x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Columnist Andrew Cole has no sympathy for sexist broadcasters

The physical demands are higher and referees get so much abuse from players that I think that will take a generation of players being used to female referees for it to become the norm.

Massey is seen during the game between Liverpool and Wolves.
Massey is seen during the game between Liverpool and Wolves.

There has been a huge fuss about sexism in football this week in England.

Two big-name Sky television personalities, Andy Gray and Richard Keys, have lost their jobs, partly for criticising a female Premier League lineswomen before Wolverhampton Wanderers versus Liverpool last weekend.

Speaking off-camera, Keys doubted whether she knew how the offside rule worked. Sian Massey, the lineswoman, showed that she understood it perfectly by having a faultless match on the line.

Maybe they would have been better asking me if I understood the rule, because I don't. And I was a No 9 who played for Manchester United and England.

The rule changed several times when I was a player and left me baffled. At one point you could be active, another inactive. And I thought football was supposed to be a simple game.

There were always disagreements about the offside rule and people still get it wrong, not least officials.

I have no issue with women in football. They make up a key part of the workforce at any club, and hold positions all the way to managing director.

Many women work in behind-the-scenes jobs, like secretaries and administrators. I used to spend ages talking with the women who did the laundry at Old Trafford. They were as important to the club as I was, but they seldom got any credit.

Karren Brady, who was also criticised by Keys, became a managing director of Birmingham City when she was 23. That type of achievement should be celebrated, not mocked.

Some of the sharpest agents I have seen are women. They are often less egotistical and better listeners than men.

Now, officials like Massey are doing well on the pitch.

There were no female officials in games I played, but that was then. I'm not one to hark back and say how wonderful everything used to be.

A female official in the Premier League signals progress and if she is good enough then she should be running the line.

There can't be enough top-level officials around and from what I have seen of her she's very good at her job.

She has become caught up in a media storm for the crimes of being good at her job and being female.

Gray and Keys were wrong to question her ability before the game and only did so because she's a woman.

After the game, no problem. If she does well then give her praise and if she doesn't then she gets criticised - that's part of being an official and she will be able to live with that.

It is the same whether you are a male or female official. I was questioning the referee Mike Dean last week for some dreadful decisions recently, especially his one to send off Manchester United's Rafael at Tottenham Hotspur.

I do, however, think it will be some time before a woman referees a Premier League game.

The physical demands are higher and referees get so much abuse from players that I think that will take a generation of players being used to female referees for it to become the norm.

There is very little sympathy that Gray and Keys are now out of work. From what I understand they were not popular at Sky and there was a feeling that they had become too big for their boots.

It is said that people there wanted them out. Maybe they became too powerful and their recent comments gave Sky the perfect excuse to get rid of them.

In that respect, the environment they were working in was like any football club.

If your face fits then you do well, but if a new manager comes in and doesn't like the look of you then your days are numbered. There are few industries where so many jobs are won and lost on the opinions of others.

Some good could come from Gray and Keys going.

Not only will Sky look at their attitudes towards women, but other presenters and former professionals might get a look in at Sky. It had become a bit of a closed shop with those two there, a little clique.

If they liked you then you got work, if they didn't then you didn't. There are some very articulate former professionals who believe they were denied work on Sky because their faces didn't fit with Gray and Keys.

According to these pros, it did not seem to matter how good you actually were at being an analyst. So you ended up with a situation where you had the same people most of the time on Sky.

The duo's departures give Sky an opportunity to freshen things up and replace people who have been there for 20 years.

Football has changed massively in that time, not least when it comes to attitudes towards women.


Andrew Cole is the second-leading goalscorer in Premier League history. His column is written with the assistance of correspondent Andy Mitten.