Salmon’s Soapbox: Tweets overshadowed Neville appointment

Former England, Manchester United and Everton star Phil Neville is the England women's new head coach
Former England, Manchester United and Everton star Phil Neville is the England women's new head coach

Phil Neville’s first week as England women’s new football manager did not quite go according to plan.

No sooner had the former Manchester United and England full-back been announced as the successor to Mark Sampson last week, he was then forced to fend off allegations of sexism.

Not quite what you want after you have landed the biggest job in ladies’ football in this country.

And not quite what the Football Association wanted, especially on the back of other high-profile off-the-field controversies which have blighted the organisation in recent times.

In fact, such has been the furore surrounding a number of historical tweets ex-Everton ace Neville wrote, you began to wonder whether his tenure would go the same way as Sam Allardyce’s stint in charge of England men’s team in terms of longevity.

At least the current Toffees boss managed one game in charge before being forced out of the role after an undercover sting recorded him telling reporters ‘how to get around’ Football Association rules which prohibit third parties “owning” players.

Neville was forced to apologise after the social media postings – dating back to 2011 and 2012 – appeared to show him make sexist remarks.

One particular tweet referring to ‘battering the wife’ appeared to make light of domestic violence, while other postings about equality between men and women and male chauvinistic views towards women’s roles in society were also unearthed.

In isolation the tweets appear offensive, are certainly ill-judged and embarrassing, but taken in context, they were nothing more than attempts at banter and no malice was intended.

Some of the tweets were part of an exchange with both his wife and sister, neither of whom were offended at the time. The tweet about ‘battering the wife’, he later explained referred to a win he enjoyed over his other half at table tennis while on a family holiday.

Maybe the real story is Neville’s actual appointment as boss.

A man with no previous managerial experience and no great knowledge of the women’s game, he is tasked with improving a team which finished third at the last World Cup.

He will have plenty to prove to people, who are still questioning his elevation to the top job ahead of other qualified candidates working within the women’s game.

I cannot boast of too many ‘claim to fame’ moments in my life, but I did once manage to stop the great Roger Federer dead in his tracks.

The legendary tennis player was poised on the service line on Wimbledon’s Centre Court ready to serve in 2004, when my shout of ‘Come on Roger’ punctuated the deathly silence.

Despite possibly finding my minor vocal intervention slightly irritating, the Swiss star serenely regained his composure before sending a perfect ace past Sweden’s Thomas Johansson.

Federer went on to beat the Swede that day and eventually reached the final the following Sunday where he claimed his second Wimbledon title by beating American Andy Roddick in straight sets.

My pilgrimage to see Federer that day had begun in the early hours when I queued up outside the grounds. Due to the weather causing chaos at Wimbledon that year, the championship’s committee decided to play on the middle Sunday for only the third time in its history.

Considering what Federer has gone on to achieve, I feel privileged to have witnessed the great man in action so early in his career.

Even though you could tell back then that he was destined to be one of the greats of the game, I don’t think anybody would have thought that nearly 14 years later, Federer, now aged 36, would still be at the top of the sport.

His victory over Marin Cilic last Sunday in the Australian Open saw him become the first man to break the 20-Grand Slam title barrier. You wonder how many more titles he can win.

However, I must admit it would be nice to see a young player break the hold of Federer and contemporaries like Rafael Nadal, and finally break into the winner’s circle .