This week Johnny gets in touch with his inner girlyman, puts his Spanx on and watches Jacqui Oatley on the telly…
As in most walks of life, women in sports media tend to be judged far more on appearance than men. Your Jeffs and your Marks put on a dark jacket and as long as they remember to put trousers on (not guaranteed), they’re good to go and no-one will bat an eyelid. No-one criticises men for wearing suits and shirts. Blokes can look like a shaved gibbon and still be on telly talking about football because looks have never been much of a barrier to men being on sports telly. Until we get a female shaved gibbon presenting football, we will not have equality.
On TV, the female sport presenter’s dress sense tends to fall into three broad categories. There’s the Sky Sports News tendency: vivid shades of retina-harming primary colours, painfully super-tight dresses which appear to require a nuclear-powered pair of Spanx to be worn underneath, in order to hold everything in, and from which they must surely have to be cut out with a welding torch at the end of every day.
Or you can go down the big fashion statement route, perhaps wearing a bizarre fascinator made from a motorbike exhaust pipe, while sporting an Issey Miyake dress made out of cardboard and tea bags.
Or finally, you can do what Jacqui does and keep it plain, simple, relaxed and undemonstrative, so that you can quite easily not even notice what she’s got on, but if you do, it won’t hit you in the face like an explosion at a paint factory. This seems both the most comfortable and sane route to take. After all, it’s about the sport, not the clothes.
Never seems to have a bad hair day and always looks, what my Yorkshire mother would have called, “well-scrubbed and soapy”.
Despite being a native of Codsall, on the outskirts of Wolverhampton, sadly doesn’t utilise the glorious Black Country world of weird wording. Not so much as a “yow” or a “yam”, let alone a “bustin'”.
In fact, she has the sort of crisp delivery that you can imagine being used to properly pronounce English words for foreigners on an in-flight documentary. But she’s bound to appreciate the wit and wisdom of Aynuk and Ayli and you’d hope she could lapse into a full Noddy Holder at a moment’s notice, hopefully while wearing tartan trousers and a top hat covered in mirrors.
Hits and misses
Blimey, she’s got more hits than Slade in the 70s. She has a genuinely unrivalled CV of media and journalistic successes. Before I list them, bear in mind that all the men that hold top broadcasting jobs can’t hold a candle to what JO has done. The fact she’s not the boss of them all tells us something.
She was the first female commentator on Match of the Day in 2007. She is also an FA qualified football coach, which makes her more qualified than some of the ex-players she must meet. She’s a director of the important support and pressure group, Women in Football. Among many other great things, you can go to their website to report incidents of sexism in football.
In August 2015, The Independent named her the eighth most influential woman in sport.
Has got serious radio reporter chops having worked right across all BBC networks in sports reporting. She was the UK’s first female darts presenter, has covered the World Snooker Championship, British Moto GP, Open Championship golf, tennis and rugby league. I’m exhausted just listing these. How has she even had time to do all of these things? A case of, if you want something done, ask a busy woman, I guess.
Jacqui has also fronted possibly every football show on terrestrial TV, at one point or another, as well as anchoring coverage of both women and men’s Euros and World Cups. No-one else has done this. Currently does the excellent Women’s Football Show on the BBC.
She was recently awarded a very well-deserved MBE for services to broadcasting and diversity in sport, which must have been some compensation for having to work alongside Glenn Hoddle this summer, as the former Spurs wizard of the dribble went about mutilating the beautiful English language into something ugly, whilst grimacing, as though speaking words was physically painful to him. Only for him to shuffle slightly out of centre shot, needing a quietly professional pull from our Jacqui. Classy.
This all begs one obvious question. Given such a ceaseless litany of experience and stellar work, why was Mark Pougatch (nothing wrong with him but…) still the head honcho on ITV this summer? I mean, come on, this is getting silly now.
No misses at all to speak of so far, except she dislocated her kneecap playing football, which could put a cramp in anyone’s disco dancing. Suffered a ridiculous storm-in-a-teacup hoo-hah over her first MOTD commentary back in 2007. It should be said, even outside of sexist derision, some really don’t appreciate her commentary voice, on aesthetic grounds. But then, you could say that for any commentator.
Big club bias
No chance. Big Wolves fan, which is about as grounded and down-to-earth as you can be in English football. Was quick to point out their primacy in the new England set-up.
England now officially ruled by Wolves:
Big Sam: Wolves fan
Martin Glenn: Wolves fan
Dan Ashworth: lives in Wolves#WWFC
— Jacqui Oatley (@JacquiOatley) July 22, 2016
Loved or loathed
People love Jacqui; they really do. Rarely have I had such passionate social media responses.
‘She’s good. Really good.’
‘She’s ace. Deserves to be main presenter on a big channel.’
‘Looks like she could do a hurricane-force telling off if required to…*This is not a bad thing.’
‘She’s ace, and should have been in Pougatch’s seat in the Euros.’ (Agree totally on that)
‘She seems constantly delighted and charmed to have the job she has, which is very nice to see in a world with lots of grumps’
‘Her twitter feed shows a real enthusiasm for promoting both women’s football and women’s jobs in football.’ (Great point, that. She’s a fine example of someone using their prominence and position to try and make a difference)
‘She’s ace and I hope she gets more of the ‘big’ games.’
‘When she was doing the pitchside interviews with Glenn Hoddle she seemed like a proper grown-up talking to a dopey teenager.’
‘Much better presenter/anchor than commentator and comes across really well + bonus points for dealing with Glenn Hoddle.’
‘Good as a reporter, but can’t stand her as a commentator.’
