Wednesday, October 22, 2014

UEFA from the Maddening Crowd

So, after CSKA Moscow were punished for racism by fans with a 'behind closed doors' game against Manchester City, which included some doors that were slightly ajar, if not actually open, given that there were a couple of hundred CSKA-supporting guests, mascots, parents, what-have-you, inside the stadium, a new idea from UEFA President Michel Platini.

Hold onto your hats, everybody. This could be a doozy. 

An extract: 
UEFA chief of press Pedro Pinto told Press Association Sport: "The president has suggested an idea where instead of having empty stadiums only women and children are allowed into the match". 


The thinking here seems to be that UEFA considers discrimination based on race to be a bad thing (with them so far) and that this would be best stressed with an approach that basically says that all racists are men, and that all women and children are harmless little flowers who will bring only sweetness and light to a stadium and can safely be allowed in as they aren't any danger to anything.

Which sounds nice, maybe, on first hearing and before thinking about it too hard, but ... yeah. Not so much.  

Apart from anything else, have you met any children recently? Anyway.

There's so many questions in this one. What's the cut-off age for boys? Is some UEFA suit (and it will be a suit) going to say, "well, up to the age of x they clearly don't count as members of a particular gender but above that age they are all potential racists and a threat to the fabric of society"? Are they expecting chants along the lines of "slugs and snails and puppydog tails, that's what referees are made of"? Is the implication, "you're being punished - women and children being present is part of the punishment"? Elaborate mosaic tifos in the form of flowers, and kittens, and My Little Pony? 

< heavy sigh >

Look, I'm all for football matches being more welcoming of all people. At Mosson that might involve putting a steward on the door of the women's toilets so young girls (as well as the rest of us) don't open a cubicle door and find themselves looking at a bloke zipping himself up. To be fair, other women fans often play that role, but on a more ad hoc (and sweary) basis. I've had a great time when MHSC's women's team get to play in the main stadium and there's little girls running around in Lattaf shirts. When I went to a football match in England for the first time (Emirates Cup) I could see a rainbow flag from Gay Gooners up in the stands. It's nice. I feel welcome. Why shouldn't I?

But this 'idea' puts a significant group of fans in a 'safe' category purely by virtue of age and/or sex. And another in the 'dangerous' category, ditto. That's no help to anybody. 

If UEFA really wants to punish racism, they can do. Of course they can, if FIFA can change national tax and criminal law if they see fit. Not this way. 
"This is just an idea at this stage"
Please, please, please - keep it that way. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Macho Macho Men...

Fifa are beserk, obviously, we all know that. The tax thing, the political interference thing, the commercial protection thing, the, y'know, deaths. We know.

And Sepp Blatter has a bit of a reputation for being particularly beserk / berkish. And yet has strangely suggested that a slightly more egalitarian approach to football admin is warranted. Good round-up here.

Of course, he still referred to women as 'ladies', which mainly makes me want to pour myself a glass of dray wate wain, but hell, the corrupt old lizard may just have a point.

Now, there's 36 comments on that Guardian article at the time of writing, and pleasingly nobody has yet come out with the old "nobody watches women's football" line, with which we are all so familiar (although there's a couple of near misses and somebody referring to 'females'). But - and this is partly connected to Corinne Diacre having just managed her first game in men's professional football (away at Brest - that's either a hell of a coincidence or someone at the LFP scheduling office has #banter in his Twitter bio) and also to this wonderful article by Carrie Dunn - we know it's coming, and here's how to be prepared.

You know what's coming.

"Nobody watches women's football"

Factually incorrect.

I watch.

When I can - I mean, maybe the viewing figures are low because it is VERY RARELY ON THE TV. What am I supposed to do, employ a medium and plug them into a USB port? Employ a flock of midfield-diamond-familiar carrier pigeons? Pff. This is actually the same argument that impacts on a lot of football outside 'the top leagues' (I'd say 'TM' but there's so much commercial inequality between and within leagues re TV money that whatever) such that we talk also about 'football' and non-league football, African football, South American football, etc.  If it's not on TV nobody can watch it; if nobody watches it, it doesn't get on TV. That's fairly simple, if annoying, circular logic.

