Saturday, 18 October 2014

YOUNG, GIFTED, BLACK, FEMALE: WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON THE TOUCHLINE AT PALACE?

The first female photographer in sport held a long-overdue exhibition last night. I was honoured to speak at this event about the incredible woman who not only inspired my own career, but who has been both a loyal supporter and a lifelong friend.

I met Hy Money in West Wickham, Kent, more than forty years ago. She was, is, the mother of Lisa Smith, my classmate and best friend at Oak Lodge. Hy made an immediate impression on me because she was nothing like my own nor any of our friends' mothers. She is Indian, for a start. You didn't see many dark skins on suburban streets in those days. She was glamorous, exotic, and wore colourful clothes. Her front door was always open, and she welcomed her children's friends, while I was only allowed to have chums home for tea on my birthday. When we pitched up at Hy's, she'd pull out boxes of musical instruments and dressing-up clothes. We'd doll up, grab a tambourine or a drum, and parade around the streets like a band of Hare Krishna devotees. All very bohemian. Her neighbours thought she was mad.

We are fed so much pap nowadays about how 'liberating' the Sixties were for women in this country: equal opportunities, encouragement to work outside the home, fair wages, birth control, the lot. I sometimes wonder what they're on about. It was not my experience. My mother-of-four married at nineteen, had me at twenty, and was never again employed outside the home. Most of the mothers at our school gates were the same. Hy was different. Other women felt threatened by her, and poured scorn. Why on earth did she, also a mother of four,  want to go gadding about earning money when she had a husband to do that for her? It 'wasn't respectable.'

We went to Hy's house often, for folk soirées and parties. She drew and painted our portraits. When she began taking pictures for local rag the Beckenham Record, she came to our house to photograph my family. My father, sports writer Ken Jones, was off to cover the World Cup in Mexico, 1970. As England had triumphed at Wembley four years earlier, hopes were high and our Fleet Street journalist dad was newsworthy. It was the first time I saw my image and name on the front page of a newspaper.

Hy had her ear to the ground. She always knew what was going on locally. When David Bowie, then still a Jones, began hosting Arts Lab meetings in the back room at the Three Tuns pub on Beckenham High Street, Hy took Lisa and me along one Sunday afternoon, where we met not only Bowie-to-be but Marc Bolan. Not that Hy was all that interested in rock stars. She'd heard that an internationally-acclaimed sitar player, Vytas Serelis, had been invited to give a workshop that afternoon, and she wanted us to see and hear the instrument played. 

Lisa and I progressed to different secondary schools. We all lost touch. I was delighted, a few years later, to learn that my father and Hy were now crossing paths regularly on the touchline at Crystal Palace and at other sporting events. She had reinvented herself as a sports photographer. Imagine the mothers' disgust.

She spent the first decade of her new profession fighting prejudice. Sport was still a male-dominated world. Female sports reporters and photographers were virtually unheard-of. Her glamour didn't help. Rival male snappers treated this 'bit of skirt' with disdain, brushing her aside with sarcastic comments. They'd stumble deliberately into her, saying 'sorry, Sir, I didn't see you standing there', and the pack would fall about laughing. How intimidating that must have been. It's against the law now.

The prejudice and abuse culminated in a petition, signed by many members of the Sports Photographers Association and presented to the National Union of Journalists, attempting to bar Hy from the union on the grounds that she was 'taking men's work away from them.' The Union secretary called her to say that it was the worst case of sex discrimination ever brought before them. He then awarded Hy her well-earned union card, letting slip that the SPA rep had left the meeting 'foaming at the mouth.'

Being such a good-natured and unassuming person, Hy never thought to claim credit for breaking down barriers and opening up the profession to the many women who came after her. With hindsight, she gets it. She told me that this exhibition was to be a 'trip down Memory Lane.' It's much more than that. It epitomises the maxims 'Don't let the bastards get you down', and 'Follow your dream.'

Hy followed hers. She has been a beloved fixture at Palace for decades. Her best-selling book 'Hy on Palace' is a unique observation of the life of a football club, in that it goes behind the scenes as well as into the stand and onto the pitch. It benefits from the woman's touch. Its wider achievement is that she has made footballers and their followers appear human.

I jest: I grew up in a footballing household. My father was still playing when I was born. My Uncle Cliff played for Spurs, my Great Uncle Bryn for Arsenal, and my Grandad, Emlyn, kicked for Everton. My father respected Hy as a hard-working lensman of football and other sports. She never demanded special treatment because she was a girl. She simply got on with it, oblivious of the effect she was having on men. There's the rub? When Des Lynam told her recently, 'How we used to fancy you in the Seventies', he perhaps spoke for all of them.

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