Sunday, 13 February 2011

Massey returns to Premier League

I was pleased that Sian Massey was running the line at Bloomfield Road yesterday.

You may recollect that Massey was the official at the centre of Andy Gray's and Richard Key's sexist "jokes" the other week. As I stated at the time (Sexism is society's problem, not football's), I didn't really find the commentators' humour very funny. I was also dismayed that a perfectly good assistant referee was relieved of her duties for the next few games as a result of the controversy.

She was back last week though, officiating in a League Two match at Chesterfield. Yesterday she was again in Premier League action, which is clearly where she belongs: she put in another excellent performance in the match between Blackpool and Aston Villa.

Unfortunately, it seems that not everyone was so thrilled to see her there. Sections of the home support apparently aimed chants at her, with some singing "There's only one Andy Gray". That there are such small-minded people watching football matches should not come as a surprise. It's the response of the managers I want to turn to.

In the recent past, we've had managers like Mike Newell (ex-Luton) speaking out against a more inclusive agenda. He wasn't alone. I'm an Albion Rovers fan but I was ashamed when our ex-manager Peter Hetherston had a go at Morag Pirie for no other reason than the obvious fact that she wasn't male. The unfortunate truth was that some people within football, while promoting inclusivism ("football for all" being the SFA's favourite slogan), were struggling to keep up with changing attitudes - and the changing roles of women in society.

A lot has obviously moved on in the four years since Newell's outburst, as evidenced by the reaction of the respective managers. Villa boss Gerard Houllier praised Massey's performance: "She took the right decisions. I was confident in her. She is good at what she is doing." Nice of him to say so, and he's right of course - even if it feels like he's only making this kind of statement because of Sian's gender. More telling was straight-talking Blackpool manager Ian Holloway's comments. Turning on his own fans, he condemned the chanting: "I didn't like some of the shouts. Is that funny? 'There is only one Andy Gray'. That's rude." Too right, it is.

This is evidence of the changing mood in football. As I've been at pains to explain previously, football itself isn't sexist even if some of its professed followers are. I am extremely pleased that Ian Holloway was man enough (can I use that term?) to make a stand. He's right - this wasn't "banter", it was a mild expression of bigotry. There should be no place for this in football.

The most pleasing thing about the Sian Massey story is that since news of Keys' and Gray's ill-advised comments, there has been a surge in the number of women looking to take up refereeing. This is very encouraging. So, it seems, Keys and Gray have helped strike a blow for a more tolerant society and greater inclusion within football. Well done boys!

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