Phil Neville backlash shows us something nasty about our age

Phil Neville

The backlash against Phil Neville’s appointment as the head coach of the England women’s football team continues unabated.

Yesterday the Guardian reported:

Vera Pauw and Carolina Morace, highly respected coaches in the international game, contest the FA’s assertion that there was a severe lack of suitably qualified female candidates and suggest that double standards were applied in the recruitment process.

Frankly, I am pleased that the discussion has moved on from some rather daft and tasteless tweets discovered from six years ago. Phil Neville is obviously embarrassed by the comments he made in 2012. He should be. “Jokes” about women being in the kitchen and battering your wife (from 2011) are hardly laugh-out-loud funny. They are sexist and pathetic.

However, the row over those stupid comments highlights something rather nasty about our age. It’s a desire to catch people out, hound them, for not being perfect.

The ink was barely dry on Neville’s new contract before the social media mob descended. In a matter of minutes, Neville went from being a football coach to being Toby Young! He was trolled and chased for the misdemeanours of years gone by.

Frankly, if this continues, public figures of all types are simply going to stop bothering to engage on social media. Why would they, knowing that every digital slip of the tongue could come back to haunt them?

It is not just about the tweets

Jonathan Liew, at the Independent, made the point that actually the tweets are not the main issue:

In a way, the controversy over Neville’s tweets is a convenient smokescreen for the real issue: that he is simply not qualified for the job.

Liew goes on to say:

In another, however, it tells us everything we need to know. It confirms some of our deepest-set fears about football’s male-dominated culture. A culture that tells even the best woman that she is still seen as inferior to a man who has never coached in women’s football, never shown the slightest interest in the women’s game, has made derogatory comments about women in the past, and has been handed on a plate a job he didn’t even apply for.

It is a well-made argument. However, I disagree. I actually think Neville’s appointment is a good one. My impression, as a fan looking in, is that the women’s team needed some shaking up. An outside figure to change things. Women’s football is developing at a fantastic rate. The England team itself has been hugely successful, rising to third in the world. However, at the same time it seems have become a bit of a closed shop.

Hope Powell managed the team for years. Mark Sampson’s reign ended in ignominy. Phil Neville could bring a bit of fresh air to the team, not to mention a fresh footballing perspective. If he is allowed to. He does not have much coaching experience, but he has an awful lot of playing experience at the highest level. He is a winner. That mentality and experience will surely prove to be of some benefit to the Lionesses.

I would love to see another female coach of the England women’s team. I would love to see female coaches of male league and international teams. In time I’m sure it will happen. However, until then, shall we maybe give Phile Neville a chance?


My first book "Not Buying It", looking at post-truth in media and politics, is being published by Unbound

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