Tuesday, 9 April 2013

125 of one and 125 of the other.

Rachel Yankey won her 125th cap for England on Sunday. Her 125th international cap.
You would think that would be something to praise and celebrate, wouldn't you? But apparently not.
Apparently the fact that she is only a woman, means that it isn't relevant or important or any sort of achievement in the slightest.

I would laugh, if it wasn't so damn disrespectful, patronising and sexist.  But was I surprised? Hell no, because I'm beginning to expect nothing less.  As disappointing as that is for me to admit.

Last September when Yankey became England's most capped outfield player, I did an exclusive interview with her.  She was a pleasure to speak too, as always.  As I'm freelance, I contacted several publications - as I always do - to see if they would be interested in featuring a wonderful player talking about her special moment. Those that got back to me, did not.  I often hear that readers don't want to read about women's football, but how do we know if they are not given the option. Readers don't look for women's football, because they don't expect it to be there, it's a vicious circle that needs to be broken.  The only publication that were happy to print the article were The Voice, who then featured it on their back page as the lead sports story.

Admittedly, it may have been me and not the article that they didn't want.  But I'm not being arrogant when I say that I think it was the subject matte,r they weren't interested in.  Despite all the right things that were muttered after our women's national team put on such a successful showing at London 2012, we can all see nothing much has really changed.

So, on Monday I went through the papers and their websites as I always do.  And I was surprised, some had actually taken notice of what must be the proudest moment in the midfielder's life.  I was happy, no scratch that, ecstatic to see that Yankey and women's football in general were getting some much needed and deserved recognition.  And about time too!  Until I looked at the comments below the line.  A fellow, more experienced sports journalist once told me: 'Never look below the line'.  After all this time, you would think I would've learnt.  Because he's normally bloody right!

The majority of that negative consensus was that the Arsenal star's achievement had no right being compared to Peter Shilton's because women's football isn't at the same level as its male counterpart.  And later that night on Twitter, there were similar statements as well as the woefully sexist: 'So what?'

Just to clear something up, no one is comparing women's football to the men's game.  No one is comparing Yankey to David Beckham.  We wouldn't compare Beth Tweddle to Louis Smith, nor Christine Ohuruogu to Michael Johnson, would we?  So why can we not have the same respect in football that we show to the competitors in athletics.

Yankey's achievement should be celebrated for the amazing individual benchmark that it is and we should be proud to say she is English and has been so committed to her national team over such a lengthy period of time.  Particularly given the fact that when she first started her journey, she played alongside the boys because there were no women's team for her to compete in.  Funny how she was good enough for the boys then...

The joke is; those that say her record number of caps is irrelevant because she supposedly plays at a lower standard, would still celebrate or congratulate a San Marino player who reaches the same number.  Even though their FIFA ranking makes theirs the lowest standard of all.

I don't care who you are, to appear so many times for your country at the highest level available to you, is amazing. 

So the next time those people are making their sarcastic comments, maybe they should sit and think. 

About what they have achieved in their life, about the disrespect they show to someone who has spent their whole life trying to achieve their dream.

And about England's equal most capped football player.  Who just happens to be a Woman...


Thursday, 28 March 2013

"Football?" "But you're a girl." "Yeah. No shit, Sherlock!"

"Wow! Sports journalism. That's a different job for a girl."

"Have you always been into sports?"

"Did you used to play football?"

"How did you get into that?"

All questions I am used to being asked on a regular basis. And nearly four years ago when I committed to this as a career, it used to bother me.  Deep down, it may still do.  But I know longer feel the need to react or come out with a barbed comment.

There's a few reasons for that, the main one is I feel a lot more secure about my capabilities as a sports journalist.  But more importantly as a female sports journalist.

Now, I'm not attempting to be self-effacing when I say this. But I, Natasha Henry am not the best journalist in the world.  No, seriously, I'm not. 

I still feel I'm pretty new to all this and with every period of time that passes I aim to get better and improve my skills.  As anyone should, whatever career they're in.  The way I see it, the day you stop learning is the day you might as well give it all up.  Why should the field of journalism be any different?

Thankfully, I'm not the only one.  Female or sports journalist!

Contrary to popular belief, there are quite a bloody lot of us.  Some would call us a coven, personally I would describe us a more mature sorority.  One that would rather be on the field, than waving pom-poms on the side-line.  And more importantly, one that drinks really good wine and likes really nice food.

