The best way to humiliate a footballer is to laugh at him

One of the attractions of going to football is screaming and shouting, roaring on your team. Almost as enjoyable, for many people, is screaming and shouting abuse, usually at the other side, the other supporters, or the ref. And sometimes at your own players. These days, you can't make racial comments, and in Britain now people rarely do, but you can be as ageist, lookist or as sexually explicit as you like - something you can't do in normal life. Good old football. No wonder doctors recommend it for stress. Governments are grateful to it for relieving tensions.

All the same, I was a bit worried about going to Spurs last Saturday. Would the Spurs supporters be out of order, over the top, in their reaction to Sol Campbell on his return to White Hart Lane as an Arsenal player?

Surely it's happened before, said my dear wife. Players must have moved between the two clubs. Yes, but not very often. Pat Jennings did it, but near retirement, when it wasn't seen as desertion. The thing about Sol, dearly loved as a Spurs player, is that, right until the end, he seemed to be indicating that he wouldn't leave, far less go to Arsenal. Most TV commentators appear unaware of this - and that's the reason why so many Spurs fans decided to hate him.

Not that I'm bothered, personally. I think he made a mistake by going to Arsenal - but not because it's Arsenal. It shows a lack of ambition, a lack of confidence, to make a real change or face a proper challenge. If he had wanted to progress, both as a player and as a person, he should have gone to Spain.

He's also chosen Arsenal at a poor time, in a period of transition, and left Spurs when, at long last, they do seem to be moving forward. For the past year, he hasn't played well anyway, and, in Ledley King, Spurs have an excellent youngster who, if he continues to improve, could be better than Sol.

Unlike fans, all players are mercenaries. I don't expect an ounce of loyalty from any of them. So, friends, for all those reasons, I wasn't going along to hate. Only to observe.

The rumour was that the crowd was going to stand in silence when he came on to the pitch, turning their backs on him. That would have been unusual, but I didn't believe it. British crowds love the crude, full-frontal, loud-mouth approach. Other nationalities do things differently. In that Iran v Republic of Ireland game a week or so ago, the home crowd showed their displeasure at their own team by burning their programmes and newspapers. Symbolic, but not much fun. I was once in Africa, watching a match in Cameroon, and the home crowd abused the other team not by swearing or jeering or booing - but by laughing. They waited for a mistake, then fell about, clutching their stomachs. For a player, being mocked is probably far more hurtful and humiliating than being sworn at.

When the players came out, the noise was deafening, so high-pitched, with all the whistling, that my ears blew, as if on a plane. First time it's ever happened to me at a match, but it could have been flu coming on. I've just had an anti-flu injection, which was daft, as for years and years I've never had flu anyway. I've felt rotten ever since I had it.

No one I saw turned his back, but about 4,000 white balloons were let loose bearing the word "Judas", and then several thousand spectators each held up a white card bearing the same word. Presumably, Sol has gone for more money, as he is a professional, but it's hard to see how he can be described as a traitor. But when you're abusing, you don't worry much about logic.

Near the goalposts at the Park Lane end, two huge white notices were held up that read "We don't need a queer. We've got Ledley King", which is a bit of a mouthful - must have taken ages to paint or print. It could be taken to mean that Ledley King is queer, which I don't think was the intention, and he isn't anyway. Interesting, though, that "queer" is back in common usage.

When the game began, Sol was booed loudly every time he touched the ball, right to the very end, when at last Spurs got their well-deserved equaliser. Crowds often grow bored and forget whom they are booing or why. I can't believe it unsettles experienced players, though it perhaps makes them pass the ball more quickly. The crowd also had a go at Martin Keown when he went down, injured: "Get up, you're a monkey's head." No, this was not sexual. This is what we call lookist abuse.

Down below me, in front of the West Stand, I could see Glenn Hoddle standing for most of the second half, wringing his hands. He doesn't go in for screaming and shouting at his players. At local derby games, they can't hear him anyway. And it's not waving, but sort of folding, jerking his hands, as if practising conjuring tricks, or dealing out imaginary cards. Garth Crooks does something similar when he's presenting on TV, talking as much with his hands as with his mouth, but he doesn't know he's doing it.

Hoddle is clearly trying to pass on some instructions, using his own form of hand language. I've got highlights from the match recorded on video, and when I'm really really bored over Christmas, as I always am, I plan to work out what he's saying. From some of his expressions, I suspect he was sometimes passing on more than instructions, especially when Arsenal got their goal out of the blue. What I think he was signalling was a bollocking to his defence.

If so, then there was, after all, some silent abuse at White Hart Lane last Saturday afternoon . . .

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 26 November 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Special Report - The SAS story they want to suppress

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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.