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On Sunday evening the PFA handed out their annual awards, a ceremony that used to take place in the last weekend in March in London, the same weekend as the League Cup Final. The conclusion of the England’s second domestic cup competition is now a month earlier, but while the PFA’s night of recognition is now a few weeks later, some of the nominees and winners reflect only a partial part of the season, so early is the voting.

Like a cliché, this season has been one of two halves, and players that have come to the Premier League in January and flourished, notably Nikica Jelavic at Everton and Papiss Cisse at Newcastle, had no chance of getting a look in the Premier League team of the Season, although players that have faded since Christmas, like David Silva and Gareth Bale, do make the team. One player who has particularly found form since a move in January is Steven Pienaar, who back at Everton is trusted by his Manager, and is effectively using the space he has given, as notably demonstrated with a beautiful equalizing goal at Old Trafford on Sunday that may prove decisive in the title race.

And the PFA Awards themselves, though not as irrelevant as player ratings in newspapers that may well have been given by a hack who has probably spent most of the game tidying up a pre-written match report, or a man-of-the-match award that has been voted for by armchair fans who could have texted their choice before any significant incident had taken place, do often deliver results that produce some degree of bemusement.

This year there was little doubt of the main award, as Robin Van Persie has almost single handedly taken a struggling team to Champions League qualification, with moments of brilliance, supreme technical skill and a glut of key goals. While on Saturday Paul Merson questioned whether the award would have been a foregone conclusion had other players seen his refusal to properly shake Gary Caldwell’s hand after Wigan Athletic deservedly won at the Emirates last Monday, there is no doubt he has been the individual player of the season, a decision echoed by Football Writers today.

The PFA Young player award went to Kyle Walker in his first full season in the Premier League, and whose advanced positional sense, attacking flair and energy levels have already brought comparisons with Barcelona’s 32 million euro right-back Dani Alves. Walker has already played 41 times for Tottenham this season, starting 39 games, and scoring the winner in his first North London Derby. His predecessor in the team, the disinterested and lacklustre Verdran Corluka, was rightly shifted out on loan in January, but a failure to replace him has meant Walker has had no natural cover in a squad that was too thin for a top three side, as Spurs comfortably were when the transfer window closed, meaning Walker hasn’t been rotated when he could have done with a rest, as his Manager has publicly acknowledged. However, Walker has had less than a handful of poor performances, and experience will surely improve him even further.

With a lack of clarity in the voting – there can be little doubt there were players who voted for the established Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero in the main category, and Walker in the Young Category, although Aguero was an option in both – Walker is a deserved winner. Instead, the real disbelief in this year’s PFA’s results came with the bizarre decision by the PFA not to exclude Ched Evans, who was convicted for Rape on Friday, from the League One team of the year.

Yesterday Gordon Taylor said the decision was to do with football and not morals, but it is questionable that would have been the case had a player, say, for example committed any other serious offence for which he received a lengthy jail term for. Would a serial killer convicted two days earlier still be named in his division’s team of the season for his outstanding performances on the field, just because the brochures were already printed?

Even for an organisation that has such a lack of logistical confidence in its members that it collects votes for end of season accolades before most of the decisive moments are played out, surely it would not have been too hard to instead name the striker with the next number of votes in place of Evans. Instead there is the distasteful thought that some people in football are making value judgements on crimes, a thought enforced when Taylor said in an interview with Sky Sports News yesterday Evans was in an ongoing legal process, rather than respecting the Conviction.

A light was shone on the pervasive undercurrents of misogyny tolerated in the game – visible almost daily on Twitter with sexist abuse directed at female figures in football such as Karren Brady to the casualisation of the term rape – by Gabby Logan’s BBC documentary “Sexism in Football?”, a programme title Anna Kessel pointed out in The Guardian that didn’t really need the question mark.

At the same time as the programme was broadcast, Channel 4’s topical satirical show, ‘Ten o’Clock Live’, disappointingly fell into the Daily Mail’s trap of making jokes at a woman’s appearance due to a piece the paper had run that week designed to get online hits and reinforce a certain world view. It is not a new tactic by the right-wing tabloid press to perpetuate myths in order to keep a status quo which is far from a level playing field, and obviously shows sexism is a society problem as much as a football problem, but the national game has been slow in taking the lead in tackling these problems.

The issue of sexism in the game came to the fore last January when an off-air discussion between Richard Keys and Andy Gray was released in the public domain, unleashing a tone of hatred as much as ignorance, in their pronouncements that effectively espoused a generalisation that women couldn’t understand a set of rules because of their genetic make-up. Subsequent behind the scenes clips, including of sexist bullying in the workplace, were soon also released, but there has been plenty of other evidence around for a while that seems to show the game stuck in a time-warp of stupidity.

As I wrote in a previous blog at the time of the Keys and Gray affair, when the first Sky Sports ‘Super Sunday’ of the season began a few years ago, the start of the programme was clearly an interruption to a jovial off-air discussion. As Richard Keys welcomed new panellist Dion Dublin to viewers, Dublin joked about the fun it sounded he was going to have from what he had just heard, as Keys, laughing, told him to “ssshhh, not on air”; Jamie Redknapp meanwhile pointed out there were some “good players” in the studio, while Andy Gray continued laughing. It brought to mind the scene in The Office with Jennifer’s realisation about Wernham Hogg “…this is just one big boys club.” And a steep icy terrain that leads to a glass ceiling below a members only Gentleman’s Club is not really The People’s Game.

When Keys opened what turned out to be his last appearance on ‘Super Sunday’, the day after the taped conversation between him and Gray about Siam Massey and Karen Brady was national headline news, he looked straight into the camera, with the one-word sentence, “Unsackable.” This was a supposed tenuous reference to Steve Keen, and Keys then led into a montage about Blackburn. When that finished, Keys introduced his guests, laughing along with him. The guests were Sam Alladyce (notorious for his belief that women know nothing about sport, as well documented by Marina Hyde), and Ian Holloway (who as well as Blackpool Manager, is a popular raconteur in the game whose arguably most famous allergy is about “pulling an ugly bird”).

And these incidents are not isolated. It is hard to believe Paul Jewell would speak to any male journalist the way he spoke to Claire Tomlinson in a short stint presenting ‘Goals on Sunday’, while the evidence in Gabby Logan’s programme showed a nasty element that was more widespread.

The national game, which welcomed back Marlon King so warmly, has a duty to stamp out all forms of discrimination, and the PFA should be a big part of that in an educational campaign to young players. Football authorities should also come down heavily on any player who has been tweeting abuse about Evans’ victim, as the CPS must do on anyone who has broken the law by revealing her identity. The People’s Game should be setting the agenda for inclusiveness and equal opportunities, and the player’s union should be taking the lead.


The Substantive Columnist Mel Gomes’ e-book Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to preview for free and download for £4.27 from Amazon and Smashwords. It documents football at the highest level and the journey of travelling around Europe in a sport where money is now valued alongside trophies. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.