Has Football Finally Embraced Female Pundits?

Has Football Finally Embraced Female Pundits?

The likes of Alex Scott and Emma Hayes are redefining what it means to be a pundit, and in the process are paving the way for future generations to pick up the mic.

July 29th 2021

Team GB has been bossing it at the Tokyo Olympics. The team have topped their group, kept two clean sheets in three games, and the Bronze Boot winner from 2019’s Women’s World Cup Ellen White has scored three of GB’s four goals. Or should we say "Ellie White"?

During GB’s final group game against Canada, the commentator came under serious scrutiny for not only getting Ellen White’s name wrong but also Caroline Weir’s and Vivianne Miedema’s in the same 90 minutes. He also referred to the top flight of English women’s football as the “Women’s Soccer League” as opposed to the Women’s Super League, and said Scotland international and Arsenal captain Kim Little had notched up “140 caps for England” during her career.

To put it simply: this isn’t good enough.

Commentary isn’t easy but researching the names of players, what league they play in, and what nationality they are, seems fairly straightforward. For years, football commentary and punditry has been dominated by men, and perhaps it’s time we see more women stepping up to the mic.

Last week, EA Sports confirmed rumours that former England and Arsenal right-back Alex Scott will be the first English-speaking female broadcaster to be featured as a commentator in EA Sports’ legendary FIFA franchise. This is a huge milestone for women not only wanting to work in football but gaming too, another heavily male dominated industry.

The very first FIFA was released back in 1993, and has since been an integral part of football culture. A couple of years ago EA announced FIFA had reached 10 million+ players worldwide, the fact that so many fans will now hear Scott as a pitch-side reporter while bagging worldies will only normalise women working in both the world of football and gaming.

Despite becoming one of the game’s most influential sports broadcasters, covering games for both Sky Sports and the BBC, Scott herself has faced a torrent of backlash and abuse for occupying a ‘space’ traditionally carved out for men in football. Yet the Poplar pundit continues to make waves and prove glass ceilings don’t exist, something we’re seeing more of – and rightly so – when it comes to women working in punditry.

Last month, the Euros gave us more own-goals than all previous tournaments combined, a historic final for our Young Lions and breakout stars like Spinazzola, Schick and Doku. But perhaps one of the most memorable things to come out of the competition, and arguably the tournament’s biggest breakout star, was Emma Hayes and her phenomenal co-commentary performances.

Describing Hayes as a ‘breakout star’ seems odd considering the Chelsea Women’s manager has given the best part of two decades to the beautiful game. And if you’re a follower of women’s football, you’ll already know that.

Hayes is one of the most decorated female managers ever to grace the sport.

11 trophies with North London giants Arsenal Women under managerial legend Vic Akers in the mid-2000s, followed by a short stint across the Pond with the Chicago Red Stars in 2008-2010, shaped her style as a manager. Hayes has since gone on to win four Women’s Super League titles, including back-to-back wins in 2019/2020 and 2020/2021, and two FA Cups with Chelsea Women. Earlier this year, Hayes managed the Blues to their first Champions League final. And in recent years, whenever there’s been a managerial opening, Hayes’ name has been linked to it.

The born and bred Londoner is a force to be reckoned with on the sidelines. Roman Abramovich backs Hayes so much, she recently signed a new club contract with no end date. Putting respect on her name as a manager is a given, but as a commentator? It seems that’s a no-brainer too.

During her co-comms of the epic Spain vs Croatia final 16 match last month, Hayes dropped knowledge bombs left, right and centre.

“It’s been a surprise to see Jordi Alba left out of the Spain side. He registered the third most Expected Assists in La Liga last season” explained Hayes. The sound of jaws dropping all over the country because she’d discussed xAs in commentary was audible from my sofa. In that same game she even dropped a couple of one-liners in Spanish. “You’re showing me up,” admitted co-commentator Joe Speight.

The People’s Uncle, Crystal Palace and Arsenal hero Ian Wright, lauded Hayes via Twitter for her spectacular analysis: “Just listen to Emma Hayes feeding us insight and knowledge. Elite”. A tweet from ESPN UK received almost 4,000 likes and 400 retweets petitioning to have Hayes commentate on all of the remaining Euros 2020 games. In a recent Twitter poll conducted by OLGB’s Commentator rankings, Hayes topped the list as one of the nation’s favourite pundits.

You can learn more about footballing tactics in 30 seconds by listening to Hayes than you could completing your FA Level 1. Covering the pivot and beating the low block aren’t phrases synonymous with commentary (oddly enough) but are all part of Hayes’ vernacular. One of the standout features of Hayes’ analysis is her pure, unadulterated love for the game. Her passion comes across with every sentence. Whether it’s praising a shot or a save, Hayes lives and breathes football. Her enthusiasm is infectious.

“It’s slightly jarring that people were so surprised one of the world’s best managers had so much insight to offer.”

Unfortunately, the sexist trolls that occupy the deepest, darkest corners of Twitter tried their best to sour the moment. Using all the creativity they could muster up, they trotted out the usual insults: “I can’t stand her voice, it’s so shrill” and “get back in the kitchen” were thrown about numerous times. That being said, the general consensus was overwhelmingly positive and full of support for Hayes.

However, it is slightly baffling, and to be honest a little jarring, that people were so surprised that one of the world’s best managers had so much knowledge and insight to offer.

There is the old age argument that women, and others from marginalised groups, have to work twice as hard to receive half the level of respect and admiration as their male counterparts. And the fact that Hayes does put so much hard work and effort into her preparation is perhaps evidence to support that notion.

Historically, the studio has been a place for men to share their opinions and offer analysis on the beautiful game. And we’ve had some greats over the years, there’s no denying. But this year, both ITV and BBC decided to shake up the traditional narrative and offer new insight into the game courtesy of fresh blood in the form of Scott, Shelley Kerr, Karen Carney, Eni Aluko and Hayes to name a few. An indication that perhaps the tides are changing, and the world of football is not only more accepting of female pundits but wants more of them on their screens.

Hayes’ stellar performance as co-commentator was ‘rewarded’ with on-screen roles during both the semi-final and final. Roles she should have always been awarded in my opinion, regardless of her performance during the competition. However, her unrivalled knowledge and analysis of the game on display at the Euros definitely silenced those who think women should only commentate on women’s football. Football knowledge is football knowledge, and Hayes is evidence of that.

One thing we can’t overestimate is the impact individuals like Scott and Hayes have on those wanting to carve out a career in football. For decades a lack of visibility and female role models on the screen has meant women often don’t ‘see themselves’ represented off the pitch and in the studio. More female voices in all aspects of football will only help the game become more inclusive.

One day, writing about a woman voicing FIFA won’t be news, as it’ll be something we’d come to expect from the game that we all love.