Sexism in football is still there; but we’ve come a long way

Football has had its horns locked in a fierce battle with its sexist prejudices for decades, with the sport keen to be able to tell the world that it does not mind that women want to be involved, nor does it mind that they want their opinions aired. But in the cases of Shelley Kerr and Sarah Winterburn it has highlighted that although sexism cases are less frequent, they are still occurring – but not all females in football experience this negativity, as proved by Irish international Stephanie Roche.

BT Sport presenter Lynsey Hipgrave was lambasted with sexist abuse for expressing her thoughts on a football incident during a La Liga match between Barcelona and Celta Viga in February 2016. She gave her opinion like many other followers of the sport did, but because she was a woman, she was told to “get back in the kitchen” and “make some sandwiches”. The case only managed to highlight the fact that football still has a sexism problem, whether the sport as a whole believes it has moved forward or not, it is still there.

A survey conducted by Women in football indicated that of the 661 women who were interviewed, and were involved in football in roles such as coaching or being a match official, 35% believed they were underpaid in comparison to males conducting a similar job, whilst 28% thought women were unfairly treated in the organisations they worked in.

Shelley Kerr is largely a success story for women in football. She became a pioneer for women in football in August 2014 by becoming the first female in Britain to manage a men’s senior team. Capped 59 times by Scotland during her playing career, she was appointed as the head coach of Stirling University’s football programme, who play their matches in the Scottish Lowland League.

Kerr said she had the utmost respect from her players from day one, which shows the strides that football as a sport has made in exiling sexism, but mentioned that for all of the positives, there have still been the negatives.

“There was a lot of profile around my appointment and I even had some photographers come and ask me if I’d wear high heels for pictures, which was just ridiculous.

“There have been a few occasions where from the touchline there has been sexist chants made, but I have to say it hasn’t been from football supporters, but more so from other sports teams that have been watching at the University. On the whole though, I have to say it’s been very good.”

Football needs more high profile cases where women are accepted and judged on nothing more than the credentials they possess, the way they want their team to play, and not the gender they are, just like Kerr has experienced.

“That was the one area that I would say was extremely positive from the first morning that I was introduced to the guys. The players were very receptive to me as a coach and to my philosophies, so my gender has never been a problem.”

In 2015 the Women’s World Cup took place in Canada, and the hype centred on the English team in this country helped to raise the profile of the ladies’ side of the game. Then, on the back of the World Cup, women’s football took another step forward as FIFA 16 was released with 12 of the women’s national sides included in the game for the first time ever. Although on the larger scheme of things it may not be seen as something that shows victory for the girls and the end to sexism, what it does do is help to show the sport is moving in the right direction.

It’s not uncommon to hear a female voice on match highlights these days, but when Sarah Winterburn first took an interest in reporting on the sport 20 years ago, she was seriously outnumbered in the press boxes at games, and experienced first hand what is frankly frowned upon today.

“In press conferences it was quite common to have managers dismissing questions from women, or answering the question and putting ‘darling’ on the end. But if that happened now it would be on Twitter in five minutes, and there would be an uproar.”

Within five minutes on the phone with the editor of the hugely successful Football365 website, you got a sense of her relief at the way the attitudes towards women have changed since she first started in the industry. But one thing she did stress was that the amount of females taking an interest in reporting on football is still fairly low in comparison to males.

“You get used to there being maybe one other woman there now, but I’m still probably outnumbered by 10/1 at least.”

Sunderland-forward and Irish international Stephanie Roche was in good company at the FIFA Puskas award ceremony in 2014, when she was nominated alongside James Rodriguez and Robin van Persie to have scored one of the top three goals in that year. The 26-year-old even received compliments on her finish at the dinner table from legendary Italian Allesandro Del Piero, who’d “recognised her from the video of the goal.”.

Roche eventually came second, but her experiences at the event prove that sexism is slowly being banished from the association of football.

“In Ireland it was a huge thing, because not only was I the first woman to be nominated for the award, I was the first Irish national to do so, too. I think everybody was proud so that made me proud to represent Ireland and women’s football.”

Roche admits she may be one of the luckier females to play the sport, as she struggled to recollect any negative experiences from her career to date.

“Women are doing a lot of things that they wouldn’t have been doing 30-odd years ago, so it just shows how altered things are now. I’m happy it’s now accepted that women are going to play football, and generally do all the things that men can do.”

After hearing from three credible voices associated with women’s football, it’s easy to see that the positive experiences the ladies are enduring out shadow the negative, misogynistic views of the minority, and that football should be proud that together it is doing a good job of silencing sexism.

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Luca Toni: The evergreen Italian

Inspired by Betway’s recent article nod to FA Cup cult heroes, we decided to change the scope slightly from England’s bloodied and battered stalwarts to Italy, and the colourful characters that have populated Serie A across the decades.

There have, of course, been many reluctant idols on the Italian peninsula, but perhaps none so intriguingly underrated as one currently on the verge of retirement: Hellas Verona’s Luca Toni.

Think classic Italian striker and perhaps Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti, even Gianfranco Zola or Antonia Cassano in his pomp, are the first on your dream team sheet; adaptable attackers, keen to work the channels and create, in the ilk of a ‘fantasista’, blurring the lines between playmaker and striker with abandon.

