Strachan took over a recently-relegated team equally capable of brilliant dominance and astounding ineptitude, facing a period of transition and trying to balance returning to the Premier League with necessary financial prudence. By the time he left, he had thoroughly removed all trace of the dominance, replaced pace with plodding, spent a lot of the increasingly scarce finance on a striker who made Massimo Maccarone look clinical, and left his perpetual successor Tony Mowbray with an uphill challenge to rival the Col du Tourmalet.
One thing I was repeatedly asked during Strachan’s tenure was why I disliked the man quite so much. Well, to start off with I didn’t. When he was appointed I could see the logic of going for experience and stability, but felt that he was too much of the “old school” Allardyce type. Still, going into his first game I was optimistic that he could maybe add to what I saw as some very good foundations. We were all to be sadly disappointed in that respect.
Added to that cautious welcome was the fact that in the early nineties he was one of my favourite players, combining energy and technique in a way that was quite rare in the English leagues in those days. I was vaguely aware, though, of his reputation for being “difficult” with journalists. Most of us could list a few mildly amusing quotes about “quick words” and “big green areas”.
When somebody’s not at your club, though, you don’t concentrate on the details. It was towards the end of the season when the BBC’s Jacqui Oatley told the world that Strachan had been “extremely rude” to her in the press conference following Boro’s defeat at West Brom, making it clear that he didn’t want to be interviewed by her and then saying “thank goodness” after her last question.
Following on from this, I did a bit more research into his hilarious pronouncements. I came across this article from his time as Celtic manager, which made reference to him telling a female reporter that trying to explain something football-related to her was as pointless as her trying to explain childbirth to him.
The article goes on to say that Strachan would “vigorously contest” being sexist, and of course it could quite easily be coincidence that the only national journalist to complain of extreme rudeness during his time at Boro happened to be the country’s most prominent female football reporter.
There was another story as well, though, from Strachan’s opening week as manager. Paul Fraser of the Northern Echo was among several who reported:
BBC Look North’s Dawn Thewlis was the first to be given short and sharp responses at his opening press conference at the Riverside on Monday, while yesterday brought out his quick-wit again. Asked by the Guardian’s Louise Taylor about his apparent “list of transfer targets” that was in his hand on Monday, he said: “Whose list? Who said that was my list? I might have been given that list by someone. It wasn’t mine.”
Fraser went on to speculate that it would probably be his turn to be targeted soon. I suspect that he could have hastened the process with a spot of gender realignment.
There is, of course, a fallback defence for Strachan against allegations of sexism. He could put forward the suggestion that it just happens to be women that ask him stupid questions most of the time. He did, after all, react in a similar manner to a male BBC Tees interviewer towards the end of this tenure as manager (the infamous “drink and drugs” comments), and carried forward his anger from that into a less dozy question from Five Live’s Ross Fletcher.
The problem with that defence is this. Tidying up this morning, I found a stack of old match programmes I can’t remember reading before. The one for the Sheffield Wednesday game in April 2010 – the week before the Oatley incident – included a feature called “Under My Skin” in which Strachan was subjected to the usual searching questions about favourite films, TV programmes and so on.
And right in the middle of this searching journalistic exercise, preserved in print for posterity, is the final word on Gordon Strachan’s attitude to women in football.
The crucial difference here is that it’s not in a “stupid question” scenario. I don’t know how that feature is put together*, but whether it’s by filling in a form or having a chat with a member of the PR staff, it’s a completely unprompted response that he’s had time to think about, and change if he wanted.
Strachan’s sexism wasn’t the only reason I disliked him. His attitude to football in general, while not as fundamentally unacceptable, was disagreeable from a sporting point of view. In light of recent events, though, it’s perhaps ironic that he is now starting to reappear as a television pundit, alongside his somewhat more palatable predecessor Gareth Southgate. I wonder if the VT editors at ITV have their equivalent of GrayKeysGate lined up in case the wee man upsets them.
*UPDATE: Since writing I’ve learnt that the “Under My Skin” feature is a transcript of an interview with the programme editor. I don’t think that knowledge adds a great deal to the point, other than the possibility that it could have lost a grin or a wink in the writing down. That wouldn’t change the underlying sentiment in my view, especially for someone who doesn’t exactly make their living out of edgy humour.