About a year ago, Paul Scholes sat in a BT studio after watching Manchester United underperform. On that day, he was a paid pundit – getting quite a pretty penny one would imagine – expected to give insight into the game he had just watched. Instead of formulating a critical sentence, Scholes just sat there and shrugged and sulked, much to the delight of Manchester United fans in agreement and much to the delight of all the teams who were done over by his brilliance for more than a decade in the Premier League.
He was lauded for his theatrics because he once played for a football club – a business entity in a sport where dynamics and identity change with the wind. He continued to spout that his former side didn’t play in the ‘Manchester United way’.
After Brighton’s 3-1 defeat to Burnley on Saturday, Jake Humphrey was joined in studio by Owen Hargreaves, Steve McManaman and Rachel Brown-Finnis. She played over 80 times for England. She was a top goalkeeper in her profession, and she has experience that most people could only dream of. BT, instead of analysing the game further, took ten minutes out to discuss gender discrimination in football punditry and similar employment areas.
A nod to them for that.
Alex Scott has done a lot of work recently for Sky and their social media channels received countless tweets and comments outlining their discontent with her being on the panel. Veiling their gender discrimination under the guise of ‘wanting better insight’, they questioned Scott’s inclusion on broadcasts.
The same people lapped up Scholes for his indifference to the game he just watched and avoided analysing. Both Brown-Finnis and Scott have played a sport they are now paid to analyse. They did so at the highest possible level and could not have gotten any further in the game.
You can certainly make the point that women’s and men’s football are streets apart and you’d be correct in saying so.
But the differences lie in the hyperbole and the lifestyles afforded to the participants.
Therefore, the inclusion of any athlete with similar footballing experience and without the baggage of excuses that come with the gig is a breath of fresh air as opposed to a counterproductive piece of casting. Tokenism will undermine any movement towards gender equality, but tokenism isn’t relevant here.
Both players are very much qualified to speak about football and will be removed from programming if they don’t fit the bill. If anything, McManaman is kept around because he’s the token over-excitable character that fits a narrative. If anything, Owen Hargreaves is kept around because he’s the token intellectual-sounding middle ground between presenter and McManaman. Rio Ferdinand’s views on Mike Ashley have had zero effect on his role with broadcasters.
Tokenism may be alive and well, but putting in big characters to do a job they bluff is far more tokenistic than including footballers who are articulate and understand the sport they’re offering to analyse – female or otherwise.
I’d agree that Alex Scott appears uncomfortable, too. I’d also agree that sometimes she falls back into cliché.
The reasons for this are largely due to the environment set up around her and the precedents she was forced to embrace as someone looking to break into the industry. Yes, Carragher and Neville are occasionally good to listen to but even they’re likely told to play up to the Liverpool v Man United rivalry to keep fans who have little interest in the game and more interest in pretending they love their football clubs, engaged. These are the same people tweeting this abuse.
Scott resorts to cliché and seems on edge because the industry she’s now a part of was and is still male-dominated, with those most successful in the field are those who play up to the arguments that the everyman can understand.
Football punditry has rarely been about analysis- it’s about staging.
An injection of female athletes into a stale, toxic male-led environment cannot make it any less insightful. And on current evidence, it’s only improved coverage. Well done to BT for their foresight and giving airtime to a very important discussion.