Women’s teams have an equal right to our brutally honest criticism

No point in plámásing: Ireland blew it in Athens. Phil Neville’s blowing it with England

England Women’s manager Phil Neville during their international friendly against Germany at Wembley Stadium last Saturday. Photograph: Andrew Boyers/Reuters

England Women’s manager Phil Neville during their international friendly against Germany at Wembley Stadium last Saturday. Photograph: Andrew Boyers/Reuters

 

You’d want to have a heart of granite not to have some sympathy for the radiator salesman on Twitter who hails from Hadleigh in Suffolk. Despite repeatedly attempting to clarify matters since he first signed up, he’s still getting grief. The latest quibble relates to his failure to include Fran Kirby in his squad for England’s friendlies in the past week against Germany and the Czech Republic, even though he bears no responsibility for the omission.

By now, @philneville, who has zero connection to the manager of the England women’s team, must surely rue not opting for, say, @RadiatorPhil. His online experience would have been less trying.

The nadir was probably during the other Phil’s co-commentary on the England lads’ opening game of the 2014 World Cup, Radiator Phil getting a heap of abuse – quite a bit of it of the very vulgar kind – while the BBC received 445 complaints about how boring Football Phil had been. That was only 100 fewer than they received four years before regarding the sound of those bloody vuvuzelas.

(“If the entire stadium burns down, Neville will mumble: ‘Well, that’s what flames can do. If they’re not marked,’” as comedian Mark Steel put it, capturing the general tenor of Phil’s efforts.)

Come January 2018, Radiator Phil was sensing another busy spell in his social media life. “Here we go again, Phil Neville gets a new job with the England’s women football team, and I’ll get all his Twitter comments.” He has, too – the bulk of them.

But you’d be half guessing that both Phils might have thought that life would become a little less taxing now that Football Phil had taken up a job in women’s football.

‘Fabulous role models’

After all, until recently enough, the most cutting analysis pundits/reporters offered on the women’s game was something along the lines of “yes, they lost 16-2, but the girls gave it everything and they’re fabulous role models”.

And a goal deflected off the right-back’s arse from two feet would be a Puskás contender. And a save from a shot tapped straight at the goalkeeper from the other end of the pitch would be likened to Gordon Banks defying Pelé in 1970.

(Although, we’re still looking at you, Jonathan Pearce).

Tuesday afternoon. Ireland blow it in Athens. A goal up after 13 minutes, through Amber Barrett’s sumptuous lob, and then they concede an injury-time equaliser to a team ranked 66 in the world, who’d lost 5-0 at home to Germany the month before.

 It’s light years on from the kindly guff most of us came up with after our women’s teams underperform

The highlight of a head-wrecking afternoon proved to be Áine O’Gorman and Alan Cawley’s analysis back in the RTÉ studio, neither of them going down the “ah sure” route, both sufficiently scathing after a missed opportunity. Which, as it proved, is how the players felt about it too.

“Let’s be honest,” said Cawley, “if you’ve aspirations to qualify for a major tournament, you should be going to Greece and winning. They’re the fourth seeds in the group, if you’re 1-0 up at half-time you should be able to see the game out. It’s bitterly disappointing, it really is,” he said. “It feels like a loss,” said O’Gorman who, having won 100 caps for Ireland, has most probably tired of the “ah sure” plámásing.

That was hardly savage stuff, but it’s light years on from the kindly guff most of us came up with after our women’s teams underperform. When we’d attempt to divert from brutal displays and put the focus on the size of the crowd or the sacrifices the players had made to get to where they are and how they had no sandwiches after training. That stuff.

Will to live

And you think it’s grand until you actually talk to some of these sportswomen, and, while they’re undyingly civil, you sense they’ve lost their will to live when you ask them about the missing sandwiches again, or about the attendances at their games, or about not enough women turning up to support them, or about how they’re all, hashtag, role models.

The honesty, as ever, is being driven by former/current players, rather than our telly hosts or the rest of us

When what they’d really like to talk about is the performance, good or bad, whether they got the tactics right, how the season has gone, the qualities of the opposition, the strengths of their team, all that. Not sandwiches or attendances.

Like on the BBC after Phil’s England lost to a late goal from Germany. And the honesty, as ever, is being driven by former/current players, rather than our telly hosts or the rest of us.

“It was very close to being a draw which would have put a completely different complexion on things,” said Gabby Logan, in am “if the Queen had, you know, she’d be the king” kind of way.

And the bulk of her focus was on the size of the record-breaking crowd in Wembley, 77,768, which was phenomenal, but you sensed co-commentator Casey Stoney, the Manchester United manager, and former internationals Rachel Brown-Finnis and Kelly Smith, had enough of every outing by the national team being framed as a promotional advancement, rather than being a performance that required some analysing.

And that they did, none of the trio going light on the display. “He’s got to start delivering at some point,” said Brown-Finnis of Football Phil.

The BBC’s Jo Currie maintained the theme: “It’s an uncomfortable thought, but some may argue that you may not be the man to lead this team,” she said to Neville after the game, and while it might have been a telly fault, the colour appeared to drain from his face.

Monitoring

Back when Football Phil took the job, he told the Guardian about how, um, closely he was monitoring his players.

“I know every part of their lives. I know about their animals – if they’ve got a dog I know its name. I know about their partners, I know if they go to the cinema. If they have an ice cream I know about it. Every single minute of the day I know what players are doing.”

Some, of course, would call this stalking, or at best maybe a touch paternalistic, but Phil was probably just trying to do a Fergie the Younger by mimicking his former manager’s habit of having his players under 24-hour surveillance. Mind you, that was a long time ago, when managers could do those things and not get arrested.

He’s been showing Fergie-like defiance of late, too. When things were starting to turn the shape of a pear for England after the World Cup, their defeat to Germany leaving them with just one win in their last seven games, Phil found his inner Alan Partridge.

“I have a vision that nobody else has. I’ve got bravery that no other coach has probably ever had. Do you know what? Thank your lucky stars. I’m here. I’m here to stay.”

You’d have been afraid to check Radiator Phil’s timeline at that point. We’re guessing “vulgar”.

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