It started when Sky Sports presenter Eilidh Barbour, understandably, took umbrage at certain jokes which have no place in modern society and certainly not at an awards bash celebrating an industry as diverse and multicultural as the world of football.
It was a mistake for speaker Bill Copeland to tell those ‘jokes’ and it was correct that the Scottish Football Writers Association apologized for booking someone who failed to read the room (some would say, failed to read the change in society). But, things have escalated, issues have become conflated, and genuine talking points have become more interlinked and messier than a bowl of spaghetti.
It is what happens often when serious debate is condensed into 280 characters on Twitter. Because it is nigh impossible to address everything that needs to be addressed in a fair and rational manner, without nuance and context. So, it amounts to a social media hit and run.
That rarely spawns reasoned response and leads to deep divides, real and perceived slights, and entrenched positions on issues that merit sensitive discourse.
The assumption of many, having scrolled through a few tweets, was that Scottish football journalists are sexist.
But that is neither fair nor accurate. And, that is coming from someone who has spent more than two decades on the inside. As a minority. In the early days, there was some subtle sexism from the rank and file but nothing that bothered me and, anecdotally, it amounted to less than friends who made their way in the world of finance, law, who worked as secretaries or bar staff or waitresses. To be honest, it is hardly registered.
What was far more significant was the number of established sports writers who offered me help and guidance, who mentored me and encouraged and appreciated my passion for the job and the sport. Yeah, I had to prove I knew what I was talking about and had to pull my weight but those demands were not gender-dependent. Every young journalist faces the same expectations. It is a job in high demand and you have to earn your place in it.
But, although I admit there were some challenging views from one or two of the men who dished out the jobs in the early days, times have changed.
The men I work alongside now are not just colleagues, many are friends. At times we disagree (not because I’m a woman but because we are all opinionated and driven) but more often than not we champion each other.
Which is why I am angry that people have collectively tried and convicted them of a crime they are not guilty of. The case for the prosecution is that people in the room laughed last Sunday. I know many who did not, while there were lawyers and tradesmen, PR people, bankers and civil servants, ordinary Joe Bloggs and lots of women (among the highest turnout of women in the dinner’s history) who did. Are all industries and careers being tarred with the same broad strokes or is it just football journalism?
The morning after the night before, plenty of people had an opinion and in the following days, Women in Journalism launched their campaign to tackle inequality in sports print media.
Proud to be a member of the steering group, the aim is to find ways to encourage more females into the profession. But this has to be done correctly if, in my opinion, it is to be taken seriously.
It has been highlighted that out of 95 staff roles for sports reporters on national and regional print titles in Scotland, only three are filled by women. It might seem shocking to many but, given context, how many more have applied for jobs? How many have expressed a real passion? How many have gone through sports writing courses in Scotland? I suspect not too many. That saddens me, given how much joy my job has given me over the years, but as someone on the inside, not just of journalism but sport, I am not stunned.
After all, for many years before I was a minority in football press boxes, I was a minority on football pitches, among mates playing football in the park, at PE in school, heck even with my brothers and their mates having a kickabout in the back garden. There was no change as we boarded predominantly male-filled football trains or stepped through the turnstiles. For decades, even centuries, football was a male dominated game. But times are changing.
Just days after the SFWA furore kicked off, Scottish Women’s Football CEO Aileen Campbell spoke about “the women’s game in Scotland … undergoing unprecedented growth and change”, while Rangers Women won the league title with a predominantly full-time professional team.
But not every girl who is part of the grassroots game now will make that grade but many of them will want to find a way to be part of the game and that is where the journey towards welcoming more women into sports journalism begins.
We need to let girls know it is a viable career choice and instead of scaring them away with such monsters under the bed, or in editorial offices and press boxes, we tell the truth. The job is tough at times and no-one will hand you anything on a plate. But it is worth it.
There remains plenty of sexism in the game and social media and messages posted on forums by fans testify to that and I’m all for young females getting support to deal with that kind of thing.
But, while no-one can defend the error in judgment last Sunday, dinosaurs do not squeeze into press boxes. And if we list their help rather than demonise, they could be the ones helping the next generation of females the same way many have helped me.