Monday 4 August ~

The 2012 Olympics may feature a Great Britain football team, which is a topic that always stirs up strong opinions on radio phone-ins. In WSC 86 (April 1994) Joyce Woolridge described the response when she tried to raise the subject

You may be no stranger to humiliation as a football fan, but you can only really reach the depths as a woman caller to the 6.06 football phone-in. On Radio Five, the fans were “having their say” on the subject of Graham Taylor's selections for the England national squad. Several adolescent Arsenal supporters called Gary had made the predictable contribution of "Would England score more goals if lan Wright played?" (This was, of course, some time ago.) In between, monotone Dereks from the West Midlands had remembered when the game was so crammed with skilful players that it was a relief to see the hospital tackle or the hopeful punt upfield as a change from the free-flowing play. They were in no doubt that the cure for England's malaise was the return of entertainers and classy ball players like the experts for the evening, Peter Osgood and Duncan McKenzie, who didn't find it necessary to contradict their opinion.

As the “debate” meandered on, I was drawn into the fatal error of the female listener – thinking that she could add something to the discussion – and I foolishly picked up the phone. In the opinion of men who pontificate on football, women supporters fall into one of two categories. The first are old women who have supported Cambridge or Grimsby for the last 25 years and will, if not interrupted frequently with comments like “You know all the terms, don't you my dear?” when using “technical” phrases such as “five across the back”, go on and on about how the game has declined because there are no gentlemen like Bobby Charlton any more. Presenters obviously believe that the only way to save the programme is blanket patronising and cutting the call short.

Young women, the second category, more accurately referred to as “girls”, watch football because they like to see men with big thighs in shorts, but they are more dangerous as they will insist on having opinions. These must be “put right” as quickly as possible. Though getting on a bit, my high-pitched excitable Northern tones place me firmly in the latter category.

I plead guilty to having opinions, especially in the pub after a pint of bitter. I also can be convicted of wanting to be taken seriously and not wanting my feeble football witticisms greeted with “Very funny, love” and dismal silence, only to hear them being repeated by one of my male companions five minutes later to gales of merriment. I'd also like to be able to join my voice to those likening Brian McClair to female genitalia without instantly being reprimanded for not being capable of understanding that he covers every blade of grass every game. But it is my lot to be “put right'” continually, and why did I believe that if I picked up the phone it wouldn't happen to me again, and on national radio?

I had my phone-in topic ready: what about a British rather than an English team? Suggestions for players, a Welsh forward line, perhaps a Scots defence, would obviously follow, livening things up a bit. However, my hubris in daring to dial in “with a light-hearted suggestion” was about to receive a terrible punishment. “And now for a different view-point, we're going over to a lady from Bristol.” Silence. I was thinking about quietly replacing the receiver. “At least I hope so, are you on the line, Joyce?” Discarding the idea of asking if they thought lan Wright should be playing, I plunged in. "It's not really a serious suggestion (unnecessary to say that), more the sort of thing you talk about in pubs.” Osgood: “Oh, yeah, just staggered back there, have you?” Me:(piously): “Oh no, I've been listening to the programme all evening. I'm sure it will never happen, but don't you think there'd be no shortage of skilful players if we had a British national team rather than the English, Scots, Welsh and Irish teams?”

Osgood (after a considerable pause): “Well, Joyce darling, (very slowly) what you've got to understand is that there are lots of reasons why that just won't happen.” Me (floundering): “I didn't say that I thought it was possible, only that it is a talking point as I think there are a large number of great British players and we'd have a much stronger squad if we could use them.” Osgood: “I agree that it would be a very good team, love (his voice slowing down to the funereal pace reserved for the drunken insane), but... you've... got to...understand... that... there... are... a... lot... of reasons... why... it... will... never... happen... as... there... are... money... and... politics... involved” Me: “I know.” McKenzie: “The lads wouldn't stand for it, Joyce.” Me: “But...” McKenzie: “I'll tell you what, Joyce, we wouldn't have a Scottish goalkeeper... ha, ha, ha.”

The hilarity allowed me to exit in enormous embarrassment and the panel to relax in the sure and certain knowledge that another member of the sex which knows nothing about football had been put right. “And now we go over to our next caller, Gary from Hatfield.” Gary: “Why do you think Graham Taylor won't pick lan Wright?”

The only reason I felt I could go into work next day after a sleepless night in which I relived the call over and over again was that very few people probably listened to the programme. Radio Five obviously congratulates itself on its enlightened policy on having women reporting on football, as well as other sports. But it can't break down the boys' club mentality which dictates that all women are girls, girls are dumb and that, because women have no chance at all of playing professional football because of their sex, they should not presume to open their mouths on the subject of the game, except, perhaps, to scream orgasmically whenever a pair of hefty thighs runs their way. Loyalty causes men to close ranks when women offer critical comments about their fellows; prejudice allows them to dismiss these comments as nonsense anyway.

So now, when I hear some dim male sounding off on the airwaves, or am tempted to put my own point of view about an aspect of the game, I don't bother. The self-styled 1970s footballing icons holding forth won't welcome the intrusion and won't notice the absence of others like me for whom the threat of being called “darling” is sufficient enough deterrent to stop them reaching for the phone.

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