Old Firm Facts: Football is the ultimate team sport

Writer and podcaster Adam Miller, aka Old Firm Facts, on how men can look out for teammates off the pitch as well as on it.

There’s an argument to be made that Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer of all time, but he has never lifted the World Cup.

There’s only so much you can do on your own. Luka Modric, Andriy Shevchenko and George Weah have all won the Ballon d’Or, football’s most prestigious individual award, but none of them have a World Cup winner’s medal in their trophy cabinet.

Stephane Guivarc’h, who left Newcastle after four games and went on to score a total of seven goals in 18 appearances for Rangers, started upfront for France in the 1998 World Cup Final. He ended the tournament with zero goals and one winner’s medal.

When everyone’s pulling together in the right direction, teams can lift you up. When there’s a negative element within that isn’t addressed, teams can drag you down.

As men, a lot of us have been able to point to ‘that guy’ on our teams at one point or another. The one within the group who embarrasses the rest of us on a night out, or puts us all in an awkward position with his behaviour.

When it launched last year, the Don’t Be That Guy campaign set out to tackle male sexual entitlement. A link was drawn between how we talk to and about women, and men going on to commit sexual assault.

Former Police Officer Graham Goulden, who spent eight years in Glasgow’s Violence Reduction Unit, wrote a piece this year entitled ‘What is male sexual entitlement?’

In it, he said: “The violence is a result of men thinking they are entitled to women’s bodies. It’s okay to talk about women you like with your friends, but talking about them in a way that demeans them contributes to a culture that harms women.

“You might not sexually assault women, but the way you speak might be giving permission to a man who does.”

We think of ourselves as good guys, as allies, but we can always learn and do more.

The campaign’s primary focus last year was on us, as men, looking in the mirror and asking awkward questions of ourselves.

While that message is still key, we also have to think about how we respond when we witness or hear inappropriate behaviour. Are we shifting silently in our seat? Are we rolling our eyes? Are we nervously laughing? By doing anything other than challenging that behaviour, are we letting male sexual entitlement flourish?

Challenging isn’t, however, about calling them out in front of everyone.

In a video released as part of this year’s Don’t Be That Guy campaign, Blethered podcast host Sean McDonald says: “We know that shaming doesn’t work. Trying to dig people out in front of people doesn’t work. Just take them aside and have a quiet word.”

Two men sat at a pub table

Sean McDonald and Ben Atiga

Grabbing a quiet word in private and saying “mate, that was out of line” isn’t being a bad friend. It’s the opposite.

We’re not scolding them or wanting them to feel bad. By pulling them up in a caring manner, we’re helping them avoid situations where they get themselves into trouble, or become known disapprovingly as ‘that guy’.

In turn, the women in our lives and theirs will be less likely to receive inappropriate comments or have to deal with uncomfortable behaviour.

Stirling Albion winger and football blogger Danny Denholm is also part of the campaign. Speaking on the Old Firm Facts podcast, he said: “It’s not just calling people out, it’s more speaking to your pal, taking them aside one-to-one and saying ‘Listen, that behaviour wasn’t right’, and then acting on it.

“What I didn’t want to do was be part of a discussion where it was like ‘right, I’m just going to call everything out’. It does deserve to be called out, but I’ve seen how that can go the opposite way. If you call somebody out in a big group, they can double down.

“It’s not just ‘don’t be that guy’, it’s ‘be a mate’.”

Discussing the campaign alongside Danny on the Old Firm Facts podcast, Scottish sports broadcaster Ali DeFoy talked about how that male group dynamic can be perceived by women. She said: “It’s not often that a man would walk down a street on their own and catcall someone, but when they’re with people, either people they work with or in a group, from a female point of view it seems to be worse.

“You feel like all of them are laughing or all of them are thinking that, whereas it might just genuinely be that one person and people might not have felt comfortable enough to say or do anything.”

We’re always more receptive when someone shows enough respect and tact to take us aside and keep the conversation private, rather than shaming us in front of the group. That caring approach makes us more likely to take the message in and adapt our behaviour accordingly.

Choosing not to have those conversations can have consequences.

Daniel Sloss

Daniel Sloss (Credit: Troy Edige)

In his 2019 HBO stand-up special ‘X’, Daniel Sloss delivered a powerful message on this subject. The Scottish comedian said: “I knew this man for eight years and he f***ing did it.

“There are monsters amongst us and they look like us….You have to get involved. Don’t make the same mistake that I did for years, which was just sitting back and being like ‘well, I’m not part of the problem, therefore I must be part of the solution’, because that’s just not how this f***ing s**t works.

“I believe and deep down I know that most men are good, of course we are, but when one in 10 men are shit and the other nine do nothing, they might as well not f***ing be there. Being good on the inside counts for absolutely f**k all. You have to actively be good and get involved.

“Instead of having this f***ing hero complex and being like ‘I’m going to beat up a rapist’, f***ing prevent one. Stop one. Because I know it can be done, because I know how I f***ing failed at it.

“Because if I’m being 100% honest with myself, were there signs in my friend’s behaviour over the years towards women that I ignored? The answer is yes. And then he raped my friend, and that’s on me until the day I die.

“Talk to your f***ing boys. Get involved.”

Perpetrators of sexual assault aren’t born hating women. It’s not something they would consider part of their identity. They don’t walk about with name badges on saying ‘Gary, Rapist’.

They’re normal, law-abiding people right up until the moment they’re not.

The more we laugh at sexist jokes and sanction inappropriate behaviour with our silence and inaction, the clearer the path from ‘banter’ to assault becomes.

If women are objectified, diminished and dehumanised in the eyes of the perpetrator, it becomes easier for him to justify his actions to himself.

Sloss prefaced his comments by saying: “to the men in the room, I want to make something crystal clear. This isn’t an attack. I’m not accusing you of anything, and more importantly, I’m not accusing your friends of anything.”

This isn’t about falling out with, turning your back on or shaming your friends. It’s about lifting up your teammates.

In a video recently posted to Instagram as part of the campaign, Goulden stresses the importance of speaking to our friends in a non-confrontational manner and uses the phrase ‘Connect before correct’. “When we connect”, he explains: “we remind this person of our friendship. Friends don’t let friends continue with harmful behaviour. Friends don’t let friends get in trouble.

“We use our friendship to make that first step, and then we correct the person, by saying things like ‘what you said was wrong. It made me feel uncomfortable, and I want to tell you that as a friend’.”

By flagging inappropriate behaviour to them in a warm, sensitive and friendly manner, putting your concern for their wellbeing at the heart of the conversation and harnessing the power of your friendship, you can have a positive impact on their behaviour and how they’re viewed by others.

As a result, they are less likely to act in a way that is harmful to the women around them.

We’ve all seen footballers being dragged away from flashpoints by their teammates. In the heat of the moment the player might not be able to see the big picture, but a teammate who’s not caught up in the middle of it can assess the situation with a clear head and realise their colleague might be about to get themselves sent off. Taking them out of that situation benefits everybody.

If you would look out for your mate on the pitch, you should be able to look out for them off it too.

Don’t be that guy who looks the other way. By looking out for each other as men, we can nip male sexual entitlement in the bud.

Be a mate, and help the men in your life avoid hurting the women in it.

Be a teammate.

@Oldfirmfacts1 on twitter

Listen to the Old Firm Facts podcast

You can find advice and information on the Police Scotland website
Call Police Scotland on 101 or contact the Rape Crisis Scotland national helpline for free on 08088 01 03 02 (daily 5pm-12 midnight).
In an emergency always call 999.