First we weed out the sexist trolls. That can often seem like a straw-man argument, undue attention afforded to those whose social media bed-wetting is designed to cause controversy. Hoover up angry replies and pointed quote tweets and their work is done.
A woman presenting Football Focus – how could they? They have their own game don’t they, and you never once get a man writing or talking about women’s football apart from all those times when they do.
It’s not as if this great pillar of British sport has ever been presented by a woman before. Apart from when Celina Hinchcliffe, Eilidh Barbour and Seema Jaswal did.
But these people do exist, and thus their argument is worth dismantling. Any woman working in sports media has received the chauvinistic jokes: Who is making their husband’s dinner? How could you know about sport? How many people did you sleep with to get this position?
I know, truly the height of comedy. We will not change their mind, not today and maybe not ever. But slowly and surely, they will become an ever-decreasing minority.
Then we weed out the “She never played at the highest level” brigade, who I must admit are my favourites. On the one hand, Dan Walker did score that World Cup hat-trick for England and Jason Mohammed was a late call-up to Wales’ Euro 2016 squad, although he didn’t actually play a minute in France.
And who can forget Des Lynam’s assist for Jeff Astle’s extra-time winner for West Brom in the 1968 FA Cup final?
But then Alex Scott did play the occasional match too. She won 20 domestic trophies with Arsenal and was part of the squad that won the historic quadruple in 2007. She played 140 games and scored 12 goals for England. She founded an academy for young female footballers and was awarded an MBE in 2017 for services to football. That probably counts.
Next we weed out the ‘box tickers’, those who believe that Scott has only been bestowed with this role because she is female and black. At which point you wonder what they have been watching over the last few years. Scott is an exceptional pundit, who has improved programmes on which she has appeared across the football media landscape – BBC, Sky Sports, BT Sport.
Scott decided to do a degree in professional sports writing in 2012 when still a professional player and finished the degree when at the World Cup with England in 2015. She was a columnist for the Morning Star newspaper and the Independent, one of few professional players who did not require a ghostwriter. There is no lazy, half-informed analysis here; she is not at the top of her game because of who she is, but because of how good her work is.
Sports media – particularly on TV – can often feel emphatically unmeritocratic; Scott is an exception. One of the indirect results of the unfair treatment aimed squarely at those who do not fit the Middle England model of broadcasting faces is that they are hardwired into working harder and longer just to tread water. Avoiding that extra battle is the definition of privilege.
At this point it’s worth reflecting on what Football Focus is and who it is for. The magazine show has been a little depopularised as a format in the age of blanket TV coverage from those outlets who own the rights to live matches.
In-depth profiles, particularly of lower-league and smaller-club stories, are out of fashion in broadcast. But it’s worth remembering that there exists a large percentage of the country’s children that do not have access to paid TV packages and for whom Football Focus, Final Score and Match of the Day remain important ways of burgeoning interest, and an unequal slanting of those are non-white. Scott’s appointment can play a part in giving them a role model.
Then we weed out those who remark that Scott is a pundit not a presenter, and that’s where – finally – we discover the nucleus of a reasonable point. An excellent pundit does not necessarily make a fine presenter and it reasonable to assume that Scott will take time to warm into the role, particularly given that Walker made it his own during 12-year tenure.
But then, again, she has earned the chance. Scott has presented Goals on Sunday, the One Show, Match of the Day: The Kickabout and the Sports Personality of the Year awards.
Gary Lineker made the same pundit-to-presenter journey on Match of the Day and needed time to settle; now you can’t imagine him doing anything else. Whether Scott gets the same patience from the public probably depends on all the paragraphs that precede this one.
But then all of this, every argument in the column and the column itself, would not be required for any other ‘type’ of presenter. The conversation is its own quod erat demonstrandum. We are caught between two awkward positions: ignore the naysayers and starve them of publicity’s oxygen but leave them unchallenged, or attack their warped logic and provide them with crumbs of validation.
Alex Scott has heard it all before. She is used to fighting tougher battles and breaking down thicker walls than she deserves. As she tweeted on Wednesday morning when the news broke, ‘Baby I swear it’s deja vu’. Lucky to get the Football Focus job? They are lucky to have her.
Daniel Storey’s i football column is published in print and online on Friday mornings. You can follow him on Twitter @danielstorey85