Anyway. There's a bunch of people who bang on about 'women' not being as fast or as strong or, I don't know, as tattooed or as arrested as the menfolk. This means they feel comfortable is sticking to the default set approach to football - that 'football' actually means men's football in a specific set of leagues, relegating those other footballs as, well, 'other'. Again, whatever. David Silva is 5'8, Wendie Renard is 6'1; Abou Diaby falls apart in a mild breeze, Chrissie Sinclair is nails - if you're going to use averages, be aware of their limitations. The average man has about as much to do with the average footballer as he has with the average racehorse.

The default set approach seems slightly more pronounced in football than other sports. After all, I can confidently refer to Serena Williams as 'a tennis player' and Paula Radcliffe as 'a marathon runner'. Somehow, I am expected to give Marta an adjective - which would be fine if that adjective was 'awesome'.

So, moving on - "Nobody Likes Women's Football".

Factually incorrect.

I do.

I like it. I love football. I love that shortly after some berk wrote that article about women's teams needing a man in goal (srsly, not even bothering to google that article, he doesn't deserve the hits), Nadine Angerer put in such a performance at the Euros that she won FIFA Women's World Player of the Year, the first goalkeeper to do so. I love that Pia Sundhage looks like she could equally be managing an infant school trip to an art gallery but is one of the most successful coaches around. I love that USWNT captain Abbie Wambach married one of her own midfielders while you lads are still working out if being gay is OK. I love that Fara Williams and Therese Sjögran are the most capped players ever for England and Sweden, that Birgit Prinz and Wambach are the top international scorers for Germany and the USA. I love that the newsflash "goal : Zidane; assist : Marta" has appeared on a stream I'm watching. I love Marie-Laure Delie's unbelievable goal against PSG in the 2012/13 season. I love Canada 3 - 4 USA in the semi-finals of the 2012 Olympics. I love that if you go see a women's football match at Mosson there are gaggles of little girls in football boots and shirts saying 'Lattaf'. I love that Corinne Franco went back to wearing 'Petit' on her shirt in January. I love Wolfsburg 4 - 3 Tyreso in the WCL last season. I love that Diacre was «quand même satisfaite» after Clermont's opening match. I love that Linda Bresonik makes Andrea Pirlo look rushed. I love that the Brazil national team features Barbara, Maurine and Daiane, and so sounds rather like my mother's table-tennis club. I love Silvia Neid and Sandrine Soubeyrand, Caroline Seger, Célia Okoyino da Mbabi and Verónica Boquete. I love that the U20 World Cup kicks off tonight and ooh Group B looks tricky.

So. Sepp Blatter may want more women in admin, and I'm a bit ambivalent about that because FIFA admin has a body count. But women are playing and managing and watching and writing about football. And that, I love.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Relax everyone, he's only kidding.

Satire is difficult. Get it right, and you can create a cultural touchstone that lives for years ("a Modest Proposal", "Shatner's Bassoon"), get it wrong, and you look like an eejit. I'm pretty sure that Martin Samuels thought he was being pro-gay in a cheerful banter-tastic-type way when he suggested that Joey Barton should come out as gay (that was a weird one) and the working theory on Tam Cowan's rather strange piece for the Daily Record is that this was a joke that 'misfired'. 

(and yup, the Record has added a rider to the piece now - "Editor's note: Folks, we would like to point out Tam is a professional funnyman and what he has to say should be taken with a large pinch of salt." Uh-huh.)

The thing is, using stereotypical views on a subject in a satirical way can misfire badly if they just look pretty much like other non-satirical viewpoints, and those make up a significant part of 'genuine' coverage of the subject. This follows Adrian Durham's apparently serious suggestion that women's teams should play with a man in goal (amusingly, in the middle of a Euros that saw several cracking keeping performances from teh ladiez, and which was followed by Nadine Angerer being named Best Woman Player in Europe). Cowan's schtick looked worryingly familiar - and wasn't funny or extreme enough to distinguish itself from what it (apparently) seeks to parody. 

The problem is that you need a whole mountain of salt for Cowan's piece not to be offensive. Banterific wordplay? Cracks about the gender of women players? Head-patty language? Check, check, check. Yeah, he didn't actually mean it. Yeah, he was taking the piss out the people that really think like that! He's being wacky! He's a comedian! He's ... sounding exactly like a lot of people who do mean it. If this is 'comedy', it's of the take-my-mother-in-law-oh-i'm-just-kidding variety that doesn't escape being rude and dismissive because the writer is winking desperately throughout. It's just not clever enough. 

