Tuesday, February 26, 2013

He's not sexist, but...

Snippets from a day's football news.

In England, semi-professional footballer Daniel Ailey calls the treatment of his deafness "the same as racism."

In Italy, Inter Milan are fined €50,000 after their fans directed racist chants at Mario Balotelli. Balotelli was himself fined €10,000 for gesturing to those same fans.

Elsewhere column inches are still being devoted to Robbie Rogers, the gay footballer who came out and then retired from the game.

Football, the people's game, remains as confused as ever about embracing all of the people.

Meanwhile in Scotland Gordon Parks took to the pages of the Daily Record to rage against the monstrous regiment.

Too much money is going to women and girls who want to play football and it's all because of the politically correct brigade and these daft modern ideas about equality, snarled sexism's unabashed proselytiser.

(Like a retired major from Tunbridge Wells who's cut loose on the G&Ts before heckling Shami Chakrabarti on Question Time, he did actually use the phrase "politically correct brigade.")

It's tempting but churlish to say that even in our discrimination Scottish football lags a decade or so behind more enlightened nations.

Gordon's war on equality might not stretch to people with disabilities, people with different skin colours or people with different sexual preferences. I don't know.

Chivalrously he only targets women. It would be nothing more than speculation to suggest that if you're against opening the game up to one section of society, you're hardly likely to take to the streets and rip down the barriers that football still throws in the way of any of the other sections of society that it sees fit to ignore or exclude.

£1.2 million, argues Gordon, spent by the SFA "and its partners" on women's football is a spectacular waste of money.

A theft actually. Daylight robbery of funds that would be better spent on grassroots football. Grassroots football for boys.

The consequences are plain for all to see. Letting women out of the kitchen and onto the pitch means Scotland will not play in a major men's finals again.

Stone me! So simple.

Never mind that, while £1.2 million would hardly wipe the nose of a mediocre SPL squad, it doesn't leave women's football in Scotland awash with cash.

Nor would £1.2 million put right the wrongs of an approach to the grassroots that has been cackhanded and blighted by short termism for too long.

What that £1.2 million can do, however, is build an ecosystem that attracts more diverse sections of our communities to the game.

It can encourage girls to play the game, build a love for the game that too many people are losing, it can support a senior women's game that can begin to make strides in catching up with countries that have already thrown off the shackles of sexism.

It can create role models that inspire more of our youngsters to get off their arses and do something as simple as chase a ball about a strip of land.

It can help make football a more attractive place for more people. It can help more people share in the fun and frustrations of the game. And it can create some decent players into the bargain.

£1.2 million is nowhere near enough.

We're in danger of becoming a nation that only takes sport seriously when we can moan about how bad a select group of grown men are at playing football.

The future has to lie in widening the audience for the game, putting clubs at the heart of their communities. Football for all.

"A ladies’ version of a game played in men’s shorts," moaned Gordon, choosing not to elaborate on what "men's games" are actually taking place in his own shorts.

Gordon Parks is clearly a dafty.

But we can't hide from the fact that sexism still exists in the game.

The same game where this weekend there was a very public return to chants about religion, where songs about this player or that player being gay roll from the terraces, where racism isn't yet dead, where sex crimes become a cause for gloating, where fans can take a death and turn it into a ditty to attack another team.

I don't know if I get a commission in the politically correct brigade for finding that wrong.

I do know that spouting sexist nonsense on the pages of a national paper makes you a whopping great part of the problem.

The only footballing World Cup winner in the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame is a woman.

Rose Reilly had to leave Scotland to achieve that. Gordon Parks - if he's ever heard of her - probably thinks that's exactly what she deserved.

Let's hope he increasingly finds himself in the minority.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Oscar goes to Tannadice

Scottish football's great cinematic triumph?

Perhaps not Ally McCoist's turn in A Shot at Glory, the underwhelming dénouement of Robert Duvall's odd fitba' flirtation.

What of John Wark's monosyllabic scene stealing in Escape to Victory?

Or the sainted Gordon Smith's experience of being an extra as Hitchcock directed Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief?

Maybe not. Better, perhaps, to travel back to 1930s Dundee.

Then, as now, a two team town. But in the 1930s Dundee United toiled in the Second Division and in the shadow of their city rivals.

In 1936-37 Dundee finished ninth in the First Division while United were a rather listless 14th in the second tier.

So far, so unremarkable. But even in the interwar years it was unheard of for clubs to be led by an amateur.

A player's vote, however, had decided that United's captain for the season would be a 21 year old amateur from Greenock who had studied law at the University of Edinburgh.

Neil Paterson played 25 games that season, his nine goals including a hat trick. But, perhaps like Willo Flood after him, here was a United player with a hinterland to explore.

The first amateur to captain a professional club in Britain, Paterson decided the pen was mightier than the football boot and left Tannadice to take a job with DC Thomson.

War service intervened but by 1947 he was an award winning writer and his 1948 fictional biography The China Run was anointed "book of the year" by Somerset Maugham in the New York Times.

1950's Behold Thy Daughter became an international best seller and grabbed another "book of the year" nod, this time from the Evening Standard.

The Kidnappers, an adaptation of a Paterson short story, tasted Oscars success in 1953 and his "taut and tense" writing - "the "the best story-teller Scotland has produced since Stevenson" - seemed a perfect fit for the cinema.

And it was as a screenwriter that he became the first and, with the future career of David Goodwillie still undecided, so far the only former Dundee United player to win an Oscar.

1960 was the year of Ben-Hur. A film so long that many Academy members agreed to vote for it simply to make good their escape from the picture house as Charlton Heston led the charge to an unprecedented 11 Oscars.

But not 12.

Neil Paterson stood firm between the rise of Christianity and a glorious dozen.

His adaption of John Braine's Room at the Top snatched the Best Adapted Screenplay award, beating both Ben-Hur's Karl Tunberg and Billy Wilder for Some Like it Hot.

It also spearheaded the growth of British New Wave cinema, bringing a different Britain to cinema screens.

Realistic, gritty, uncompromising, often harsh. It might not have been far removed from a 1930s Second Division game at Tannadice.

Paterson himself didn't move far, eschewing Hollywood for Perthshire where he retired to golf and serving the Scottish arts community.

A Scottish Oscar winner is rare. An Oscar winning amateur captain of Dundee United will be forever unique.

Neil Paterson died in 1995, sadly too early to avenge Dundee's dominance of the 1930s by giving a cinematic sweep to their managerial farce of the last few days.