What makes football the beautiful game, in my opinion, the best game in the world?

As part of a new series in all our South-West editions, we will take a look at some of the major issues impacting sport on a regional, national and even global level.

We want your opinions, that’s the whole point of this series, opinions. Please leave your views on our social media pages or you can email them to me on tim.herbert@newsquest.co.uk

To kick us off, we look at how the growth of females in football, as players, coaches, pundits, fans and more, has sparked off a range of new debates.

Going back to the original question, why is football such a brilliant game, the global game? In my opinion, it is because football is the ultimate game of opinions, and that’s what makes it so special.

The first definition I found online for the word ‘opinion’ reads: ‘a view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge’.

As football fans, we all have an opinion on the best players in the world, and the best players in the teams we follow, and it is ok for those opinions to change over time.

As an example, I’m a quiet West Ham fan, quiet in the sense that I just keep an eye on their scores and watch them on telly a bit. My live football fixes come from Home Park, St James Park, Plainmoor, Huish Park and muddy playing fields / pristine astro arenas all over the South-West.

When Declan Rice burst on to the West Ham scene, I happily announced my opinion that he was over-rated, lacked the craft to reach the top.

Now, that opinion has quietly changed to the view that Declan Rice is arguably the key player to England’s hopes of winning the Euros this summer. He could be the platform for our attacking talent to flourish, just like he does for Arsenal.

My opinion changed, that’s ok, it’s just an opinion, and I’m fairly confident Declan Rice won’t be losing any sleep over my previous views on his footballing talents.

Since the game emerged in the 19th Century, people have held opinions on football but the rise of social media, the recent polarisation of society and the explosion of female participation in all areas of the game has changed the nature of some football opinions.

It has become occasionally nasty, politicised, uncomfortable.

But that’s the point of opinions, we don’t have to agree with someone’s opinion, we do have the right to be upset or offended by someone’s opinion, but we must also accept that everyone has the right to hold a different opinion.

The alternative is all a bit North Korean.

As a dad, I am very fortunate to have a teenage son who loves football and an 11 year-old daughter who also loves football. The weekly family schedule is based around travel, training sessions and weekend fixtures (normally postponed at the moment).

The amazing success of the Lionesses has definitely sparked a major growth in women and girls playing football. Every school of any worth offers the same football opportunities to girls and boys.

My son was fortunate enough to play in a professional Academy for five years, competing alongside and against some very talented boys. During one training session last summer, with the Women’s World Cup in full flow, one dad made the comment that “women’s football is rubbish, far too slow, these lads here would beat most of them”.

It was his opinion.

In my counter-opinion, I felt it was a lazy throwaway comment, not based on fact or genuine analysis of the game but, going back to our definition of the word, an opinion ‘not necessarily based on fact or knowledge’.

Watching the Women’s World Cup Final, it was my opinion that Spain played sensational football, midfielder Aitana Bonmati is a wonderful talent and the Lionesses did a superb job of staying in the game against a technically superior side on the day.

Yes, in my opinion, the female game is played at a different pace, but no less enjoyable as a spectacle.

Keira Walsh has the midfield talent to control a game from the engine room, a bit like Declan Rice does in the men’s game. Leah Williamson won the Euros as a centre-half who barely made a tackle, she didn’t need to tackle because her positioning and reading of the game was so exceptional, a bit like John Stones does for Man City and England.

As well as the rise in female players, recent years has seen an emergence of female referees, coaches, supporters, commentators and pundits.

Those in the commentary and punditry bracket have sparked a whole new debate. Step forward Joey Barton, Lucy Ward and X (Twitter to most of us).

Barton is making a business out of controversial comments. He is, in my opinion, a classic wind-up merchant. He bemoans female pundits and commentators, stating their broadcasting involvement in the men’s game as “tokenism” and part of a “woke agenda”, and then sits back to gleefully watch the reaction to his comments.

Many of these female pundits have played football at the highest level and even if they haven’t played football at any level, since when did you have to be in the orchestra to appreciate the music?

Some will argue that a woman ‘playing football at the highest level’ is not the same as a man. Fair enough, that’s your opinion.

In my opinion, you can only play at the top of your game, and, for example, I’m fine with Tim Henman offering his opinion that Serena Williams is a supreme tennis player.

Henman was a top tennis player and while his trophy cabinet is nothing compared to Serena’s, he is still allowed an opinion on her talents.

So, who is Lucy Ward?

A former footballer with Leeds United and Doncaster Belles, Ward is now a regular pundit on TNT Sports, Sky Sports, the BBC and more, often acting as co-commentator for men’s football, making her a prime target for the online Bartonian tirades.

If you’re on X (Twitter), just have a look at the trending posts the next time Ward is on a live commentary. It is a safe bet that there will be thousands of comments and memes mocking her punditry.

Are they opinions or people just jumping on the bandwagon for a cheap laugh?

Everybody has the right to an opinion but, in this case, if you are someone who enjoys criticising Ward on social media, please just take a moment to ask yourself two questions: how would Lucy Ward feel if she read those comments and how would another aspiring female broadcaster if she read those comments?

In my opinion, the answer to those questions are Ward would feel incredibly upset, hurt and de-motivated, and aspiring female broadcasters would seriously question the value in pursuing a career that might have been a lifelong ambition.

Ward has trained as a broadcaster, she has put in the hard yards to earn her place in the commentary box. Maybe, just maybe, Ward is actually good at her job, better than others with aspirations to hold a similar role.

Maybe it’s not tokenism or a woke agenda, maybe Ward just loves football and expresses her opinions on a game in an articulate, engaging manner.

I don’t agree with all her views on any particular game, but Ward, and all other pundits (male and female), are not asking for us to agree, they are paid to offer an opinion. We all have different opinions on a game or a player, and these can change over time, it is why we love football.

And maybe, just maybe, you totally disagree with my opinion on Ward, female pundits and female players. That’s ok, it’s your opinion.

Where adults have a certain responsibility with their opinions is the impact it can have on the next generation. If your opinion on a player, coach or pundit turns a young person (boy or girl) away from the game, perhaps that’s the time to keep it to yourself.

Please leave your comments on our social media pages or you can email them to me on tim.herbert@newsquest.co.uk

Next on our list: we ask whether Formula 1 Motor Racing is the most boring sport in the world?