Back when I was a Sixth Former, aged 16-18, one of my fellow male students happened to support Celtic, despite our college being in northwest England, where, in those pre-internet days, Scottish football shirts were hard to find. One day, the boy’s mother happened to be in Glasgow, so thought she’d try and buy him a Celtic shirt as a surprise – by going into the Rangers Megastore and asking if they sold any there. When told this story later, all the boys present laughed uproariously, understanding immediately why the mother was lucky to escape the shop with her life and skull intact, whereas none of the girls present so much as smiled except in bemused puzzlement, not understanding the implications of this particular sectarian sporting faux pas at all.
The allegedly “dangerous” – more on that word in a moment – stereotype supported by this tale is that females know absolutely nothing about football. This would certainly appear at first glance to be the opinion of Joey Barton, an ex-footballer from the men’s game (i.e., the real one), who has made headlines recently after criticising what he views as the excessive number of female commentators and pundits now being used in TV coverage of his old sport. In particular, he was condemned for a tweet made to his 2.8 million followers about two female ITV pundits, the ex-pros Eni Aluko and Lucy Ward, whom he mockingly called “the Fred and Rose West of football commentary”.
When ITV then put out a tweet of their own, lambasting his “vindictive remarks”, Joey stepped up and apologised, admitting that, “on reflection, I’ve been a tad harsh on Eni Aluko by comparing her to Rose West”. In fact, he said, rather than comparing her to someone part-responsible for merely a few innocent human deaths, he should “clearly” have really placed her in the “Josef Stalin/Pol Pot category”, as “she’s murdered hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of football fans’ ears in the last few years” with her allegedly knowledgeless wittering.
A Dangerous Game
Joey has a new podcast series out soon, Common Sense With Joey Barton, to be hosted by Facebook/Meta, and some have speculated he may simply have been trying to drum up some free publicity for it by making deliberately provocative comments. If so, then another individual in the public eye apparently eager for free media attention was Labour MP Julie Elliott, who called Barton’s words “very, very disturbing”, as opposed to “mildly amusing and ultimately completely insignificant”, as I would have done, before a Commons Select Committee last week.
Elliott then asked Stuart Andrew, who is apparently the Minister for Sport this month, “What do you think can be done from a Government point of view to actually bring pressure on these social media companies not to support people who put out things that are so offensive and so disgusting as he [Barton] has done?”
Instead of answering, “Nothing, love, with attitudes towards free speech like that, it should have been you Joey Barton compared to Stalin, not Eni Aluko”, Mr. Andrew agreed that Barton’s posts were “dangerous comments that open the floodgates for abuse and that’s not acceptable”. He then added that he would “happily” speak to the social media companies hosting Barton’s tweets and forthcoming podcast, also observing that, under the new Online Safety Act, the media regulator Ofcom would in the near future be obliged to intervene and offer guidance on such matters. In other words, Andrew agreed to use both legislation and his own personal influence as an official representative of His Majesty’s Government to attempt to censor and shut down the opinions and jokes of a man whose opinions he personally – or, more likely, fashionable Establishment opinion in general – happened to disagree with.
To judge by subsequent reports, most mainstream media appeared to be basically on the MPs’ side here, not that of Joey Barton. Yet the framing through which Barton’s offences were reported seemed somewhat disingenuous in nature to me. For example, in what precise way were Barton’s comments supposed to actually be “dangerous”, as Stuart Andrew claimed they were?
Tokens of Disaffection
The basic idea seemed to be that, by cruelly criticising female pundits online, Barton was potentially opening them up to social media pile-ons, potentially impacting their mental health and well-being: words are harmful, as the Left continually now say (except when they’re hounding people online themselves, obviously). Furthermore, Joey was painted as promulgating a patronising and outdated stereotype that women were constitutionally incapable of knowing anything about sport whatsoever and should stick to their true home in the kitchen, not the sports studio. As the current Chelsea Women’s coach, Emma Hayes, put it about some of Barton’s earlier comments back in December, using several classic elements of contemporary woke-speak:
If you haven’t experienced systemic misogyny, like lots of us have, you can’t for one moment understand how detrimental some of these conversations are knowing that anything anyone says just enables an absolute pile-on, particularly on social media.
Except, if you actually look at what Barton has been saying, he has not just been handing out random sexist abuse as part of a pointless campaign of “systemic misogyny” at all. I can’t pretend to have read every single one of his tweets, and at times he does just seem to insult people for the sake of it – he’s Joey Barton, after all. Yet, examined in toto, there is a consistent underlying rationale to his arguments overall. Most media reports have misrepresented and obscured his overall point. But why might this be? Well, just look at the following (admittedly expletive-ridden) tweet Joey posted in further response to ITV’s criticism of his Fred and Rose West gibe:
Forget all the distractions about swearing and serial killers, it is those words about Eni Aluko and Lucy Ward being “under-qualified, under-prepared [and] tokenistic” that are actually what our current governing class object to the most. As Joey says, the “fucking idiots” at ITV expose viewers to Aluko and Ward’s words by “force”, not due to popular demand, as in his view there is no popular demand for them. General consensus (at least amongst the general public as opposed to amongst the media and political classes) is that they are tedious and simply not very good at their job. It is not necessarily so much that critics like Barton don’t want to see any female sports presenters at all, it’s just that they think those who do get employed should be chosen for their innate presenting skills or expertise at communicating knowledge, not for spurious social engineering reasons.
