Trying to stay positive often difficult due to barrage of negativity – Sue Smith

When I started working as a football pundit it could be difficult because it is your job to critique your friends and people you know you are going to speak to in the future.

But there is another element I had to be wary of when covering the Women’s Super League last week, and that is that you do not want your words to encourage people to wade into a player with abuse on social media.

Manchester City’s Georgia Stanway was sent off and it was my job to say it was a bad, high tackle on Manchester United’s Leah Galton when I did my updates for Soccer Saturday.

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You try to give a bit of context, to explain Georgia was a forward playing out of position. I completely took a male opponent out in five-a-side recently because as a forward I maybe do not put as much thought into my tackles as a defender.

Georgia got it into her head she was going for the ball and when it bounced, she followed it.

She made a mistake and was punished. She will have been kicking herself thinking her team could have won with 11 players for the full 90 minutes.

But the abuse she took on social media was horrible.

So when I spoke about the game again on Sky Sports on Monday I did not want to bring more attention to her.

Manchester City's Georgia Stanway (left) suffered terrible abuse on social media after being red-carded for a bad tackle last weekend. Picture:Tim Markland/PA

Really, I was not doing my job properly, but I did not want this lovely girl who has been doing well for herself recently getting more stick on social media.

As more people watch women’s football there will inevitably be more idiots who think they can have a go at the players as we regularly see with Premier League players.

I found commenting even harder when my media and playing careers overlapped and would probably go out of my way to make excuses for fellow pros.

It is not nice criticising people anyway, especially when you could make the same mistakes the next week, and you do not want viewers thinking you are having a go at someone because you want their place in the team.

Players in the Women's Super League will have to learn how best to deal with criticism as the game's profile rises. Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA

Once I retired I could step back a bit and covering men’s football was easier because I do not know them so well.

As a player I could always accept former professionals giving an opinion on what I did badly. After every game you discuss that in team meetings.

As the women’s game moves on players will have to accept there will be more criticism. When I played, my social media messages were always positive, which was certainly not the case when I began covering the higher-profile men’s game!

When kids are bullied at school at least there is some let-up when they get home but unless you just turn your phone off, it never ends on social media.

Nine out of ten comments and messages are probably positive but it is the one that sticks.

When I played at Everton once and missed a chance one-on-one with the goalkeeper one man shouted: “You’ve been doing too much telly work, you need to practice your shooting!”

It was probably a decade or so ago and I cannot even remember who I was playing for. I do not remember anything else anyone said to me that day, but I still remember that.

Some people will argue high-profile male and female players should come off social media to protect themselves from this abuse but why should they?

As I wrote in last week’s column, it is great when players and fans can interact and social media allows that.

Some top players hire people to manage their social media and although it shields them from abuse, it makes it harder for interactions to be authentic. We saw the positives this week when Doncaster Rovers Belles captain Sophie Scargill raised £5,000 for a knee operation thanks to the kindness of fans across the country, especially Gary Lineker.

Earlier in my media career, if I made a mistake I would search “Sue Smith” to see what people were saying in the hope of finding a positive comment but it was the worst thing to do. All the negatives would eat away at me.

Nowadays, I rarely look at my messages until the next day because I do not want to put a downer on a day’s work I have almost always enjoyed because my job is so brilliant.

But when you see people piling into a player like Georgia or the number of incidents the top male players have to put up with, it reminds you it comes with a responsibility too.