The joshing, the slap-joke, the fallout: the Great Moyes Debate has begun | Marina Hyde

Marina Hyde

Couldn’t this whole silly misunderstanding with David Moyes be cleared up if all the male reporters he’d threatened joshingly to slap came forward to contextualise the experience? I mean, honestly. HONESTLY. How are we possibly to make a judgment about the incident’s acceptability or otherwise with a sample size of one? To be more specific: one woman.

By way of a quick recap, a video has emerged of Sunderland manager David Moyes speaking to BBC Sport reporter Vicki Sparks after he has concluded their on-camera interview following his side’s 0-0 draw with Burnley a couple of weeks ago. “Just getting a wee bit naughty there at the end,” Moyes twinkles about one question he didn’t like, “so just watch yourself. You might get a … you still might get a slap even though you’re a woman … Careful the next time you come in.” Sparks can be heard giggling wanly in the background. Incidentally, just as the mockingbird has many different calls, so the female sports reporter has many different laughs. And that one almost definitely says “I am going to tell someone in my private life that David Moyes was a creepy weirdo to me at work today”.

Anyhow, Moyes rang her to say sorry when he found out about the video – later explaining that “I’ve apologised to the girl”, and that his joke-threat was “heat of the moment”. But the Daily Star got hold of it, which leaves us where we are now. Namely, with lots of people denouncing his behaviour, and lots of other people hotly defending Moyes on the basis this is an equal-opportunities slap-gag and explicitly so. Look, it’s right there in the joke – he couldn’t have been more progressive if he’d affectionately called a reporter of colour “my N-word”. It’s a mark of how relaxed he is about their superficial differences. In fact, I haven’t seen a bigger fuss about nothing since that movie where Michael Douglas didn’t want Demi Moore to be his sex boss.

Like I say, though, some people are refusing to get this – and I do think we need to hear from more men on the subject. Help a brother out. There must be lots of male reporters out there – mustn’t there? – who Moyes has previously put on jokey notice of a slap for the wrong sort of question in the workplace. None of which is remotely to second-guess their views on these incidents. We might find these men have been resenting in silence their own experience of a Moyes slap-joke, and are glad for the opportunity to have a dodgy HR issue discussed at last. Or we might find that they were not in the slightest bit offended by their Moyes slap-joke, and felt completely nonchalant about it. But this is an APB to the manosphere: can we please get some diversity into this debate as soon as possible?

In the meantime, could an expensive scientific study be got up to confirm an irony of which I am already instinctively convinced? Namely, that a small but committed section of the chaps most likely to say “for Christ’s sake - it’s only a joke” are the same chaps who have at one time threatened to slap someone who’s made a joke about their football club? And in some cases, who have literally slapped someone who’s made a joke about their football club? After all, there is no more humourless or snowflakey entity on earth than a certain stripe of football fan when his own side is teased. It’s the last lulz taboo.

Indeed, it never ceases to amuse me that the most death threats I have ever received for something I’ve written came after an article about some twattery by the former Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook. Each one made me shriek with laughter a little more. Guys! You know I love you and stuff, but I don’t even believe in taking a life for a life. So I can’t honestly get behind the idea of a life for a couple of jokes about one of your club suits. Looking back, with the benefit of terminology advances, I guess these people were what we might dub EJWs – executive justice warriors. And yet, if I had to put a fiver as to which way those furiously humourless chaps would vote in the Great Moyes Debate, I’d stick it on the position best summarised as “it’s just a joke – you’re not allowed to say anything anymore”.

You are, of course – people say things all the time, and I certainly don’t think Moyes should lose his job for saying this. But letting lots of daylight in on this brand of magic won’t do any harm.

Finally, whenever one of these issues blows up in football, I am always reminded of a brilliantly mischievous Matthew Parris column that came in the wake of a particularly dense run of political and media sex scandals. Having explained that he was “as tolerant of diversity as the next man”, and that what he was about to say was a purely practical judgment and not a moral one, Parris moved to a splendidly deadpan conclusion: “On the whole, and until society changes its attitude to the colourful tastes and exotic practices of so many of today’s heterosexuals, then, adore them though we do, it might be better if they were restricted to careers in the arts, hairdressing and airline cabin crew, where their ‘butterfly’ lifestyle is less likely to interfere with the exercise of their duties.”

I can’t help feeling much the same. I do want any EJWs reading this to understand that the following is a purely practical consideration, but the question does have to be asked: are men really cut out for these high-profile roles in football, with their emotionalism, their irritability (much more than monthly), and their tendency to say something “heat of the moment” when under pressure? Would they not be better suited to clerical positions within the game, or its “caring” roles – ie the physio department, or the press office? With the best will in the world, and all that …

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