Is football ready for Jacqui Oatley?

On Saturday, Jacqui Oatley, pictured, will become Match of the Day‘s first female commentator. The news has some men in the game crying foul. The Guardian‘s Paula Cocozza asks: why don’t they just grow up?

This week Jacqui Oatley, for three years author of sturdy Saturday football bulletins for Radio Five Live, was announced as Match of the Day‘s first female commentator. Her debut broadcast will come from Craven Cottage this Saturday when Fulham host Blackburn.

Explaining the news, the BBC’s head of sport, Roger Mosey, says his department wants “to reflect the nation. We want our team to be modern, diverse – and excellent at what they do. Jacqui, like all our commentators, has been selected on merit”.

But Jacqui, alas, has not found such support elsewhere. Steve Curry, a football writer for the Daily Mail, has described her appointment as “an insult to the controlled commentaries of John Motson, Mike Ingham and Alan Green” – offensive enough even before you consider that of those three only Ingham can rightfully be described as controlled, since Motson never seems to know what is going on until his cohort Mark Lawrenson tells him, and Green’s trademark rants and rampages are as passionate as they are irksome.

Others have been quick to follow. The former Premiership manager Dave Bassett, who found “fame” in the 90s with the likes of Sheffield United, Crystal Palace and Barnsley – a back catalogue that, you might think, should curtail his forthrightness – has already declared himself, his wife, and everybody he knows in football “totally against it”. He says he will be changing channels when Oatley’s voice comes on air because in order to commentate “you must have an understanding of the game and tactics, and in order to do that you need to have played the game”.

He has clearly neglected the popular advice that in order to express an opinion it is always a good idea to know what you are talking about – for Oatley was a keen amateur footballer until the age of 27, when she was stretchered off the pitch with a dislocated kneecap and ruptured ligaments (if nothing else, she clearly liked to get stuck in).

Views like Bassett’s are rampant in football. Even Simon Jordan, the modern face of football chairmanship with accoutrements that include a full head of floppy blond hair and appearances on TV’s Fortune – Million Pound Giveaway, chose to undermine his pleasing declaration of indifference by musing that he wouldn’t expect to hear a man commentating on netball.

Why do the Bassetts and Currys in football permit themselves to say such things? Why, like sensible sexists in other walks of life, don’t they at least have the decency to exercise a little self-censorship rather than give vent to the chill draughts wafting through their heads? There is no acknowledgment of offence. Surely, having kicked racism out of football, and having now turned their attention to homophobia, the gentlemen at the Football Association will have to decide there is no place in their sport for sexism.

This opinion piece is derived from an original article that appeared in Wednesday’s Daily Mail. To read that article, click here.

And what do you think? Is a woman’s place behind the microphone? Post your views – and reviews, after watching Saturday’s MoTD – in the comment box below.

To read the rest of Cocozza’s personal opinion, click here