The Depths of Modern Judgement: Twitter, Phil Neville, Women and Idiots Do Not Mix

Flint's Off on One

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. More fans have access to football than ever before, and yet they get fleeced for it. There are more facilities and academies, and yet greater insistence – or obligation, depending on your point of view – on immediate success. Technology has created greater accuracy, and yet the debate over its use rages more wildly and angrily than ever before.

Honestly, I have never known a more polarising time in the context of sport. While the world of football fights amongst itself, real clubs and players are struggling to make a living. My local club, FC Tyumen, were pushing for promotion to the Russian Football Premier League a year ago, and now are scrapping to stay afloat having sold off their last two captains and lost most of the best players. It is hard to imagine the squad switching on Match TV (Sky Sports equivalent) and becoming absorbed by the Sanchez saga.

On the other hand, thanks entirely to social media, I have been fortunate enough to build a modest career in writing. Connections to Russian and foreign media have taken me to within three metres of Lionel Messi and Ashley Young – without twitter, I’d be stuck with the pot-bellied breed of Siberian non-league chancers. It is quite astonishing how lightning-quick changes can be thanks to the little blue bird and its network.

Do any of you remember when Facebook groups were just a way to procrastinate? I formed one a decade ago about the different types of hangovers, and another about a Swedish porn star turned pop star named Gunther. OK, there was my tentative blog about an Italian fourth-tier club – who are now, incidentally, in Serie A – but nothing meaningful. Now whole businesses are formed entirely on the network, and football clubs and media outlets are following suite.

So far so good for social media. Recently, however, there has been a spate of “scandals” forged entirely from ancient tweets, most recently regarding new England Women’s manager Phil Neville. I’ve defended good old Fly-in-the-mouth on this column before, but today I am not towing that line. Not exactly, anyway.

A man with just one match managed under his belt is an utterly ludicrous appointment in any sane person’s books, although it should be pointed out it is hardly his fault himself. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to improve your station, regardless of having earned it? As other journalists have written this week, the ‘scandal’ is a bizarre convenience masking his clear inadequacies in experience.

No, the mosquito on my skin this week is about the root of the (attempted) gigantic shitstorm dredged up from Twitter. For those of you hiding under a rock, Neville tweeted a message about watching cricket, starting with a generic greeting to men. His next tweet apologised for not wishing a good morning to women too, whom he thought: “would of been busy preparing breakfast/getting kids ready/making the beds.”

Other than the appalling grammatical accuracy, the insinuation of a woman’s activities is clearly wrong, for which he rightly apologised. Coming after the racism and bullying charges that forced previous incumbent Mark Sampson out of a job, it was uncomfortable to say the least. Like the Sampson case – where his conduct had been questioned – the FA knew about the tweets before appointing him anyway. Three, two, one….

SCANDAL! HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN?? LYNCH HIM!!! I may be* (for lawyers reading, am definitely) exaggerating a touch, but the point remains. The posse of instant gratification self-appointed ethics police went into predictable overdrive.

His comments were wrong, of course. I can’t help feeling though that from now on we will have some nerd dredging through every single social media post ever published every time a major appointment is made just to find whatever controversial angle they can. I am not defending the sloppy sexist remarks made by Neville for a moment, but do the majority of women really believe he is a deep-rooted sexist misogynist?

Roisin Wood, CEO of campaign group Kick It Out, does, and has pushed for disciplinary charges against Neville. Here’s the thing though; he didn’t state that women should be in the kitchen or bedroom only. “Relax I’m back chilled – just battered the wife! Feel better now,” he also tweeted. Dreadful choice of words, sure. Does he need educating on his conduct? Absolutely. Did he mean he literally had physically attacked his wife? However stupid he may or may not be, it is unlikely he would publically state something like that to his 1.6 million followers if he really had done.

My point is not that it is ok what he said, or that he shouldn’t face censure. I once made a comment about homosexual pupils at school when I was 14 which I was strongly reprimanded for, and watching my teacher’s pained expression as he explained why it was so wrong, I was shocked into realising the serious error of my ways. I remain disgusted at myself to this day for ever having said it, but I have grown and developed my views to be inclusive.

Instead, what frustrates me is the insatiable appetite the red-top rags have for finding and then dragging out scandals in the first place. If you come across an example of poor conduct, of course run the story – it’s your job. The obsession with going after the very worst in people, and slamming them for it without room for forgiveness in the case of genuine contrition, is what exhausts me.

“The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend,” observed the Marquis in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, “will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof shuts out the sky.” The omniscient jury of the Twitterati are, I fear, are the ones holding the whip.