Football pundits’ lack of diversity is a concern for us all

Ben Mountain

Grumbling, white and unemotive. Make no mistake, that is a man. And not just any old man, that is a man’s man.

Throw in a northern accent, a slight weight problem and a cracking bit of banter and you’ve designed yourself the perfect footballing pundit. Let’s call our one Jeff, or Rob or John or Dave or Paul or Steve or in fact any traditional, monosyllabic British man’s name.

Now, said British-named man needs a nice, firm laugh. He also needs a good old fashioned accent. We’ll stick with northern but anything remotely cockney will do, too.

Give this top lad a massive incapacity to talk in any language other than that unelaborate, vague and over-colloquial ‘blokeish’ and you’re absolutely set. Stick our prize specimen on talkSPORT or Sky and watch the footballing excellence ensue.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is seemingly the ultimate formula for footballing punditry. Marvellous stuff.

Or is it?

Only, on reflection, it seems like this description has become slightly out-of-touch with the modern football fan.

Yet if you turn on the football at any point in the year, you can rest assured that our little friend above is the one who will greet you.

It’s a bizarre fact to face because modern football has no one single audience. Of course, in the pre-Premier League era, the man we’ve just described was pretty much football’s core fan base.

But now, with English football becoming so fantastically diversified, that is no longer the case.

Football is not the white working class man’s game. That’s not to say that it’s most passionate collection doesn’t still originate from the working class – it is supposedly the working man’s game, after all – but football fans come from both sexes, all ethnicities and most ages these days.

We’ve been seeing this transformation on the pitch for years, too. There is not one entirely Caucasian team in England’s top leagues and women’s football is growing exponentially. Football is diversifying at a rapid rate.

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Furthermore, and perhaps not entirely positively, football’s key demographic is fast becoming more and more middle class. We can thank the Premier League and Rupert Murdoch for that, the transition allows them to wring even more money from this historic game, after all. But that’s for another day.

The point is that football in this country is no longer a sport for one sex, race or class. It has a gloriously diverse appeal and has been enjoyed by most cultures and sectors of the population. Football represents a varied society.

So why do football pundits not?

It’s not an entirely accurate observation, admittedly. There are now several quality pundits of different ethnicities and gender, of course. But they’re still very much in the minority.

Sadly, the problem actually stretches further than just the lack of diversity in terms of ethnicity, class and gender. Because the majority of the pundits we watch and listen to today are simply based on one male ideal.

That is, blokey in the level of emotion displayed by your average toolbox. Blokey, heterosexual and hyper-masculine. They’re not just white men, they’re one tiny and superficial ideal of white men.

In the world we currently live in, it’s fast becoming the case that the aristocrats and wig-headed dukes are not the prime image of power and authority that the modern type of man is. Inheriting the well known privilege and advantage of most white men is the new wave of king-pins; the hyper-masculine white ideal.

This man is rigidly male, heterosexual to the extreme and concerningly admired.

They may not represent the wealthy, like the aristocrats of old did, but they still are an example of the powerful. That man doesn’t face prejudices, does he? He can bellow in the pub to his heart’s content and not one person would dare mock him.

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Imagine someone who hasn’t been diligently trained in the art of ladding trying that. Someone who doesn’t know their AVB from their ABV% would be torn to shreds with the prowling pack of ironically man-eating blokes about.

It is a damaging image and one that most sectors of this country are gladly abandoning. Not for football though.

Nope, football is plowing on with its macho lad image and, in doing so, compounding the problems of so many of its most passionate fans.

To impersonate the idol on screen for most children for example (those who are remotely represented, that is), is to adopt a worrying persona of the bloke’s bloke. It’s common knowledge that this act isn’t a healthy one and triggers the sort of epidemics faced by men today. That, for example, of suicide being the largest killer for men under 50.

But is preventing such crises even remotely helped when these men turn on the radio and hear Robbie Savage lambaste some poor sod for having a crap opinion on his beloved game.

The levels of superiority for men in football is staggering.

Listen, carefully, for just one or two minutes to an after-match debate among fans – as they imitate their adored pundits – and note the vitriolic connotations and sinister undertones from the more learned fans.

Those who reckoned Swansea were going down this year get that sort of ‘you complete waste of space, you’ look and a subtle reminding from those guessed correctly. Football has vicious echelons among its fans and sadly those who exhibit the superior, blokey knowledge in the superior, blokey way are all too often regarded as the top dogs or role models in footballing circles.

This drives some sort of perverse push for uniformity when to present yourself in a way even remotely unmanly is to consign yourself to humiliation.

Beer, birds, heated conversations about a game and general ‘things for men’ are essential. Failure to care wildly for them is regarded as failure to fulfill your role as a man.

We don’t live in the days of the caveman anymore and this image of masculinity is fast dying out.

Sadly, in a sport as wonderful as football, it is continually promoted. This promotion is being perpetuated from those at the top whom we are supposed to all admire.

The blokey Jeffs and Robs are a laugh and do the job of punditry well. What they aren’t, however, is a fair representation of football’s true fan base. And they’re certainly no role model.

So, the next time you turn up to the football after having listened to talkSPORT in the car; don’t impersonate the generic personality-devoid idiom machine that spouts manly manliness at you. Go and have a laugh watching the sport you love with the people you’re close with. Stepping foot into a footballing space shouldn’t equal a radical shift in your world and behaviour.

Don’t try and be Jeff, be whoever the hell you were when you left the house. Football is a game without cause for discrimination or conformity. Let’s stop channelling into one mass of under-representative, emotionless drones of masculinity.

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