Anyway. Well done, Scotland. With Sweden in the group, and the four best runners-up of seven groups having to play off for the final European finals place, hitting the ground running is very important. Onwards and upwards. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

On talking too much and not enough

I know it sounds strange to say that I keep silent, when I talk so much. 26k+ tweets, pages of comments chez the G, this place, FFW. But most of that is football, or baking, or music, or pictures. I often stay silent on the tough stuff. Part of this is because sometimes I just don't know what to say, or how my voice could possibly help. Part because in some circumstances it is not for me to speak, but to listen to those who have relevant lived experience. Part, I rationalise as self-protection, but could also be characterised as fear, or cowardice. On some topics, sadly, silence is safest.

Silence can be a powerful tool. Some people are scared of silence and want to fill the void with words. I learned that in therapy, that's how they get you to tell your secrets, not just by asking questions, but by letting you answer, and then...waiting. The impulse was to continue, to fill the silence. But I soon learned to answer, and then stop. Several sessions involved me and them just sitting and looking at each other. At first, it was a bit confrontational; then, it became more comfortable. Then, we reached a silent agreement about it, and moved on.

So, I do not like to feel pressured into speaking, but neither do I like to feel pressured to be silent (that is not a dig at #twittersilence, by the way, but at the motives of the cons who caused this with their abuse of people speaking). Silence is also a powerful weapon. There is a lot of abuse on the internet, made easier by distance and (quasi)anonymity. But the nature of the abuse is qualitatively different for certain groups, whether microaggressions, mobbing or outright threat. That's not a technological problem, but a societal one. If people weren't con enough to say these things, Twitter's message options would be irrelevant. While people are con enough to say these things, the biggest 'report abuse' button in the world won't change it - and could make it worse, by being abused to further silence people.

It would probably end up with every message that was about anything at all being reported, and given the technical limitations of policing the message traffic through Twitter, being deleted, so the whole place was simply a constant stream of nothingness, and pictures of meerkats hugging. I'm all for pictures of meerkats hugging, but as light relief to the tough stuff. The tough stuff is important. I learn from the people I follow, and I want to continue to learn. I don't want them silenced. I may not say much about it, but I'm listening.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My Hands

My hands work.
My hands hold my children.
My hands hold your hand in love.
My hands shake your hand in greeting.

My hands craft things.
My hands make things.
My hands have lifelines, lovelines, manylines.
My hands represent me.

My hands are not bloody.
My hands would never hold a weapon against someone else.
My hands are not violent.
My hands observe.

My hands are any colour.
My hands may be the same colour as those who perpetrate violence.
But they are not the same, as I am not the same.
My hands will help fix this.

My hands work.
My hands hold my children.
My hands tell a story.
My hands tell the truth.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

ATP curated by TV on the Radio

Not long ago, ATP announced that this winter's two festivals would be the last UK-based 3-dayers. They've never made any money, it seems, and having broken out into one-day events in London, and longer festivals abroad, maybe there isn't the desire among gig-goers to spend three days dealing with spartan conditions a fair drive away from anywhere. It's sad - and a testament to what ATP means is that most of the people I know from the weekends back eight, ten years ago, is that they all intend to come to the last one. My first was Slint in February 2005. It was snowing. I had flu. I saw a badger. I was mostly hopped up on nightnurse and didn't drink the whole weekend. It was *freezing*. It was wonderful.

This time, the check-in had been brought forward and nobody bothered checking IDs. This meant that we could all get settled - check out the Queen Vic with tables this time, make sure the Buddha Bowl van was back - and not miss any bands. North America were a comforting vocal-free, guitar-looping opener, Unknown Mortal Orchestra more nuanced in their vocal gymnastics and heavy riffs.

Mykki Blanco was the first sign of the turn this ATP would take; confrontational - "this is for all the prostitutes I know" did not sound like spin - and powerful. It felt like she was peeling off her female self to display the contradictions, the controversy, the confusion underneath. In big boots, and spitting, she showed that trans* doesn't necessarily mean transition - nor yet, 'put on a frock'. Starting in a sports shirt, then her bra, then topless, she forces you to watch. Then De La Soul showed how after all these years they can still work a room. Playing one side of the Pontins auditorium off against the other, they ruled the place.

