When the former England international and respected pundit Karen Carney dared to contextualise on the promotion of Leeds United it was bound to raise the eyebrows of the fans. But few would have expected the club’s official Twitter account to go after her and therefore inadvertently direct football’s online sexist underbelly directly at her.
Leeds tweeted a video of Carney which included her saying the club had been “promoted because of Covid” and pulled that sentence out into their tweet.
Carney perhaps was clumsy in that phrasing but put the whole sentence in its proper context and her intention is clear. She praised the team’s style and running game when she said that the team can “outrun everyone and credit to them” before airing a concern about whether the team would “blow up at the end of the season”.
She explains – after the “I actually think they got promoted because of Covid” line – that she meant the pause “gave them a bit of respite” and that she was not sure the team “would have got up without that break”.
She had a point. Marcelo Bielsa’s team did go on a five-game unbeaten run before the season was paused for Covid, and then galloped to the title dropping just two points in eight games. But the preceding season they won only one in their final six games and in both years suffered a mini-slump between December and February. It was the same story in Spain when Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao slipped out of the title race in 2011-12 and at Marseille in 2014-15, where his team went from being “autumn champions” (top at Christmas) to fourth by the season’s close.
Carney’s comment may have been slightly clumsy but then it would be easy to go through a two-hour spell of any commentator or pundit on any game and pull out clumsy phrasing. It was a fair point to make and whether people agreed with it or not is not the main issue here.
Twitter went into meltdown. There were plenty of comments from fans proudly proclaiming they had trumped the feminists. This was not an attack on Carney because she is a woman, but because she is a bad pundit and she was wrong. How did they know? Because the club had tweeted pedantically about male pundits in the past. Many pointed out that Gabby Agbonlahor, Paul Merson and Chris Wilder have also been targeted in recent months.
In the case of Carney though, the club plunged new depths. Did they not realise that the abuse directed at her would be different because she is a woman? If they didn’t – where have they been? Every time the former England international Alex Scott is on TV she is trending on Twitter before she has said a word. Scott was trending on Wednesday again as a result of Leeds’ tweet about Carney as the trolls piled in.
Did the people running the Leeds Twitter account miss the abuse Scott and Eni Aluko endured during the World Cup? Have they been blind to the abuse female officials endure every time they step on the grass? Or the misogynism former players turned pundits such as Rachel Brown-Finis receive every week? Or the abuse that is suffered by any female journalist if they dare write about, well, anything to do with the men’s game? That is an extremely privileged position if so.
The inevitable happened. Carney was called a “silly bitch”, a “stupid slag” and “twat of the week” and was told to “get back in the kitchen” and to “put your mic down and get yourself home there’s dishes to wash and clothes to iron”, to select a few. Someone else was “sick of this shit women pundits”, another quipped “women’s lives matter but come on, women and football? Get kettle on love!” There were far worse ones as well.
That kind of reaction would not have happened if the target was a man. During Amazon’s broadcast of Leeds’ emphatic win against West Brom the former Leeds player Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink could be heard in the background saying “spot on” following Carney’s analysis but he was not targeted, at least to anywhere near the same extent.
However when a male pundit is the focus of the trolling masses those on the attack never imply that their entire gender has no place in the world of sports journalism or football more generally. That type of abuse, that aims to delegitimise the role of women in football, is the difference. It is piled on to the plate of women working in the game who have experienced decades of abuse for daring to presume that “the people’s game” is not just a man’s game and who have had to fight tooth and nail to be respected in football, for the right to comment on it and even to play it.
Some said that the content was already out there, that Leeds should not be criticised for also highlighting it. However there is a huge difference between the original tweet from @Punjabi_whites, with its 5,313 followers and the decision of an official Premier League club account with over 665,000 followers doing so. Not only does it hugely expand the reach of the content but it also serves to legitimise the subsequent abuse in the minds of the perpetrators.
At the time of writing Leeds’ tweet had garnered over 5,100 retweets, over 6,500 quote tweets, 48,500 likes.
Leeds may have, finally, “completely condemned” the abuse Carney has received but they have not apologised or deleted the tweet. There were also reports that the club were going to invite the decorated England international to report from the training ground before the club’s third round FA Cup tie with Crawley next week but that would be nothing short of patronising.
No, Carney does not need to trot along to Thorpe Arch to mend bridges with a club that wishes to correct her opinion. Much more appropriate would be Leeds bringing in representatives from Women in Football and educating their staff, coaches, owner and players about the seemingly alien world of sexist abuse that women working in football deal with on a daily basis.