Readers of this blog who don't live in the UK or Ireland can be forgiven for missing the recent storm over comments made by Sky Sports pundit Andy Gray about a female assistant referee. ("What does she know about offside? She's a bird!" just about sums up his considered opinion.) Both Gray and his partner-in-crime Richard Keys ended up losing their jobs - although perhaps as much for being arrogant bores as for their attitude towards women officials - and about a billion journalists threw in their halfpennyworth. (Try here, here and here for starters.)
Over in Spain things are a little different. OK, it still helps to look like Sara Carbonero if you're a woman who wants a job as a frontline football reporter, and I haven't heard of any top-level female referees, but it certainly wouldn't be true to say, as Allison Pearson did so dismissively, "The majority of women couldn't care less about the stupid offside rule." There are plenty of people in Spain who hate football and resent its privileged position in the cultural landscape, but these are every bit as likely to be male as female. And conversely, there are millions of women here who take an active, energetic interest in the sport - far more, I'd say, than in the UK.
This is particularly true for Betis, where up to a third of a typical home crowd will be women. The above photographs comparing an Arsenal crowd with a shot of Betis fans at last season's Numancia game might be carefully chosen and not necessarily the full picture at either club, but they do at least hint at the difference. Certainly it would be rare to see groups of teenage girls attending football matches together in England like they do at the Benito Villamarín.
To their great credit, the new management acknowledged the important part that women have played in the culture of the club by inviting the 13 female season-ticket holders of longest standing to enjoy last weekend's game from the director's box alongside president Rafael Gordillo. In a very sweet feature about the ladies' big day on local TV, one declared roundly that while her children were first in her affections, el Betis came next. (And the man in her life? One can't help think of that old joke on Till Death Us Do Part when Else says to Alf Garnett, "Sometimes I think you love West Ham more than you love me." Horrified, he replies, "Blimey - I love Millwall more than I love you.")
Personally, I find that the more mixed crowd is a big reason why I enjoy going to Betis games so much. Admittedly it's still true that the Gol Sur end of the stadium is largely populated by young men, many of whom have an unquenchable appetite for tasteless nationalist imagery, but the rest of the ground could hardly be more representative of the broad spectrum of Seville society - young and old, rich and poor, male and female. And for me that's just one more another reason why Real Betis Balompié, the football club, is about more than 11 men kicking a polyurethane ball towards three wooden posts and some string.