Spank Rock and DJ.
Saturday morning broke to the traditional morning chorus; bird tweeting, seagulls shrieking, smoke alarms going off, anguished cries of "for God's sake, Sean, just have toast!". Dark Dark Dark were one of the few 'trad' ATP bands of the weekend, multi-instrumental southern-tinged rock - look, a clarinet! an accordian! ATP Bingo... - underpinned by a chiming piano.

Spank Rock had a DJ in hot-pink hot-pants and Amanda Blank hyping up the crowd, causing mixed feelings; first, are these lyrics socially acceptable, second, why can't white people manage to dance to this music without looking like idiots...and then TV on the Radio, the curators, took to the stage in a blaze of lights and interspersed their songs with shout-outs for every single act they had invited onto the bill. They are one of the acts I remember for lighting up the room the first time I saw them, and they were similarly life-affirming tonight.

Sunday - the traditional trip to the beach. Fish 'n' chips. Then The Juggs - "it gets funnier every time you say it! Like Cockfosters!" - took it down to true single-string blues and an awesome closing rendition of 'Come Save Your Son'. Of all the bands missing from the merch room this time, this was the one I missed most - the opening heartfelt howl of 'Jesus!' just wouldn't let you leave.

Saul Williams
CSS were as cheerful as ever - "well, there's no internet here - so we are all very present" - Lovefoxxx entering in a gold cape simultaneously tres rock'n'roll and also endearingly homemade. They lit the place up, and threw themselves into the surrounding hiphop with a rousing 'I've seen you drunk, girl'.

Saul Williams was the perfect end to the weekend. Accompanied only by an occasionally unhelpful saxophonist, he was powerful, angry, pointed, and at the last, brave enough to step away from the microphone and rely on the power of his voice alone to get across to us.  It worked. That un-amplified, un-musicked voice reached out like nothing else.

ATP may be moving on to bigger and better things, but the experience of spending three days in an internment camp on the British coast and wondering why the hell anyone would actually holiday here (next up at Camber is a swingers' weekend, apparently - theme is where it's at) is one that has been a constant for me for many years. I will miss it. Let's make the last one the best one. Bring teabags, binbags, sleeping bags and anything else you might need. But bring the music. Bring it on.

Friday, March 29, 2013

One of them must be…

I wrote this in February, when Robbie Rogers first posted his resignation from football. It was not clear at that point whether or not he meant to come back to the game, or his motives for stepping away. The Guardian has since published this honest, and difficult, interview with him, by Donald McRae. It's seriously worth reading. It makes me happy and sad simultaneously - happy because Rogers sounds like he is a man at peace with himself, and able to put 'the shit' in perspective; sad because his references to 'the shit' show just how far the beautiful game has to go.

That interview included this section, which was the main motivation for posting the article below:

He becomes thoughtful when asked if he knows any gay footballers. "No. Even now, one of my best friends said: 'Do we know anyone else in football who could possibly be gay?' And we couldn't think of anyone. We're such great actors because we're afraid to let people know who we are. We've been trained by our agents how to do interviews, how to present ourselves. No footballer has since said to me, 'Robbie, thank you, I'm gay too…' I don't know if anyone will."

On 15 February 2013, US men’s international footballer Robbie Rogers came out, and declared he would ‘step away’ from football, in the same blogpost. He wrote eloquently about the problems that secrets can cause, finishing “My secret is gone, I am a free man, I can move on and live my life as my creator intended”.

My reaction to that was, naturally, ‘bloody well done’, which seems to be shared (alleluia) by the majority of people reacting to his declaration. Former USMNT colleagues such as Stuart Holden and Sacha Kljestan amongst others have already made their support clear (good men).

A quick run-through some other names – depressingly quick, perhaps. David Testo, who came out in 2011, said that his teammates and club had known he was gay, and they had accepted that. Marcus Urban left football in 1991 because he “chose life”. Thomas Berling retired in 2000 after coming out. Anton Hysen came out in 2011, and still plays, in the Swedish third division (and has since won the Swedish equivalent of Dancing with the Stars, which is rather adorable). And Justin Fashanu

One thing that comes up a lot when homosexuality in football is discussed. That there must be at least one gay player in the Premiership. 

