Mark Sampson was fired as manager of England’s national women’s soccer team in September after allegations came to light that he had both “overstepped the professional boundaries between player and coach” while coaching a women’s pro team and been accused of racism, harassment and bullying by a former national team player of Nigerian descent.
Needing to make a home run hire for Sampson’s replacement, the English Football Association went out and did the exact opposite: On Tuesday, it tabbed former Manchester United and Everton defender Phil Neville, who had previously made a number of statements about women on Twitter that ranged from hackneyed and clumsy to downright horrific.
Neville deleted his Twitter account, which had 1.6 million followers, soon after the FA announced his hiring, but not before users of the social media service pointed out this tweet sent in 2011: “Relax I’m back chilled — just battered the wife!!! Feel better now!”
Then there was this 2012 gem (as told by the Associated Press):
“Morning men couple of hours cricket be4 work sets me up nicely for the day!” Neville tweeted.
When asked what about the women, he posted: “When I said morning men I thought the women would of been busy preparing breakfast/getting kids ready/making beds-sorry morning women!”
In a separate 2012 tweet, Neville said women “always wanted equality until in comes to paying the bills,” slapping a “#hypocrites” hashtag on it for good measure.
Neville tried to make things right Wednesday, issuing an apologetic statement:
“Following comments made a number of years ago I would like to clarify that they were not and are not a true and genuine reflection of either my character or beliefs, and would like to apologise.
“I am fully aware of my responsibilities as the England Women’s head coach and am immensely proud and honoured to have been given the role.
“I am now looking forward to the future and will work tirelessly to try and help bring success to the team.”
Others have knocked Neville for his sexist social media presence. The head of Kick It Out, a nonprofit that promotes equality and inclusion in British soccer, also questioned Neville’s rather thin coaching résumé: He has never coached women, never been more than an assistant coach for professional men’s teams and has coached for only a few years, at that.
“The appointment of Phil Neville as Head Coach of the England Women’s Senior Team ultimately raises more questions than answers for The Football Association,” Kick It Out CEO Roisin Wood said in a statement on the group’s website. “Kick It Out have serious concerns over a recruitment process that has resulted in the appointment of someone with no record of management or experience in women’s football, and are making representations to The FA to ensure the governing body is transparent and accountable for their decision.
“Following on from the announcement, Kick It Out was also made aware of alleged historical social media posts from Neville, which appear to show him making misogynistic and sexist comments. These have since been passed on to The FA.
“In light of recent action taken in response to historical social media comments made by current football participants, the question must now be asked — will The FA be charging Neville for posting discriminatory comments on social media?”
According to the Guardian, the FA knew of Neville’s tweets before hiring him.
England’s women’s national team has performed better than the country’s hugely popular but perpetually disappointing men’s team, reaching the World Cup semifinals in 2015 and currently sitting at No. 3 in the FIFA world rankings behind the United States and Germany. The Lionesses’ supporters see Neville’s appointment as little more than a PR move by the FA, a big-name hire that might attract a few eyeballs but will do little if anything to further women’s soccer in the country.
“To see a high-profile, former professional footballer virtually parachuted in to such a significant role in football without the level of experience required, undermines the coaching pathway,” the Women’s Sport Trust said in a statement. “Despite the huge growth in the women’s game in recent years, this appointment has also highlighted that we still don’t have enough female coaches at the highest level. We are also saddened by Phil Neville’s historical tweets and the lack of comment about this from the FA. All individuals and organisations must be more aware of past sexist behaviour and respond to it appropriately.”
Read more from The Post: