25 January 2011
The sexism row surrounding Richard Keys and Andy Gray has, I think, caught a lot of people by surprise. The increased role and involvement of women in what has traditionally been a male preserve has, to my best knowledge, been very well embraced.
Then Keys and Gray, on either a hidden microphone or their own unnecessarily activated studio microphones (depending on who you believe among the technical types) open their gobs about a lineswoman more than half their age and threaten to put progress and equality in the game back 20 years.
It really is that serious. Women have been going to football matches for as long as men, but on the terraces it's an individual's world. Every supporter is responsible to themselves until or unless they break the law. They are not responsible to their companions, their clubs or the sport as a whole.
Two men paid handsomely to discuss, critique and promote the good of the game via the means of live television are responsible to everybody. If you don't like football, you can still justifiably express concern about what Keys and Gray said. If you do, then naturally more so.
Although Keys' comment about Karren Brady's newspaper column (in which she complained about sexism in the game) was crass, he didn't actually say very much. She, as the highest profile woman in the game, deserves protection from sexism but at least she has the power and position to fight back. A youthful, previously anonymous lineswoman has not. Implying that she would automatically struggle with the offside laws (not "rules", by the way chaps, but "laws") was beyond all reaches of ignorant, brainless and cruel.
Aside from the gender prejudice that shouldn't exist in any circumstance - and that includes getting the misandric Loose Women off our tellies as quickly as possible, by the way - this official would have gone through all the rigorous training, testing and initiation required by the game's governing bodies in order to attain a rightful place on the Premier League's officiating list. It isn't just an insult to her as a woman; it's an insult to her as a qualified, affiliated official of the game - which, I'd wager, is more than Keys and Gray are. And she's done it all by the age of 25. This isn't tokenism, this isn't a political stunt, it's a talented woman fulfilling her potential. And the decision she made for Liverpool's first goal, which had everyone screaming she was wrong prior to noting via the replay she was bang on, showed she had nothing to prove at all. Especially about her knowledge of the offside laws.
Keys has now telephoned her to apologise; no word as yet about similar act from Gray. He, as the ex-footballer, knows the inner workings and prejudices of the game better than anyone. It's a shame he's such a witless, hypercritical, cowardly, wise-after-the-event ignoramus behind a microphone - and that's when he is on air, by the way - because he was a brilliant player. One of the bravest centre forwards the game has ever seen. He put his head where the flying boots would go and would often emerge with a cut temple and another goal on his record. There was so much to admire about him as a competitor on the pitch, and yet so little, even before this latest spot of imbecilic behaviour, to laud him for as a broadcaster. And yet, at Sky, he is the main man among all the ex-footballers who chose to make a career out of pontificating about the game after they finished playing it. He's been there a long time and is as articulate a footballer as ever has transferred to telly. He gets an hour or so, sometimes more, every week to babble on about tactics and decisions and assume the whole footballing nation is putty in his hands. But he doesn't have great enough knowledge, which is extraordinary given his playing experience and the length of time he has been analysing the game on television. He isn't as good or as intelligent as he thinks he is, and judging by this unsavoury episode, he isn't fundamentally a very nice man either.
They shouldn't be fired, though I'd have had Gray out to grass years ago for just being dreadful. People have compared it to Ron Atkinson's awful diatribe against Marcel Desailly a few years ago but, well, let's be truthful - sexism is bad and hard to forgive but racism is far worse. I do look forward to how Keys and Gray address this incident when Sky eventually do let them back on the air, though as always with me, when they start talking about football, I'll switch over until the game they're previewing is ready to kick off.