Back when I was a Sixth Former, aged 16-18, one of my fellow male students happened to support Celtic, despite our college being in northwest England, where, in those pre-internet days, Scottish football shirts were hard to find. One day, the boy’s mother happened to be in Glasgow, so thought she’d try and buy him a Celtic shirt as a surprise – by going into the Rangers Megastore and asking if they sold any there. When told this story later, all the boys present laughed uproariously, understanding immediately why the mother was lucky to escape the shop with her life and skull intact, whereas none of the girls present so much as smiled except in bemused puzzlement, not understanding the implications of this particular sectarian sporting faux pas at all.
The allegedly “dangerous” – more on that word in a moment – stereotype supported by this tale is that females know absolutely nothing about football. This would certainly appear at first glance to be the opinion of Joey Barton, an ex-footballer from the men’s game (i.e., the real one), who has made headlines recently after criticising what he views as the excessive number of female commentators and pundits now being used in TV coverage of his old sport. In particular, he was condemned for a tweet made to his 2.8 million followers about two female ITV pundits, the ex-pros Eni Aluko and Lucy Ward, whom he mockingly called “the Fred and Rose West of football commentary”.
When ITV then put out a tweet of their own, lambasting his “vindictive remarks”, Joey stepped up and apologised, admitting that, “on reflection, I’ve been a tad harsh on Eni Aluko by comparing her to Rose West”. In fact, he said, rather than comparing her to someone part-responsible for merely a few innocent human deaths, he should “clearly” have really placed her in the “Josef Stalin/Pol Pot category”, as “she’s murdered hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of football fans’ ears in the last few years” with her allegedly knowledgeless wittering.
A Dangerous Game
Joey has a new podcast series out soon, Common Sense With Joey Barton, to be hosted by Facebook/Meta, and some have speculated he may simply have been trying to drum up some free publicity for it by making deliberately provocative comments. If so, then another individual in the public eye apparently eager for free media attention was Labour MP Julie Elliott, who called Barton’s words “very, very disturbing”, as opposed to “mildly amusing and ultimately completely insignificant”, as I would have done, before a Commons Select Committee last week.
Elliott then asked Stuart Andrew, who is apparently the Minister for Sport this month, “What do you think can be done from a Government point of view to actually bring pressure on these social media companies not to support people who put out things that are so offensive and so disgusting as he [Barton] has done?”
Instead of answering, “Nothing, love, with attitudes towards free speech like that, it should have been you Joey Barton compared to Stalin, not Eni Aluko”, Mr. Andrew agreed that Barton’s posts were “dangerous comments that open the floodgates for abuse and that’s not acceptable”. He then added that he would “happily” speak to the social media companies hosting Barton’s tweets and forthcoming podcast, also observing that, under the new Online Safety Act, the media regulator Ofcom would in the near future be obliged to intervene and offer guidance on such matters. In other words, Andrew agreed to use both legislation and his own personal influence as an official representative of His Majesty’s Government to attempt to censor and shut down the opinions and jokes of a man whose opinions he personally – or, more likely, fashionable Establishment opinion in general – happened to disagree with.
To judge by subsequent reports, most mainstream media appeared to be basically on the MPs’ side here, not that of Joey Barton. Yet the framing through which Barton’s offences were reported seemed somewhat disingenuous in nature to me. For example, in what precise way were Barton’s comments supposed to actually be “dangerous”, as Stuart Andrew claimed they were?
Tokens of Disaffection
The basic idea seemed to be that, by cruelly criticising female pundits online, Barton was potentially opening them up to social media pile-ons, potentially impacting their mental health and well-being: words are harmful, as the Left continually now say (except when they’re hounding people online themselves, obviously). Furthermore, Joey was painted as promulgating a patronising and outdated stereotype that women were constitutionally incapable of knowing anything about sport whatsoever and should stick to their true home in the kitchen, not the sports studio. As the current Chelsea Women’s coach, Emma Hayes, put it about some of Barton’s earlier comments back in December, using several classic elements of contemporary woke-speak:
If you haven’t experienced systemic misogyny, like lots of us have, you can’t for one moment understand how detrimental some of these conversations are knowing that anything anyone says just enables an absolute pile-on, particularly on social media.