What Phil Neville’s Hiring Says To Young Women Like Me

As a society we too often interpret “the beautiful game” as “the men’s game”, and this needs to change

26/01/2018 16:37 GMT | Updated 26/01/2018 16:37 GMT
Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA via Getty Images

Another week, another controversy. It seems we can’t go even a day without someone’s digital past coming back to haunt them. On this week’s edition of Twitter Sexist of the Week? Phil Neville, the newly appointed manager of the England women’s football team.

Neville has come under fire for such comments, made on Twitter some years ago, as “just battered the wife” and “women [have] always wanted equality until it comes to paying the bills”. He also expressed a view that women should be the ones “preparing breakfast/getting kids ready/making the beds” in the morning, while men assumedly just sit around and watch football. Time to get his head out of the 1950s, perhaps?

Neville’s teammates and peers seemed unfazed by the content of his tweets, brushing off the protests of campaigners as a “bit of flak” that comes naturally with the role. This is equally shocking. Sure, people make mistakes, and sure, the tweets were written some years ago. But to brush them off as a mild inconvenience, important only because of the criticism they attract rather than the ingrained misogyny they expose, is deeply harmful.

These tweets only make up one half of the controversy. Shocking though they are, what is far more worrying is still, in 2018, and with a hugely successful women’s team, there’s not a broad enough pool of talent to be able to appoint a woman, or a man, with significant coaching experience to lead the Lionesses. In 2016, Girlguiding’s Girls’ Attitudes Survey found that 82% of girls aged 11-21 see female athletes as positive role models, and yet only 17% of professional sport coaches are women.

Some have criticised Neville’s lack of experience, both in managerial roles and in women’s football itself. Regardless of his ability to lead, I can’t help but feel that his appointment says a lot about the status of women’s football in the eyes of the FA. They appear to be taking a huge chance on a very high-performing team – would they do the same if they were dealing with the men’s equivalent? Somehow, I think not.

The FA has argued that there were no suitable female candidates for the role, which may well be true. But with 27% of girls saying football is only offered to boys at school (Girlguiding Girls’ Attitudes Survey, 2017), and a general lack of women in managerial positions across the board, this is hardly surprising. As a society we too often interpret “the beautiful game” as “the men’s game”, and this needs to change. Women’s football needs to be regarded as just as skilled and newsworthy as men’s.

In reality, this is the primary issue. Not Phil Neville, not even the FA itself, but the boys’ club which permeates the world of football – a club which looks after its own, sneers at the women’s game and easily dismisses casual Twitter sexism. It’s slowly being dismantled, yes, but more effort needs to be made.

So perhaps we should give Phil Neville a chance. After all, he’s barely three days appointed, and I’m sure his intentions are in the right place. I don’t doubt that he was the best man for the job. But we should also be closely examining why so few women applied for the role, and how we can help more women into managerial roles in sport. This starts in schools, in amateur teams, and in the way our society views football in general.

Oh, and Phil? Let’s try and hold back on the sexist tweets in future, shall we?