Yet, there have also been great goalscorers, of which pure poacher Toni is undoubtedly one, though the Verona man may gather dust in the archives of Serie A and Azzurri history, when situated next to more feted forwards such as Christian Vieri.

Here are a few reasons why it’s worth standing back and admiring this ageing artist of the Italian goal mouth, while you still can…

Luca Toni 1

A classic number nine on edge of extinction

As the game adapts and grows there are fewer of these Toni-style centre forwards than ever, with the fashion demanding fluid forwards that can do it all. However, as Andy Carroll occasionally shows in the Premier League, having a striker in the traditional mould can still prove to be a handy card up your sleeve.

Aggressive he may be, but Toni is no blunt battering ram. Yet, he is a fine focal point, a canny target man in the truest sense, albeit one with all the positive hallmarks of an unabashed hitman.

Strong with his back to goal, a torrid presence in his heyday for the opposition defence due to his stature and spirit and adept at holding up the ball, it is tough to think of a more effective foil for any wily winger pumping crosses into the box. Oh, and he is also pretty handy with his head.

Cast your mind back to last Serie A season, with the current and final campaign in Italy’s top-flight for Toni yet to prove fruitful, when the 6ft 4in striker found himself facing former club and champions Juventus.

Latching onto the ball in the Old Lady’s area, Verona’s old man pulled the trigger on a low finish like only a seasoned pro can. It was Toni’s 22nd strike of the term, ensuring he finished joint-top Serie A scorer aged an incredible 38, the oldest leading marksman ever to claim it in Italy, alongside young whipper-snapper Mauro Icardi.

Though, this is far from the first time tenacious Toni, a known gobbler of loose balls and half-chances, has been crowned Capocannoniere, with a first top scorer trophy awarded much earlier in his career during a first fledgling stint at Fiorentina; with this honour acting almost as a bookend to his time in Italian football.

 

Hitman heroics from the ultimate journeyman

Yet, despite individual accolades, plus being a World Cup winner with Italy in 2006 and a Bundesliga and DFB Pokal victor with Bayern Munich in 2008, there is still a smidge of snobbery regarding Toni’s career.

Indeed, the soon-to-be 39-year-old was once famously criticised by Mark Lawrenson for being: “Like 6ft 4in of blancmange…more Swiss Toni than Luca Toni.”

While the context of that comment was his international exploits with Azzurri, with Toni disappointing at Euro 2008, it appears that his outings in royal blue have impaired views on what has been an otherwise prolific career.

A return of 16 for Italy in 47 is nothing special, but 51 in 83 for Palermo, 57 in 99 over two Viola stints, plus 58 in 88 for Bayern Munich are stats not to be sniffed at. Luca Toni 2More than the tally, it is the importance and timing of those strikes which made Toni terrific, ensuring a cult status at several clubs. His journeyman nature, taking in 15 clubs across 26 seasons, beginning in Serie C with minnows Modena back in 1994/95 and now set for the final act with the Mastiffs in 2016, has perhaps prevented the veteran frontman from becoming a legend for any.

Though, that may not matter, when considering it was Toni’s club-record 30 goals which incredibly propelled Palermo to Serie A promotion in 2003, and a further 20 strikes for the Rosanero helped them to a first ever qualification for the UEFA Cup, leaving a lasting legacy still today for the Sicilians.

There was also the small matter of claiming the European Golden Shoe as the first Italian winner after notching 31 (the first time in half a century that a Serie A player scored more than 30 strikes in a season) for Fiorentina.

But take your pick of perfectly-timed Toni moments, for there are plenty: A 100th Serie A goal on his debut for Juventus – headed, of course, from 16 metres out; a rampant return to Viola, scoring as a super sub with his first touch versus Catania; grabbing the DFB Pokal extra-time winner for Bayern, with two last-gasp goals also for the Germans against Getafe in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals.

Outspoken antics and career’s end

For all his action on the pitch, Toni has never held back off the field either, and infamously ran into trouble when taking his Italian passion to Germany.

Reportedly fined for driving home at half-time after being substituted by then-Bayern boss Louis van Gaal, ticked off for slouching and then farmed out to Roma for apparent further disagreements with the coach, Toni saw his (until then successful) time in Bavaria come to an abrupt end.

His career never quite hit the same heights, until a recent renaissance with Verona, and Toni has always been outspoken about that fork in the road, providing some memorable gems like the ones below.

“Van Gaal simply didn’t want to work with me, he treats players like interchangeable objects,” Toni once told press before going on relate a story about Van Gaal’s changing room demeanour.

Toni reportedly also said: “The coach wanted to make clear to us that he can drop any player, it was all the same to him because, as he said, he had the balls.

He demonstrated this literally (by dropping his trousers). I have never experienced anything like it, it was totally crazy. Luckily I didn’t see a lot, because I wasn’t in the front row.”

Though, with the curtain about to be drawn on his distinguished career, Toni appears to have mellowed. As, the striker recently stated: “I think the time has come to stop.

“I hope to celebrate it by keeping Verona safe in Serie A. We want to do it; we should not give up now.”

With his side rock-bottom of Serie A and still winless, are there more Toni heroics left in the tank?