hand of God. The same men look at me gobsmacked when I succeed in answering the most difficult footballing questions in a table quiz.

When I watch football in a bar or a stadium, I tend to be sporting a pair of impossibly high heels and attire that stands in stark contrast to an incredibly unflattering and unbecoming football jersey. I don't hurl foul-mouthed abuse and swig pints of lager. I may not look like your average football supporter, but I know just as much.

Having grown up with two brothers and a father who were certifiably obsessed with football, I had no choice but to be the same. The sport dominated dinner table conversations and it usually provided the root to every family squabble. My father is a Manchester City supporter, my brother an Evertonian, so my decision to support Manchester United all those years ago did not stem from the fact that Giggs has a lovely pair of legs or because they happen to be successful, but rather out of childhood rebellion.

Why is it that men find it so hard to accept that some women enjoy football? Is it that they are trying to hang onto tiny aspects of their life that they believe should be female free?

If I express my love of the game to men, they automatically presume that it's for the aesthetic value. Which is incorrect. I watch football because of the adrenaline, the suspense, the skill, the passion and the teamwork. The men just happen to be a delectable little bonus.

What's the problem in admiring beauty anyway? Men do it all the time. I would be questioning my sexuality if I didn't find Fabio Cannavaro or the oh-so-aptly-named Francesco Totti attractive. I mean, what self-respecting heterosexual woman wouldn't? Just because they happen to be Adonises, doesn't mean I respect them any more or less as footballers Likewise, just because Wayne Rooney, Ian Dowie, Luke Chadwick, Peter Beardsley and our very own gaffer aren't exactly blessed in that department doesn't mean I wouldn't watch them play or appreciate their ability.

I wouldn't question a man's knowledge of tennis just because he happens to salivate at the sight of Anna Kournikova or Maria Sharapova.

Don't get me wrong: in order to entice my fellow females into the wonderful world of football, I have drawn their attention to the likes of Jose Mourinho, Alessandro Nesta and Freddie Ljungberg. But soon they were hooked - not on the men, but on the game itself - because football is addictive, for men and for women.

Just over a fortnight ago Jacqui Oatley made British history by becoming the first ever female commentator on BBC's Match of the Day. The male-dominated world of such luminaries as John Motson was invaded by the attractive blonde 32-year-old. Cue the chorus of begrudgers bemoaning the fact that someone who had never played the game could be adept at talking about it.

Why do people presume she was selected on the basis of some tokenistic gesture or political correctness? The girl got the job on merit and she proved that with her debut broadcast from Craven Cottage when Fulham hosted Blackburn. Her delivery was first-rate, her commentary sharp and accurate.

Indicative of the chauvinistic world of football, thousands of fans have since joined an internet campaign to sack Jacqui Oatley. The online group, who call themselves "Woman Commentator On MOTD - Go Back to the Kitchen", apparently gained over 3,000 members in just one week.

Dave Bassett, ex-manager of Southampton, believes women can't possibly comment on football. "For commentating you must have an understanding of the game and the tactics, and I think in order to do that you need to have played the game," he says. Which is a bit like suggesting that a male gynaecologist is incapable of delivering a baby considering he will never give birth himself.

Thankfully, our own national broadcaster has employed some capable female sports reporters in the form of Evanne Ni Chullinn and Joanne Cantwell. The girls will form part of RTE's GAA summer coverage, but unfortunately there are no women making an impact in the testosterone-filled world of football and rugby broadcasting.

The hysteria and derision surrounding the appointment of Jacqui Oatley merely reinforces the point that the world of football, more than that of any other sport, is overflowing with chauvinistic masculine insecurity.

Why else do men, when I voice my footballing knowledge, feel so compelled to try and catch me out?

And another thing. I fail to comprehend why men treat the off-side rule like it's some complex scientific formula, one which can only be absorbed by the male brain? Here's news for you - it's not that complicated. It made sense to me quicker than setting the dinner table.

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