13 April 2022

Northern Ireland women’s football boss Kenny Shiels apologises for extraordinary women ‘more emotional than men’ comment

13 April 2022

Northern Ireland boss Kenny Shiels’ has apologised after his claim that female teams concede goals in clusters because they are “more emotional than men” was labelled “very unhelpful”.

Shiels’ comments came after he had seen his side concede four goals inside 27 second-half minutes during Tuesday night’s 5-0 World Cup qualifier defeat by England in Belfast, prompting criticism to which he responded on Wednesday afternoon.

In a statement, he said: “I wish to apologise for my comments made in the post-match press conference last night. I am sorry for the offence that they have caused.

I wish to apologise for my comments made in the post-match press conference last night. I am sorry for the offence that they have caused.

“Last night was a special occasion for the women’s game in Northern Ireland and I am proud to manage a group of players who are role models for so many girls, and boys, across the country.

“I am an advocate for the women’s game and passionate about developing opportunities for women and girls to flourish.”

Yvonne Harrison, chief executive at Women in Football, had earlier said she felt like the clock had been turned back “30 years” after hearing Shiels’ remarks.

She told the PA news agency: “I was disappointed, I was quite shocked. Hearing a man talking about women being too emotional in this day and age, I just felt like I’d gone back 30 years, to be perfectly honest with you.

England’s Georgia Stanway celebrates scoring her side’s fourth goal against Northern Ireland (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

“But I caveat that with his team had just been beaten 5-0 by a very strong Lionesses team and that’s not easy to take, and you’ve got all the media on you.

“But the fact that we talk about being too emotional, it’s something women have had to face for years and years right across society, not just sport, and the comments are very unhelpful and not particularly inspiring to young girls and boys who were watching that game and think that’s OK to talk like that.”

Shiels spoke about his side’s propensity to concede goals in quick succession – they had also shipped three inside just nine minutes against Austria on Friday – after seeing them make it to the 52nd minute trailing just to Lauren Hemp’s first-half strike before wilting in front of a crowd of 15,348 crowd at Windsor Park.

He said: “In the women’s game you’ll have noticed if you go through the patterns, when a team concedes a goal they concede a second one within a very short period of time.

Kenny Shiels’ side lost 5-0 to England at Windsor Park on Tuesday night (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

“Right through the whole spectrum of the women’s game, because girls and women are more emotional than men, so they take a goal going in not very well.”

Harrison pointed to greater investment in sports psychology in the men’s game, but also to goals scored in quick succession in Chelsea’s 6-0 Premier League romp at Southampton and Tottenham’s 4-0 win at Aston Villa on Saturday.

She said: “If we look at the weekend’s results – let’s take Chelsea or the Spurs game. They were high-scoring games, multiple goals were scored in short spaces of time.

“Villa and Spurs, one was at 66 minutes, one was at 71 – were they emotional? Can they not cope? Have they not got the mental resilience?”

Tottenham’s Son Heung-min celebrates completing a hat-trick at Aston Villa with 66th and 71st-minute strikes (Nick Potts/PA) (PA Wire)

Harrison called on men within the game to counter discrimination on the grounds of gender and to consider how they would feel if their sister, daughter, auntie or grandma were the target of such comments, but also stressed the importance of being able to show emotion.

She said: “Everyone has emotions. When you make comments like that, it’s almost like it’s not OK to show your emotion, so it’s not OK for men to show their emotion.

“And yet we know that suicide rates in men, particularly young men, are very, very high, so why is it not OK to show your emotion?

“I would just challenge people to think more personally about people related to them because, when you do that, you maybe do consider what comes out of your mouth in a slightly different way.”

Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill branded Shiels’ comments “totally unacceptable” (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader and former Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill branded Shiels’ remarks “totally unacceptable”.

She said: “I was aghast when I read those comments. I thought that was totally unacceptable for anyone in a position of leadership to make that type of commentary.

“Women are passionate, they’re strong, they’re determined, they’re educated, they want to do the right thing by their community and that’s something that I think that they should keep on doing, so to all the women out there: keep her lit.”

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