Joey therefore actually suggests such useless female presenters are serial killers like Fred and Rose West not simply as an arbitrary sexist insult, but because they are killing the game for viewers like him who want to see pundits and commentators chosen to front games on the basis of how interesting/well-informed/entertaining they are, not simply on the basis of how many woke boxes they happen to tick.
Media and politicians would prefer to paint Joey as a neanderthal sexist, rather than someone with a rational objection to general politically correct trends in society here. Then, they don’t have to address his actual arguments, which is very handy for them, because his actual arguments, once you strip all the obscenities out of them, happen quite often to be correct.
There’s No ‘DEI’ in Team
Barton is a consistent long-term critic of the current Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) mania currently being foisted upon society, as can be seen in another of his tweets, celebrating the recent highly pleasing removal of Claudine Gay from her post at Harvard University:
Like many critics, Barton feels Gay only got the job on the grounds of being black and female (and probably even her surname too, these days), something which apparently outranked her complete uselessness and unsuitability for the role – and that ITV’s employment of the similarly black and female Eni Aluko as a pundit proceeded on the same basic grounds. Here, in response to footage of a very poor shot at goal indeed from Aluko during an old training session, is Barton’s withering assessment of why he thinks she is really being employed by ITV as a pundit:
Just look at those disgraceful opinions: “DEI is a load of shit” which has only been imposed upon society “All off the back of the BLM/George Floyd nonsense”. Well, now we can see why his comments are really so dangerous, can’t we? DEI doesn’t work, and inherently meritocratic fields like sport and live TV broadcasting reveal the sad fact to the world for all to see, in a way which simply cannot be hidden – except by forcibly shutting up anyone like Mr. Barton who happens to draw attention to such awkward truths.
Disorder of Merit
Essentially, Barton’s argument is that all sports-related programming has had its former roster of pundits and experts replaced with athletic avatars of Claudine Gay. For example, the BBC’s long-running A Question of Sport show was recently cancelled after over 50 years of broadcasting, something Barton blames primarily on producers replacing the old presenters beloved of its traditional audience with new, more diverse (i.e., tokenistic) but less entertaining ones, who drove the audience away through sheer tediousness.
He thinks the same fate soon awaits the Beeb’s weekly Football Focus fixture-previews programme, which has been shedding viewers since its previous host, a white male named Dan Walker, was replaced by a black female ex-pro, Alex Scott. In Barton’s view, Scott got this job more for her genitals than her journalism, leading the show to degenerate into “Drivel and nonsense served with a side order of boring”. As he says: “Well done to all involved. Another flagship destroyed by The Tokens.”
Of course, Barton’s qualitative assessment of Scott’s presenting style is by definition subjective: maybe some people find her punditry fascinating. Yet, following Barton’s criticism of her, Scott seemed to let the cat out of the bag by ending coverage of a women’s match with the words: “Just before we say goodbye, to all the women in football, in front of the camera, behind it, the players on the pitch, to everyone that attends games, keep being the role models that you continue to be.”
But that attitude is the whole problem in microcosm, isn’t it? It is not the purpose of TV sports presenters to act as “role models”, demonstrating to all and sundry that persons in possession of XX chromosomes are indeed capable of fronting football shows: it is their job to inform and entertain viewers, regardless of whether they are black, female, male, white or whatever. If you think your primary purpose as a presenter is to be a “role model”, however, then your primary purpose on-screen is actually propagandistic, not journalistic. You are acting as a walking avatar of DEI.
It seems that, when it comes to TV coverage of our national game, our broadcasters have increasingly chosen to replace professional footballers with professional victims instead. And, if you choose to stand up and criticise this lamentable trend, it now appears Ofcom and the Government stand poised to try to intervene to stop you from doing so.
Stuart Andrew MP and Julie Elliott MP apparently consider Joey Barton’s online antics to be “dangerous” and “disturbing”. Personally, I think it’s the official response to them which is far more deserving of having those particular words applied to them. But what do you expect from our increasingly censorious political class these days?
Forget Fred and Rose West, Stuart Andrew and Julie Elliott are nothing more than Fred and Rose Westminster.
Steven Tucker is a journalist and the author of over 10 books, the latest being Hitler’s & Stalin’s Misuse of Science: When Science Fiction Was Turned Into Science Fact by the Nazis and the Soviets (Pen & Sword/Frontline), which is out now.