Come the end of the season, Chelsea’s 4-0 victory over Stoke City is unlikely to be a game that stands out for many supporters.

Are you Sian about that? | Massey call v Stoke. (Image | The Huffington Post)

Massey call | Assistant referee Sian Massey rules Matthew Etherington offside against Chelsea at the Britannia Stadium. (Image | The Huffington Post)

However, it produced a moment that could have severe long-term ramifications, and not only for football.

With the Potters 1-0 down, winger Matthew Etherington was fouled in the penalty area. Referee Andre Marriner awarded the penalty, but then reversed his decision.

Before the foul, the assistant referee had spotted Etherington in an offside position, and raised the flag to indicate this.

Spotting his mistake, Marriner immediately rescinded his award of a penalty to the hosts. It was a an example of good officiating, and most of the credit deservedly went to the assistant referee. The problem was not this, but the identity of the assistant: Sian Massey.

Her presence in the Premier League as an official is a rarity in itself, and Massey became an unwitting cause célèbre in January 2011, when she was on the receiving end of disparagingly sexist remarks from commentators Richard Keys and Andy Gray.

Keys and Gray were working for Sky Sports at the time, and unaware that they were being recorded, made the aforementioned remarks.

Notice 'anded in | Pundits Andy Gray and Richard Keys faced ignominy after their sexist diatribe was leaked. (Image | The Guardian)

Notice ‘anded in | Pundits Andy Gray and Richard Keys faced ignominy after their sexist diatribe emerged. (Image | The Guardian)

The release of their comments led to a media frenzy, with both departing the broadcaster in disgrace.

Although the consensus view was one of sympathy towards Massey, the controversy led to her being under a closer level of scrutiny than she had previously been. No longer was she a faceless assistant referee.

Now it was: “Assistant referee, Sian Massey. You know, the one involved in the sexism row.” While most of the attention came from a good place, I felt that there was a general tone of condescension towards her that became irksome.

Whenever Massey made correct decisions in future games, there appeared to be an eagerness to credit her whenever possible. This was also the case during the match at the Britannia Stadium.

The underlying tone appearing to be: “Look! Look at the woman! And she’s actually good! Isn’t that amazing!”


One of the laudatory tweets towards Massey came from journalist Gabriele Marcotti. Knowing that he tends to engage with fans on Twitter more than some of his peers, I tweeted to ask whether the singling out of Massey was counter-productive. After all, would a man get a name-check for making an equally competent decision?

Within a few minutes I received a response. The Italian stated that his initial tweet praising her had led to a flood of responses, many of which were sexism couched in attempts at humour, containing phrases such as “making a roast dinner”. He felt that highlighting her proficiency was necessary to offset this.

My bugbear was not with Massey. After all, she has done nothing to garner the additional attention.

The issue was not so much that disproportionately putting her under the spotlight overshadows her male counterparts, but it places Massey under additional and needless pressure.

However, following a rethink I realised that while my opinion my have some theoretical validity, it is fairly pointless when put into practice.

This is because we do not live in an ideal world and, whenever she runs the line during a match, Massey is already under additional and needless pressure because she is a woman.

Pioneer | Jackie Robinson, the first ever black player in Major League Baseball, was notorious for this, not his ability. (Image | Biography)

Ability or significance? | Jackie Robinson, the first ever black player in Major League Baseball, is famous for what he signified rather than his on-field successes. (Image | Biography)

Maybe it is kismet, but I recently watched the trailer for 42, the upcoming biopic of Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play baseball in the major leagues.

Whenever Robinson took to the field, he was competing against a social structure in which he was inherently inferior, as well as trying to help the Brooklyn Dodgers succeed.

Whether Robinson desired or not to be a trailblazer for equality, he had no choice and joined the battle the second he pulled on the #42 jersey.

Massey may not have a burning desire to help gender equality, but with every correct decision she makes, it becomes tougher for bigots to claim that women have no place in football.

Her success adds to the empirical proof that there is only one barometer which should be a barrier to competing in sport, and that is ability.

So the next time Massey makes a good call, tweet, shout and blog about it. Tell all those willing to listen, and anyone that would prefer not to.

Concerns about being patronising and focusing too closely on one woman are valid, but nowhere near as as much as the fact that the Premier League has just one female official.

Even then, she still has to put up with insulting and prejudiced remarks for performing well. Bigots unfortunately tend to have a rather loud voice. Ours must drown it out.

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