I wasn’t going to put anything out on this subject and, when you have finished reading, you may feel I haven’t.
The last 24 hours or so, the situation around Thommo not being on the radio this weekend has blown up, with rumour, conjecture and uncertainty being the order of the day. With no substantiated explanation, it has been left to the gutter press to release their ‘exclusives’ (using the wrong game in one report, some exclusive) as to why he isn’t on the radio right now.
I have had several DM’s asking for my view. Some have been a bit aggressive, accusing me of deafening silence, as if what I have to say on the matter makes a difference, which it doesn’t. What I will say is this – I can’t make a sensible and reasoned comment because I do not have the actual facts. We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Trial by social media isn’t new and someone reading this will have defended a character on social media only for the hard truth to come out later on. The obvious one is Bradley Wood, there was lots of speculation around his situation for months before anyone really knew what had happened. Whilst Thommo’s situation is very different, the same does apply here – only a few are likely to know the actual truth, the circumstances around which this has happened and what has also happened before.
Let me be very clear, for anyone who doesn’t know – I like Steve Thompson. Around the press box, he has always been the perfect gentlemen. He has great stories, he tells them with wit and timing. He is ‘old-school’, but in the UK we tend to have a view that the older you get, the less relevant you are, which is different to many cultures which revere experience, and I do not believe that younger necessarily means better. I like his commentary, I like that of Michael and Rob too. I see criticism of aspects of the BBC’s coverage on social media, but I think we are very lucky to have such comprehensive and in-depth coverage from an area of local media. I also cannot fault the BBC for the way they have been with me, they are always approachable, consistent and inclusive.
I remember the game I commentated on at Gateshead for Live Sports FM – Thommo had ten minutes with me as I nervously tapped him for information about being a good pundit, and he was all too ready to offer his advice. I was practically sat on his knee the whole game, such was the tightness of the box, and he never complained and never made me feel unwelcome or inadequate. Not all aspects of the ‘real’ media are quite as welcoming to someone in my position, and therefore any notion that I am going to start Thommo bashing is absurd.
What I will say is the world is changing and very quickly, what you can and cannot say is different to ten years ago. Turn it around on me – in 2000 (I think) I was happy to tell a French player to ‘go back to France’, and feel I had said nothing wrong. In 2020, I would be ejected from the ground and given a ban, and rightly so. Was it acceptable back in 2000? No, probably not, but it didn’t feel socially unacceptable. I am also open to admitting that it was only fifteen years ago that I stopped calling a friend ‘gay’ if he refused to come on a night out, or do something adventurous. Growing up, we used that term in a derogatory manner all the time, without question, and let me tell you I wasn’t in a knuckle-dragging circle of friends. I would never have racially abused someone for skin colour, I knew right from wrong, but those things I have discussed didn’t seem wrong, and going to a Grammar school surrounded by very intelligent people, sons and daughters of solicitors and colours, I would have surely got a handle on it if I was standing out as a right-wing lunatic. Language like that was on TV, radio, in the papers. Hell, it was only a few years ago tabloid newspapers stopped calling people with mental illness ‘bonkers’. When you live in a changing social culture, it can be hard to understand these adjustments and why they are being made, and it leads to claims of ‘woke’ generations ruining the world for those that have lived longer, when it isn’t always the case.
Now, I come around full circle and to the attitudes about the women’s game. I have been around the women’s game on occasion, watching, reporting, following with interest. I watched Lincoln Ladies right back in the early 2000s and I understand the struggle women have had on a national and international level. Sexism, generally, is still a huge issue in society and whilst I am not a flag-waving liberal, I understand the need for certain language attitudes to change. I have made no secret of the fact I don’t like to see casual sexism on social media, especially around the women’s World Cup last year, when it was constant. I have seen plenty directed at L.I.S.A too, and again I believe those attitudes have to change. Why should a women football supporter be made to feel different from a male? I also think society has got to a point where some stereotypes are just not the case anymore, especially the ‘men go to football, women go shopping’ thoughts. Now, whilst they may remain so in the minds of some, media and broadcasting outlets have to be very careful about what they do, and do not promote. The BBC, in particular, are tax-payer funded and have to answer to a far higher power than me (for instance).
Do I think ‘handbags’ is a term that should be taken as a sexist comment? Honestly, no, but I am a white male in his forties, exactly the type of man who is likely to hold that opinion. I don’t believe it is a term that most women find offensive either, judging by the reaction across social media. For me, it is terminology ingrained in the game which causes no offence, but I understand people do get offended by many different things depending on their experiences and how they perceive the comment to have been delivered, by whom, and in what context. If that is the only comment Thommo made, on its own, and said purely after a couple of players have gone toe to toe and not actually landed blows, then in my humble opinion it is not offensive, but I speak for me, not for anyone else. I have heard it used on the Undr The Cosh podcast at times I believe too, but it isn’t tax-payer funded and therefore probably not likely to be the centre of attention.
I can’t hammer the BBC here when I don’t know the facts of the situation, and I don’t believe we can fairly defend Thommo either when we don’t know the actual facts, rather than the sensationalist Sun headline. What I would say is I hope that in a short space of time, he is back on the radio giving what I feel is a valuable insight into the game, because he is a key part of the matchday experience for me. However, I also believe that some sexist attitudes do need to change, that some preconceptions and once-acceptable beliefs need to be addressed at a wider level. I’m not sure ‘handbags’ is one of them, but 15 years ago I might have felt the same about a wide range of words that I used daily, but what not consider now.