And do you know what, we're good.  We're damn good.  We know our stuff, we graft hard and most importantly we have the courage to fight the negativity that - far too often - floats our way.  I know about our capabilities, but I wasn't sure if others did.

I was curious about this, which was why I created the survey earlier this year, to see what others thoughts were, regarding us women that write about sport.

Some of the answers surprised me, and some didn't.  But it's always good to see what people think about something you care strongly about.

So, I'll be posting the article later today and feel free to comment, share or ignore.  It's up to you.

Hopefully it will remind you that the gender of the writer doesn't matter, it's only the words that do.

To be continued...

Monday, 18 March 2013

Only a Phonecall Away.

He's in the squad.
But he's not going.
He is going.
Now he's definitely not.

Not a moment too quick, the Rio Ferdinand and England drama has come to an end. The joke is, it could have all been prevented if Roy Hodgson had just bothered to pick up the phone. It's so simple, it's not even funny.

For months, the whispers to recall Ferdinand have got louder and the England manager finally decided to listen yet doing it in the manner that he did; hasn't done him any favours.

We can all agree that the defender currently playing for the Champions-elect is not the injury-hit player of 18 months ago. His performances and the injuries and inconsistency of others, means he fully deserves a place in the squad. If not the team.

It was clear that Ferdinand and the medical team at Manchester United had worked hard to find a system that allowed him to play regularly, without any serious problems. So it's curious that the England boss didn't think to contact the club and/or the player before calling him up.

Given the way the defender was left at home prior to Euro 2012, some may also feel an apology should have been on offer. He was clearly aggrieved by Hodgson's decision to more-or-less take John Terry's side, while there are also the 'football reasons' that have never quite been explained.

Sir Alex Ferguson's comments last week were no surprise. The manager has long been vocal that Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs' decisions to retire, helped them prolong their club careers. But as well as thinking about the best interests of his club, he is thinking about the best interests of his player. At the age of 34, the former Leeds star is in the last lap of his top-flight career, it is logical that he would also want to ensure it lasts as long as possible.

That is why it is understandable the player has pulled out of the double header against San Marino and Montenegro. Two games that require a fair amount of travel and also games that England should win without too much fuss. The decision to meet and explain to the manager, makes it hard for many to question Ferdinand's motives or doubt his commitment to his national side.

As for Hodgson, it could be said he won't come out of this so well. His subdued character is a stark change from previous national managers such as Fabio Capello, but it appears to be working well enough with two wins and two draws from four qualifying games.

But you have to admit, this situation could have been easily prevented. That much is clear. Hodgson or his team don't appear to be on the ball in regards to what is going on with English players. An area they should know inside and out. Surely that is part of his job description?

Maybe this is the time for the England manager to become more thorough, and make sure he knows exactly what is going on with the professionals who are available to play for him.

Because when or if things go wrong, he may end up looking like a bit of a bumbling fool.


Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Curious Tale of Nile Ranger

What do you call someone who has been arrested six times since May 2011?
Well, probably not a successful professional footballer.  Which I'm guessing is why Newcastle United announced they had cancelled Nile Ranger's contract last week.
Ranger's is a curious situation. A former forward for England's under-19 team - playing 11 games and scoring six goals. Yet he now finds himself without a club and possibly, without a future in the game at the age of just 21. 
And the worst thing about the whole matter is the fact that it's not really a surprise.
His first serious brush with the law came at the age of 15.  The teenager was convicted of participating in a street robbery and sentenced to 11 weeks in a youth offenders institute.
Now I'm not one for judging someone by a mistake or the errors they made in their younger years, as we've all made mistakes.  None of us are infallible.
But despite the talent he is lucky enough to have and the opportunities this has afforded him, Ranger doesn't appear to have learnt anything since that very first offence.
He has continued to position himself in both compromising and illegal situations.
His rap sheet consists of; assault, being drunk and disorderly and criminal damage.  The most worrying and most recent charge is the suspicion of rape.  A case that is currently ongoing at the time of writing.
And that doesn't even include The Football Association fine for posting tweets deemed to be homophobic, the breach of bail, the photo of himself with a replica gun or the evening he kicked his front door down because he believed his girlfriend was being kidnapped.
There is an urge to giggle reading the latter or chastise him for wasting the lifestyle that so many crave, but I can't help but wonder if there is a bigger issue behind all these incidents.
As far as we know the Londoner doesn't have any addictions, but it's obvious he enjoys a drink given the incidents he's been involved in.  Maybe it is the company he keeps or his crew as the kids call it.  It is not uncommon for high earners to attract hanger-on's whose only aim is to get them to spend money.  The type of people who couldn't care less about whether Ranger will be late for training again.
Of course that doesn't make him the innocent party, he is an adult and at his age should know right from wrong.  But we all know the saying: if you lay down with dogs, you're gonna get fleas.
But any sympathy starts to wane when you also consider his conduct in and around the club.  While his 51 League appearances only yielded three goals. Habitually tardy for sessions, he had been demoted and was actually training with the reserves the week he was charged with being drunk and disorderly.  A charge that eventually led to a £135 fine and six-month conditional discharge.
Admittedly Ranger isn't the first and won't be the last to mess up, but my hope is that he is still young enough to see what's going on and redirect himself from this negative path he appears to be on.
Maybe there is an underlying issue, whether that be an addition or something relating to his mental health.  Something he can seek help for, work on and move forward from.  Both are illnesses that affect a higher percentage of sportspeople, than the national average. It's feasible that Ranger could be one of those.
In a way I hope he does have an issue, because at least then he can seek help from The PFA and others.  Then he can find a way to deal with it, rebuild his reputation and attempt to kick-start his career.
Yet at the same point; maybe there is nothing wrong, maybe that's just how he is. Maybe I'm just trying to understand why a young guy would continue to act out and make his position at a club untenable. Instead of putting yourself in situations that are preventable.  As right now, I can't understand why you wouldn't just keep your head down and put your graft in on the pitch.
And I'll tell you why.
Because the alternative is that he just doesn't care, and to me that's the scariest scenario of them all.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

A Step in the Right Direction

The news that Lazio will be made to play two games behind closed doors suggests that football's top table may finally be catching up with the rest of us, when it comes to dealing with racism.

Following the fourth incident this season of racism by their fans, UEFA have ordered the Italian club to play their next two competitive European games behind closed doors. (As well as a €40,000 fine, which is pretty much irrelevant in this case.) The first game will be their Europa League last-16 tie against Stuttgart on March 14.

As we know, this wasn't the first time or a solitary incident involving a handful of people. There had been three previous occasions where supporters actions had drawn negative attention to the club. There were issues both home and away against Tottenham, as well as when they hosted Maribor in the group stages. The straw that broke the camels back came against Borussia Monchengladbach when around 300 fans were observed making Nazi salutes.

I'm not going to suggest this is a racist club because many clubs - including those in England - have bigots posing as fans. But the fact that there were that many problems in such a short space of time, must raise questions for those at the helm of the club. This is not a new problem or a first offence, which suggests whatever has been tried to stop it and them hasn't worked.

So for Claudio Lotito to call the punishment 'abnormal and absured'; is frankly naive and well, absurd.

UEFA have a responsibility to all of us, not the feelings of any individual club. And for once, they appear to be acting on behalf of the 'us'.

The two lost match day's will lose the club millions, a significant amount for a top flight club in today's economic climate.

As owner/president Lotito told RaiSport: "It will seriously damage the club economically and stop the fans from participating in the event.

"We cannot as a club be penalised for the mistakes of a small minority."

But that where he's wrong, the authorities can and they have too. Because it is the only way the idiots will learn, by being restricted and prevented from doing what they want.

Of course it's unfortunate for the thousands of decent fans. But if it's the only way to ensure a club deals with the scum, then the end will justify the means.

The club already had a suspended sentence hanging over their head, so in their continual fight to regain some credibility UEFA had to act. And rightly did.

Hopefully this will be the precedent for club's being punished. It may take time, but it can only help and encourage club's to rid their stadiums of racists and racist action.

Which is why they've hit Lazio where all businesses feel it most, in their pocket.

The club had already been warned, which means their fans had already been warned. Yet the latter chose to continue with their behaviour, so rightly the club has now been punished for that.

In his interview with RaiSport, the owner adds: "Everyone knows how much we did to prevent this sort of thing from happening."

Well, whatever you did Mr Lotito, it wasn't enough. Maybe now everyone will do a little bit more.