CAN you imagine a world where a male footballer who had retired from a brilliant career as a player went on to become an equally brilliant pundit? So far, so normal.
But imagine if that player-turned-pundit was vilified just for doing his job and told he should be raped or even killed? That is pretty much unimaginable, right?
And yet that has been the experience of Alex Scott, former Arsenal captain and England centurion.
In light of the news she looks likely to succeed Dan Walker to become the first full-time female host of Football Focus, she is no doubt steeling herself for the inevitable sexist and racist abuse that is now part and parcel of being a woman in the public eye.
Football Focus would be Alex’s first major solo TV job. But if she is not the woman for the job, I don’t know who is.
As a player, she won 140 England caps. She was part of 21 trophy-winning teams and she played in four European Championships, three World Cups and an Olympic Games. By the way, the three previous presenters of Football Focus — Dan Walker, Manish Bhasin and Ray Stubbs — have done none of those things.
She is also charismatic and brings out the best in the people she is interviewing.
As the first female pundit to cover a men’s World Cup, in Russia in 2018, her meticulous preparation and research were evident throughout. She positively shone next to some of her male counterparts.
Since retiring from football three years ago, Alex has proved herself to be a brilliant presenter for the BBC, co-hosting The One Show, Sport Relief and Children In Need, as well as being a regular guest on Football Focus.
Yet when she was suggested as a possible replacement for Sue Barker last year as the presenter of A Question Of Sport, she received a barrage of racist and sexist abuse on social media, including death and rape threats.
Alex has talked about how that led her to a “dark place” before seeking therapy to help her deal with the terrifying side- effects of daring to put your head above the parapet as a woman in a “man’s world”.
Her next job will be the well-deserved result of years of hard work, rather than luck or nepotism. She has earned it.
Rather than expecting opportunities to be handed to her on a plate, she had the foresight to prepare for her next career while she was still a player, starting with an unpaid work placement on the digital team at Sky Sports.
Looking on the bright side, things have come a long way in the 30 years since I began working in football. At the start, women were not even allowed in the boardrooms and all the directors were men.
UNION JACK JANKIE
Obviously, it caused a bit of a stir when I came along and they had to open the door to the boardroom to me. I always say this was the first door I smashed down and I have tried to keep it open as wide and as long as possible to get as many other women through that door into football.
Sadly, though, some men still think that football belongs to men. I often get messages telling me to get “back to the kitchen” or “back to the bedroom” as well as death and rape threats.
What I have noticed is that people who roll their eyes at equality are those who have most to lose if the status quo is changed. And that tends to be middle-aged white men, angry that us little women are climbing out of the hole they dug for us.
It is hard being a role model when it involves threats on your life. But my advice to Alex is just to ignore them.
Picture the culprits with their Union Jack knotted hankie on their head, their sandals on over their socks, refusing to accept that things are changing.
You will never meet them so don’t give them the power to upset you. Report them to the police and let the law deal with them. And in the meantime, take every opportunity, every chance.
Don’t risk looking back at your life when you are 52 (my age) and saying: “I wish I would have,” because unless you try things you will never really know how good you are at something. But to try things you have to be fearless, take risks and push yourself to the limit.
From what we have seen of Alex so far, though, she doesn’t need my advice.
She works like a trooper, grabs opportunities and is supremely prepared for anything she does. In one way, it’s annoying that women sometimes have to be twice as good as a man to get the same job.
Luckily, though, that’s not difficult.
Abbey kidding on abs?
If Abbey Clancy wants to spend £380 on a skin-tightening treatment on her stomach then far be it from me to criticise her.
Each to their own – and I really do believe that.
She says having four children “over-stretched” her stomach, which I believe in theory, but looking at pictures of her stomach it is hard to believe in practice.
Her abs look pretty taut to me. In fact, I know people who’ve had no children – or, ahem, two children (like me) – who don’t have a stomach that looks anywhere near as good as she did before the treatment, let alone after.
I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.
Drop at 'cheat'
So Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez have announced they are ending their two-year engagement, saying they “realised we are better as friends”.
This comes off the back of rumours the former New York Yankees baseball player had formed a close relationship with American reality TV personality Madison LeCroy.
Those close to J-Lo said she refused to tolerate it because she has been cheated on before.
If you think someone has cheated, don’t stay friends with them. They don’t deserve your friendship.
J-Lo should know that by now, he is her fifth fiancé. Let’s hope number six treats her with a bit more respect.
The pressures of lockdown continue to reveal themselves in little explosions of bad behaviour.
The latest is the plane passenger who dragged a woman by the hair and punched her as a mass brawl, reportedly about overhead lockers, broke out on a Tunisair flight this week.
The plane was meant to head from Istanbul to Tunisia but the brawl led to five-hour delays.
Footage shows two women pushing and hitting each other as a flight attendant attempts to push a male passenger further down the plane’s aisle.
One woman is screaming and shouting at three other women before hitting them and trying to get past them.
What ON EARTH is wrong with people? This behaviour is disgusting and it feels like they have really lost the plot.
Hero's full of ideas
Talking of sporting role models, Marcus Rashford has earned yet more admiration from me and the rest of the country this week in his latest bid to help low-income families.
Not content with the work he has done so far, forcing Boris Johnson into a U-turn over his refusal to provide holiday support to children on free school meals, and his campaign encouraging kids to read, he now has a new project, aiming to get young people cooking.
The Manchester United footballer has teamed up with the Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge to launch Full Time – a series of five-minute “how-to” films, inspiring families to cook cheap, healthy and filling meals.
It is a guide to making food go further on a budget, while reviving cookery skills that have languished for lots of families over the past few years.
Each recipe costs between 25p and £1 a portion, and can be cooked using a single pan or microwave, which all sounds eminently do-able.
One of the amazing things about Rashford is how passionate he is about equipping children from low-income families with life skills they might otherwise miss out on, like he did.
He knows that if kids can cook, and understand the importance of good nutrition, their lives will be that bit better.
So good on Marcus for doing something else amazing and inspiring at the age of just 23.
Dinner through gritted teeth
So here we are, free again, or at least a bit more free than we’ve been in months.
To celebrate, I went out for dinner on Monday night, mostly because I wanted to eat a meal I hadn’t cooked.
But God it was freezing. We tried to enjoy our dinner through gritted (chattering) teeth.
But, just like my food, pretty soon I was chilled to the bone.
And I had to have a hot bath when I got home to recover and warm up.
Here’s hoping that either the weather warms up soon, or that the days speed past until we can start to eat inside.
'Little or nothing'
A new study has found that primary school pupils learned “little or nothing” from online lessons during lockdown and lost a fifth of the progress they would have made in the classroom.
The report from Oxford University says that while remote teaching was often of a high quality, youngsters’ education still suffered.
Lower levels of learning were even greater in families from disadvantaged backgrounds.
But is anyone seriously surprised by these statistics? All I’m surprised about is that five-year-olds could sit still for five minutes, let alone five hours.
What did we expect? And thank goodness schools are open once again.
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