By Shane Thomas
Come the end of the 2012/13 Premier League season, Chelsea's 4-0 victory over Stoke is unlikely to be a game to last long in the memory. However, the match had an occurrence that could have long-lasting ripples, and not just for football.
1-0 down, Stoke's Matthew Etherington was fouled in the penalty area. Referee Andre Marriner awarded the penalty, only to reverse his decision. Before the foul, the referee's assistant had spotted Etherington in an offside position, and raised the flag to indicate this. Spotting his mistake, Marriner immediately rescinded his award of a Stoke penalty. It was a good piece of officiating, with most of the credit deservedly going to the referee's assistant. The relevant issue here is the identity of said assistant; Sian Massey.
Massey's presence in the Premier League as an official is a rarity in itself, and she became an unwitting cause celebre in January 2011, when she was on the receiving of disparagingly sexist remarks from Richard Keys and Andy Gray. Keys and Gray were working for Sky Sports at the time, and unaware that they were being recorded, made the aforementioned remarks. The release of the comments led to a media firestorm, and Keys and Gray left Sky Sports in disgrace.
While consensus sympathised with Massey, the controversy led to her being under a closer level of scrutiny than she had been in the past. No longer was she a faceless assistant referee. Now it was, "Assistant referee, Sian Massey. You know, the one involved in the sexism row." While most of the attention came from a good place, I felt there was a general tone of condescension towards Massey that became irksome.
Whenever Massey made correct decisions in future matches, there appeared to be an eagerness to credit her whenever possible. This was also the case regarding the Chelsea/Stoke match. The underlying tone appearing to be, "Look! Look at the woman! And she's actually good! Isn't that amazing!"
One of the laudatory tweets towards Massey came from journalist, Gabriele Marcotti. Knowing that he tends to engage with fans on Twitter more than some of his peers, I tweeted him asking if the singling out of Massey was counterproductive. After all, would a man get a name check for making an equally competent decision.
Within a few minutes I got a response. Marcotti stated that his initial tweet praising Massey led to a flood of responses, many of which were sexism couched in attempts at humour, containing phrases such as "making a roast dinner". He felt that highlighting her proficiency was necessary to offset this.
My bugbear was not with Massey. After all, she's done nothing to garner the extra attention she gets, apart from her job. My issue wasn't so much that disproportionately placing her under the spotlight overshadows her male counterparts, but it places her under additional and needless pressure.
And then I went away and had a think. And I realised that while my opinion may have some theoretical validity, it's pretty pointless when put into practice. Because the fact is we don't live in an ideal world, and whenever Massey runs the line in a match, she's already under additional (and needless pressure), simply because she's a woman.
Maybe it's kismet, but I recently watched the trailer for the upcoming film, 42, which is the biopic of Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play baseball in the major leagues. Whenever Robinson took to the field, he wasn't just trying to help the Brooklyn Dodgers succeed, he was competing against a social structure that tried to portray him as inherently inferior. Whether he desired to be a trailblazer for equality or not, he had no choice. He joined the battle the second he pulled on that #42 jersey.
Massey may not have a burning desire to help gender equality, but with every correct decision she makes, it becomes tougher for bigots to claim that women have no place in football. It adds to the empirical proof that there's only one barometer that should be a barrier to competing in football (and in all sport), and that's ability.
So ignore the first few paragraphs of this post. The next time Sian Massey makes a good decision, tweet, email, blog, shout out of your window. Tell all who will listen (and those who won't). Concerns about being patronising, and focusing too closely on one woman are valid. They're just nowhere near as valid as the fact that the Premier League has only one female official. And even then, she still has to put up with insulting and prejudiced remarks, for lest we forget, doing her job well. Bigots have a voice too, and that voice tends to be quite loud. We need to ensure our voice is louder.
AND IN OTHER NEWS...
Real Madrid's wretched defence of their La Liga title continued with a moribund 0-0 draw against Osasuna at the weekend. Missing Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos, due to suspension, Los Blancos have now fallen 15 points behind league leaders, Barcelona.
What I found particularly interesting about the game, is that had such a result taken place in the Premier League, some of its cheerleaders would use it as proof positive of England having the world's superior domestic league, a place where unpredictability is just waiting around the corner.
This phenomenon was adroitly summed up by journalist Rory Smith, who tweeted, "A team bottom of the league and without a win in six holding the expensively assembled champions? It can only happen in the Premier Lea... oh.
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