Football Media Watch: Soul and body searching

Photo: PA

THERE’S NO denying that the Eni Aluko affair is messy and confusing and paints a very grim picture of the Football Association. But what’s equally as sad as the accusations of racism and bullying is that women’s football has become as clichéd and, dare we say, tarnished as the men’s game. There’s been some closing of ranks by the look of things, with Gareth Southgate claiming on Eurosport that Mark Sampson is an “excellent character” and two enquiries revealing nothing. One wonders what the outcome will eventually look like.

Aluko herself was paid £ 80,000 to close (or keep quiet?) the matter, but its suggested that her omission from the England squad is linked to her complaint. Whether it was or not, some of the comments made by team-mate Lianne Sanderson made the heart sink, especially when it was revealed England players are primed by a PR machine. In the Guardian, Sanderson commented: “They want everybody sounding robotic. After every game, they tell you exactly what to say in interviews. Someone with a clipboard will give you the messages and key phrases they want you to say. Or they will write them on a whiteboard so everyone can see. It’s the same with your tweets. They want to control everything.”

The media was strangely subdued about the underlying ethics of the game and how it clearly needs to change in the future. Sampson is a football man and he’s probably been immersed in the ingrained behaviour of the game from a young age – the dressing room banter and the dialogue of the tap room. Listen to any bunch of young players and you’ll hear good-natured ribbing that often crosses boundaries. But it is given and received and rarely becomes an issue. But that’s young men, mostly working class, mostly devoted to football since they were kids. Football sits uncomfortably alongside the middle classes or people who don’t accept things without questioning them, including the bigotry of the game or the often unacceptable behaviour of players, managers and officials. This could become a defining moment in the game.

Aluko is an intelligent person and a trained lawyer, but sadly, she is in danger of being isolated as a whistle blower. Sampson, although initially cleared of any wrongdoing, may have ignored the simple fact that what’s apparently “normal” for a dressing room of young men may not necessarily be acceptable for England’s women or indeed people who do not fit the stereotypical football model. And in doing so, he may have exposed himself – and the game of football – to severe criticism. This story will run and run – and expect a new campaign from the FA soon – and 20 goals from Aluko to prove a point.

Also coming in for criticism over the past couple of weeks were Stevenage. The new town club may have won 3-1 against Grimsby Town, but they scored a number of own goals in imposing intimate searches of Grimsby fans as they entered the Lamex Stadium. Stevenage issued this statement: “All stewarding plans are bespoke for each match and are based on a combination of past experience, supporter behaviour and police intelligence. The risk assessment going into Saturday’s game indicated high risk groups attending and the potential for anti-social and un-cooperative behaviour. After liaising with Grimsby Town’s safety officer, the police and others, it was indicated that prohibited items were likely to try to be brought into the grounds and could be passed on to those deemed less likely to be searched, such as women and younger supporters. This resulted in a joint club and police decision to implement a full, 100% compliant, searching regime as part of the condition of entry.”

Something went a little wrong. Stevenage claimed that Grimsby were made aware of the regime, but there have been 20 complaints that women were asked to show their underwear and even very young children subjected to a search. Furthermore, female stewards were filmed operating inside the men’s toilet at the Lamex. A clumsy exercise in stadium management if ever there was one.

Sources: Guardian, Eurosport, BBC, The Times, Stevenage FC, Grimsby Telegraph.