‘My sister has a mutual friend and says she’s lovely.’
‘She babysat for me as a kid.’
‘Comes across as a journalist doing a presenting job which seems rare these days.’
‘Very enthusiastic, very earnest.’
‘I like that there’s a slight chip of ‘you arseholes said I couldn’t do this’ in everything she does.’
But as amazing as it might seem, there are also some who don’t like to see or hear women talking about football. Some of them tweeted me with obscenities about Jacqui. Obviously I deleted them. But in service to representation, in summation, they don’t like her funny not-like-a-man voice, they quite ridiculously and stupidly doubt her knowledge of football and basically feel like she should be making a man’s tea and generally be lying back and thinking of England a lot. For so many of these abusers, it always, always, always, comes back to sex. And you can see their idiot tweets on her timeline, from time to time, barfing some variation of ‘back in the kitchen, luv’ at her. This isn’t unique to sports presenters and journalists, of course, prominent women get this kind of abuse all the time. I mean, Jesus, can’t we ever get past this? It seems to be less tolerated now by the masses, thankfully and it is seen, I hope, by the vast majority, as ignorant and abusive. We’ve come some distance, but we have still far to travel and all decent people need to police this sh*t out of existence.
When I first started writing for F365 16 long years ago, it was clear that women on the football telly, either on the pitch or in front of the camera, were only of interest to many men if they were ‘hot’. And those men really hated you saying anything positive about women’s football outside of that parameter. It was frankly weird and was as though they felt threatened by men who didn’t want to drive down their sexist road. But then anything perceived as pro-feminist seems to anger some people, like little else. Why? It’s just about equality, is that really so bad?
Things have changed a bit since then, even though I do worry it’s suppressed rather than transformed behaviour, in some cases. Still, even that is a form of progress, I guess.
For everyone who cares about this stuff and who have been trying to push open a previously closed door for years, Jacqui’s rise in prominence and the work she’s done from the grassroots upwards has been nothing short of magnificent. A couple of months ago she highlighted another issue.
This issue was picked up by the Daily Mail, but even in the reporting of her comments, they still felt it necessary to state her age, marital status and number of children. It’s never ‘woman says something’, it’s always ‘woman, 41, married with two children, says something’, even though age, marital and fertility status do not pertain to the story. If they could have added in a bikini, they would have.
Like I say, there’s still some major distance to travel before we arrive at a fair and equal situation.
Proper Football Man
She’s here, now best behaviour, lads. Merse, there’s no need to salute, you’re not in the army and she’s not your sergeant major. No Chaz, I don’t know if she’s wearing a bra and stop doing that to yourself. There’s no need to bow, Tommo, she’s not the Queen. Don’t worry, she won’t want some of your pasty, chips and mushy peas ‘Tis, and can’t you stop eating for five minutes? Stop punching that glove puppet, Sherwood, it isn’t disrespecting you, it’s on your own hand. Will some please tidy up Deano and sweep him under a tarpaulin. Why is TC naked and inside a t-shirt cannon? McInally, I told you to put trousers on and stop injecting brandy into your eyes. Reidy, Reidy son, come ‘ere. Do not, and I repeat, do not, offer her your hip flask of Vapor Rub, Baxters vegetable soup and radioactive isotope lager. It is very refreshing and a nice bright colour, aye, but it removed my tonsils, nasal passages and eyebrows. Me and you know this is brilliant, but you know what these PC types are like, they frown on using drinks for actual surgery. I know it’s crazy, but we’ll end up in the papers if we don’t pretend to be like them.
Right here we go. Best behaviour now, there’s a non-male present, boys.
“Hello err…my…err…lady…err…woman, no disrespect, I never said them things, Jeff. We saw you on the box with Glenn. Very impressed, ‘cos you seemed to understand him. How do you do that?
“I hear you ended your football playing days by dislocating your knee cap. I admire physical injury, it makes a man of you. Well not of you, obviously. Or did it? No offence, like. I got mixed up in Thailand once, meself, well I was gonna have something for that sort of money. Ahem. So a dislocated knee eh? Here’s Merse, we think he’s got a dislocated metal plate in his head. It does explain a lot, yes, your err majesty…no, err…my…err…female…I mean, err…chairperson wife. My mother was a woman, you know. Yeah. True fact. Dad was as well. I don’t talk about it in front of the boys. Don’t you have to get home to cook your husband’s…err…oh no…err…take my wife…someone, please…ha ha…what? I’m not biased. I like stockings.”
The PFMs have to deal with ladywomen a lot more these days on the telly. And despite the fact they fear committing a massive sexist faux pas, and feel that being around women is somehow gay, they still quite like it, as it means there is always someone at hand who can make toast. And that’s important to any PFM. That and tomato ketchup.
Of course it makes post-studio bantersaurus japing a little awkward when you’ve got a grown-up woman human in the room. It means no trips to legendary nightclub, The Vinegar Strokes, nor any saucy behaviour with Miss Non-Brewed Condiment and Pickled Egg Queen of 1984. But on the upside there’s less chance of one of the boys sitting on your head and lighting a fart as they do so. So it’s not all bad.
Beyond the lighted stage
Seems too busy working tirelessly to make the world a better, more fair place, to have much cultural hinterland outside of family. People who know her wrote in to confirm she absolutely bloody loves football, and is a first-class lass. Yeah, we thought that, anyway. I don’t know, but I’m guessing, she favours 80s soul music, pesto, a nicely cooked piece of salmon and a Nicole Farhi suit.
I wouldn’t surprise me if she was also Catwoman in her spare time.
In short: brilliant.