One of them must be. I mean, statistically speaking.


The UK census does not include a question on orientation, so estimating the number of gay people in the population at large is a bit tricky – the song says ‘one in ten’, the government apparently works on the basis of 5-7%, the ONS reckoned 1.5% in 2010 on the basis of a sample of 450.000 (per the article) or 247.632 (per the backing data article – very confused), and a British Crime Survey pre-dating the ONS survey 2.2%. The ONS sample – whichever one is correct – is large in ‘polling’ terms (voting intention surveys are routinely between 1-2,000 people) but the articles don’t show margin of error or details of how the sample group were chosen.

So who knows, frankly, how many gay (I use that term deliberately for the full range of non-heterosexual sexual orientations because, well, it’s a nice word) people are kicking around in a total population for England and Wales of (ONS again, after the 2011 census) approximately 56.1 million people, approximately 27.5 million of whom are men.

Some maths. Two calculations seem important here – not just the incidence of not being straight (INBS) in the general population, but also the incidence of being a footballer (IBAF) in the general population. That general population being reduced to just the men, but not further for age-groups etc because, frankly, that’s too getting too involved. Also, it's not clear how many professional footballers there are in England and Wales - the PFA membership is around 4,000 (per wiki), but they cannot confirm exact numbers for currently playing professionals as these are held by the Premiership/League, and there are also fully professional clubs in the Conference - so that's probably a high number.

If we calculate the IBAF on these two estimations as 4,000/27.500.000, we get c.0.014% of the male population who are professional footballers. But the smaller the incidence rate, the bigger impact even a tiny margin of error can have. We’re looking for a (taking a cautious approach) c.1.5% minority in a c.0.014% minority, which on a basic multiplication works out as c.0.00022% (and that ‘c.’ is getting larger as the percentage gets smaller).

But random distribution is not an even distribution; randomness creates clusters, even without any human factors. 0.00022% is just what you get multiplying the IBNS by the IBAF, without any randomness.

And then there are the ‘human factors’ – professional footballers are a self-selecting group. Nobody appears out of nowhere as a top-flight footballer; the preparation for that starts in childhood, and kids can be cruel. Any perceived difference can be targeted, and the school changing room can be one of the worst places for this. A single-sex environment involving nudity and ‘banter’ can be pretty uncomfortable whatever, but if you are of a different orientation, or unsure, then that’s going to be even worse. Gay kids – or suspected-to-be-gay kids – are at risk of specific bullying (on top of the general kind), which could contribute to a drop-out rate either through outright exclusion (“we don’t want xxxxx on our team, he’s a woofter”) or self-protection (“I’m less likely to get shit if I join science club”).

To go alongside that negative reducer, there might also be a positive one – people bang on about heteronormative wotsits a lot, but there are some homonormative ones as well. A gay kid trying to be ‘a good gay’ might just buy the ‘gays don’t play football*’ line, and think they should be doing something else instead. God bless Gareth Thomas for preferring rugby to musical theatre.

This isn’t a random sample of 4.000 people in the population, remember, it’s a group defined by a common background and very specific skillset. Simply taking the INBS on that is to take a number based on an error-prone calculation without account of random distribution or any contextualising human factors.

So – there are no out Premiership footballers, but a general expectation that there must be at least a few who are in. Maybe there are, maybe there aren’t. None are out. That expectation is therefore a bit problematic – a diversion from the real issue. Because it’s not like there’s a theoretical gay manager with a stack of gay envelopes each with a gay name in and we all get to play ‘guess’ and see who’s right at the end of the season. Because football is about more than the Premiership, and more than the League.

For every person making this decision, it’s a personal decision. If somebody decides to stay in, then that's their call - but if they decide to stay in because the alternative seems too damn nasty, that doesn’t reflect well on the rest of us. It is for football in general (and the related cross-section of society, media, and market that involves) to address homophobia so that decision can be taken for personal reasons, without such fear. Whether Robbie Rogers is stepping back for a while to take stock and try something else, or will never go back to football, it’s his call, and I wish him all the best.

Check out the Football v Homophobia campaign for details of events, resources and links.

*This is all specific to men's football, as a number of factors affect the situation re: women's football, where there are openly gay players.  

With thanks to Ally Fogg for the read-over. All errors my own, etc and so on.