BT Sport is the most annoying thing so far this season

Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column

“You. You are. You are football. You. Thank you.”

(William McGoogle, official provider of bollocks for Barclays Premier League hoardings)

These pointless perimeter advertisements that Barclays now insists on flashing at all Premiership grounds are so irritating. I do wish football pitches would stick to sensible, simple advertising slogans such as the one at Swansea: “Are your leaves blocking your gutters? Gutterblock.” Although it could be a code whose meaning I am missing.

But the most annoying thing so far this season is BT Sport. We are still in the Lake District, so I tried to order it just for one month. It took for ever, cost a fortune, and then they cut it off. Said I had to start again, cancel the first payment, start a new one. Gawd, I was screaming! Their coverage is shite. They have only the rubbish games. And few of them.

Thank goodness for Sky. They do try so hard. Having at last given up their mantra of the past 20 years – “Best League in the World, Best Players in the World, Best Clubs in Europe blah blah” – which has been so patently untrue for two seasons, they have a new one.

A ball went out of play, both sides claimed it was their throw-in, the linesman gave it one way and the cameras proved it was the correct decision. “We do have the best assistants in the world,” purred the Sky commentator.

“You want football. We got football. Loads of footballers.”

(Carlos Kickaball Jr, official supplier of expensive players you’ve never heard of, all much the same, for Tottenham Hotspur FC)

Lots of new things to welcome, including new managers. Yes, I know, José Mourinho is an old manager, but he has returned, in old clothing – charity-shop pullies, by the look of it. Get a grip, José.

Manuel Pellegrini at Man City has already made his mark with that gorgeous hair, so thick, so lush, so very Seventies.

Jamie Carragher is a welcome recruit to the studio. Glad he turned down the offer of elocution lessons. That Scouse accent is so thick you could roll it out and carpet the hallway.

 New away strip for Aston Villa, sort of old-fashioned quarters, like what Blackburn Rovers used to wear.

Spurs’ new shirt, nice neck, very Chariots of Fire – but yet another shirt sponsor with incomprehensible letters. What does AIA stand for? Were those the only letters of the alphabet they had left lying around from last season’s sponsor?

“You Pay. You Are Fans. You Pay Most, You Arsenal Fans. Thank You.”

(Carlos Kickaball Sr, official provider of free transfers to Arsenal FC)

Well, it paid off against Spurs, not spending money on new players. All of whom seem to be foreign – and so many with beards. The reason English players are also growing them is obvious: they want to look foreign, otherwise they won’t get picked. Or be noticed on the bench.

Paul Ince’s neck – what has happened to it? He did have one when he played for Man United. Fortunately his son Tom has a fine, slim one. Keep an eye on it in the dressing room, Tom. I do like Wayne when he’s had a good clean shave and looks smooth and glowing, none of this stubble nonsense. It gets reflected in his smooth play. The only trouble is, he’s beginning to look like Mussolini’s lovechild.

That stupid plinth that’s plonked down at the side of the pitch from whence the referee has to pluck the ball as he walks past. What is the point? Presumably yet more advertising opportunities. The hordes of official partners, suppliers and providers of services which every Premier Club now has will be able to buy space and see themselves credited.

“You. You Make This Column. You Fans.”

(Reader’s Digest, official provider of clichés for The Fan

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 09 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Britain alone

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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.