Stephanie Smith: Why Roy Keane’s baby banter makes the heart sink

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If it’s witty banter you’re after, look no further than football. Here’s a “classic” example: Asked if he expected Robbie Keane to play in Dublin just days after his wife Claudine had given birth in America, Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane quipped: “Yes, why wouldn’t he be? He didn’t have the baby. Unless he’s breastfeeding he should be all right.” “Hilarious”, chuckled the sports pages. “An epic one-liner” tweeted fans. And they were just as impressed by Robbie Keane’s retort that Roy Keane has “bigger t**s than me” – a response deemed “brilliant” and even “brave”.

It might be amusing, in some male spheres, to joke about breastfeeding, but the reality is that many women, even those with strong relationships, are terrified that they will, in effect, have to bring up their children alone. If some women are putting off motherhood, or deciding against it, who can blame them?

Robbie Keane can’t breastfeed, but he can change and hold his new baby, look after his son and support a wife who has just been through pregnancy and childbirth.

Increasingly, modern men are stepping up, in the interests of fairness and family, taking an equal share and demanding their bosses understand that their children are their priority. But there’s still a long way to go and far too many men, particularly in the over-40s age group, continue to rely on their wife or partner to trouble-shoot and carry the bulk of the burden at home.

It’s not good enough, in the 21st century, to choose to believe that because women are the ones with the starter pack, they do 80-plus per cent of the child rearing. It’s not good enough that motherhood is still holding women back in a way that fatherhood does not.

Football, which has done so much to change attitudes to race, should be at the forefront of encouraging equal parenting. After all, footballers’ careers are short, need to be managed with care, support and good timing. Sometimes it doesn’t go according to plan, but that’s life.

And frankly, whatever, 40-plus years ago, that true master of the epic one-liner Bill Shankly really said, football was not and is not a matter more important than life and death.

Twitter: @yorkshirefashQ

Alexandra Shulman. PIC: PA

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