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IAN LADYMAN: Fixers and clubs turning a blind eye fuel stars' sense of entitlement over women

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If the allegations against Mason Greenwood serve any purpose at all then perhaps it is to shine a much-needed light on the darkest corner of modern dressing-room culture.

In professional football, a sense of entitlement when it comes to women pervades and it is not healthy.

It is unwise to speak too broadly about this. The modern football squad is diverse and mixed, not least in its attitude and its behaviour towards women. There is as much good as there is bad.

The claims against Mason Greenwood shine a light on a dark corner of dressing room culture

The claims against Mason Greenwood shine a light on a dark corner of dressing room culture

But take, for example, the story of one Premier League manager who addressed his players before the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 and left them with one simple message.

‘I know what you are going to get up to,’ he said. ‘Just make sure you don’t get caught.’

Football is a progressive and inclusive sport to a large extent. Some progress has been made on issues such as race and sexual orientation. But in terms of attitudes to women, it remains our game’s dirty secret.

Greenwood was arrested on suspicion of rape and assault and police continue to question him

Greenwood was arrested on suspicion of rape and assault and police continue to question him

Loosely attached to some Premier League dressing rooms, for example, will be a ‘fixer’. He may be a friend or relative of a player. He may be a driver. He is the one who gets things done. He may place a bet – in cash – on a player’s behalf with a bookmaker. He may get them a car. Equally and just as frequently, he will sort out the women.

He may fly them in from Dubai or ferry them up and down the country, often with a payment attached, and organise a venue. Once there, mobile phones will be confiscated at the door – to ensure no photographs – and the party will begin. The following morning the women will be gone.

In terms of venues, they will sometimes be a private room at a club. Frequently these days, women will be ferried to a player’s house. Many footballers convert underground space at their properties to party rooms and this, largely, is why. At one Premier League club, meanwhile, a player owns an empty flat simply for this purpose.

What takes place is consensual and involves a minority of players but the fact the women may be paid to be there immediately takes things to the fringes of the law. It may be for a player’s birthday or a post-season or international break thing. Equally, it may be scheduled around nothing of note at all. A party for a party’s sake. 

Fixers for players may ferry women to them and clubs very often know about these hook-ups

Fixers for players may ferry women to them and clubs very often know about these hook-ups

Do the clubs know? Very often, yes. Pre-season and indeed post-season tours are particularly fertile breeding grounds for these hook-ups. Sometimes, with two big clubs in the same part of the world at the same time, they can involve players from more than one team.

In terms of coaches, managers and staff, they have been known simply to look the other way.

Once, after a Manchester United party that got out of hand many years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson called his squad in a few days later and made them sit through a lecture in proper behaviour by the late England manager Graham Taylor. Suffice to say, that kind of first-hand, old-school moralising is largely a thing of the past.

As one Premier League source told Sportsmail: ‘If a player is doing his job on the field, whatever he does away from the club is largely left to him as long as it is legal. Everybody knows what some players do. They just turn a blind eye to it. Why, for example, is a coach or sporting director going to do anything to upset a star player? It’s just not going to happen. 

Sir Alex Ferguson once made his United squad sit through a lecture on proper behaviour

Sir Alex Ferguson once made his United squad sit through a lecture on proper behaviour

The Greenwood case – and it should be remembered that at the moment he is simply the subject of a police investigation – has shocked many in the game.

Nevertheless, there is something undeniably murky about a dressing-room code that permits and encourages a notion that women can be organised and summoned simply by the press of a button on a mobile phone.

Big football clubs employ player liaison and player care staff. They exist very much on the outside of all this. Equally, they are not encouraged to interfere.

Occasionally staff may be required to sort out the fall-out from a liaison that went wrong. It has not been unknown for a woman to be paid by a player for her silence. Non-disclosure agreements have very occasionally been signed.

The Greenwood case has shocked many in the game, and may give players pause for thought

The Greenwood case has shocked many in the game, and may give players pause for thought

Within the game, the commonly held view is that football pathways are partly to blame for prevailing attitudes but equally may be able to offer a way forward.

Our young players no longer understand the discipline of the old youth training-scheme tasks. They don’t clean boots or sweep the changing rooms. Instead, the good ones earn £1million a year and get ferried home from Under 23 games in a coach with leather, heated seats and individual USB ports. Some people feel this serves only to feed a sense of ‘what I want, I can have’.

Equally, it is the academy system that can help. Certainly, no player comes through the ranks at a big English club without having been given the opportunity to understand and embrace modern, broad-minded thinking and practices.

There have been some steps forward taken. There are more women than ever working at our football clubs, in all departments. They largely work free of innuendo and that, as sad as it sounds, represents a positive change. It was not always this way. 

A police crime scene investigation van parked outside Greenwood's house on Sunday evening

A police crime scene investigation van parked outside Greenwood’s house on Sunday evening

Indeed, it was not terribly long ago that one Premier League owner would routinely ask a high-ranking female member of staff if ‘you have been a good girl today’. It is hard to imagine that happening now.

In football, though, it remains the case that the players have the power which means that if this undercurrent of vaguely seedy normality is to change then the fundamental shift has to take place inside their own heads.

Maybe the Greenwood case will give our game and some of its players pause for thought. And maybe it simply will not.

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