Andy Gray, for 20 years the highly regarded co-commentator on Sky Sports’ football coverage, was sacked tonight over “unacceptable behaviour” and following off-air comments he made on Saturday regarding a woman assistant referee. JANINE SELF on football’s culture of sexism
“Good morning, this is your captain speaking.” Instantly a voice piped up at the back: “Oh no, a bloody woman driver. Hope you know where the gears are, love.”
Sexism or banter? Well, I chuckled. So did most of the plane. Not half as much as the joker, already fuelled by a breakfast pint or two and happily strapping himself into the care of a bloody woman (aeroplane) driver.
Now for a what if. What if he’d jumped out of his seat, raced towards the exit and demanded to disembark because the pilot of the plane wasn’t a man? Quite rightly, there would have been outrage and uproar.
And that is what Sky’s grizzled twosome, Andy Gray and Richard Keys just didn’t get. Boys having a laugh, not a problem. Had they made some passing reference to the early kick-off and suggested she’d be home in time to make the tea, that’s banter.
When I spotted Sian Massey among the match officials on the telly on Saturday, my first reaction was surprise. I hold up my hands here, but I had no idea there was a female assistant referee on the Premier League’s books.
My second reaction was a fervent wish she would not have to make any contentious decisions in the game between Wolves and Liverpool. At no point did I even wonder whether she knew the rules of football or not.
As far as I am aware, the only national newspaper journalist who can speak with complete authority on that subject is Mick Dennis, chief football writer of the Express and a qualified referee. I can’t, grizzled old codgers and bright young men in the press box can’t, and footballers and managers certainly can’t.
How often do two “experts” on the Match of the Day or Sky Sports sofas manage to disagree over a fine point of football rules?
So to dismiss the worth of Ms Massey, before she has even waved her flag once, as Gray and Keys did, smacks of an arrogance from a couple of fiftysomethings who have pressed the default button on bigotry.
A brief and unscientific straw poll this week leads me to state with reasonable authority that no man under 45 would have dreamed of making such a comment, while all men under 30 would have been truly appalled. However, footballers could be the exception to that rule.
Before I am accused of ageism, I would like to make it clear that there are some enlightened males over 50, too.
Gray, as an ex-player, comes from a testosterone-filled world where homosexuality is never acknowledged and women are those creatures you meet at night clubs, marry and divorce.
In 1999 Gordon Strachan, then of Coventry City, was so peeved when Wendy Toms ran the line, he said: “We are getting PC decisions about promoting ladies. It does not matter if they are ladies, men or Alsatian dogs, if they’re not good enough they should not get the job.”
Four years ago, Mike Newell sparked a storm of criticism as manager of Luton when he attacked Amy Rayner’s failure to give a penalty by snapping: “She shouldn’t be here. This is not parks football, so what are women doing here?”
Newell might be surprised to learn that women get everywhere in football these days although, it has to be said, they remain a token minority in print journalism.
In contrast, Sky Sports is awash with attractive, female on-screen presenters, so Keys’s attitude seems at odds with common practice on his own channel. Does he regard his female colleagues as “eye-candy” and nothing more?
And was that why the talented Clare Tomlinson was taken off pitchside-reporting duty?
The fall-out from the whole affair has been fascinating. Sky had no idea of the wrath unleashed on Sunday, which suggests they don’t keep an eye on Twitter, for a start.
Since then there has been an out-pouring of words, blogs, tweets and discussions, some verging on the hysterical and/or the hypocritical and aided and abetted by the fact that Sian Massey is “a looker”, as the nudge-nudge, wink-wink brigade would put it.
As for Gray, his end has been swift and ignominious. He’s been fed to the Sirens.
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