How Julie Welch flagged sexist old gits as offside

NORMAN GILLER says that Richard Keys and Andy Gray ought to have known better, in so many different ways

In the wake of the fall from Sky of Andy Gray and Richard Keys, time for a confession: there was an era when this old hack would have been the loudest voice in the press box making sniggering sexist remarks if a woman had run the line.

I would have come up with a procession of Benny Hill-style jokes that would have kicked off a punch-line contest with my sharp-tongued newspaper mates, none of whom were shackled by political correctness. PC to us meant Dixon of Dock Green on the box.

Then, in the late 1960s, something astonishing happened. Julie Welch entered the press box.

Of course, there were lots of wounding whispers behind her back in a male bastion about “a woman not belonging in a man’s world… What can she possibly know about football?”

But the cynicism was quickly replaced by respect as we started to read her reports in The Observer. She wrote most of us – certainly me – under the table.

Janine Self, who gave her view on the situation on the SJA site on Tuesday, is one of the talented female reporters who have followed the trail blazed by Julie, and it is now commonplace and perfectly acceptable for women journalists (albeit still very few of them) to take their seats in football press boxes.

Back “in my day” the female imprint on football was not even thimble deep, and Julie was first to start kicking down the barriers and teaching dinosaurs like me that there was a place in the game for a woman’s eye view.

Ronald Atkin, former Observer sports editor and a supreme tennis writer, was so taken by Julie that he married her, and between bringing up a family she has established herself as an outstanding screenwriter, novelist, biographer and sports writer.

The Daily Mail made the good call to invite Julie to provide a commentary on the red-hot topic of Richard Keys and Andy Gray making their (so they thought) off-air sexist remarks about lineswoman Sian Massey.

Those of us close to the worlds of newspaper and television knew there was no way Andy Gray was going to survive the fallout. The fact that he is involved in suing the News of the World for allegedly having his phone tapped had nothing to do with his dismissal, of course.

Gray was almost certainly on his bike before the YouTube clips appeared of him pushing his hand into his trousers and making inappropriate remarks to presenter Charlotte Jackson.

It was also clear that the position of Keys had become untenable, particularly following another YouTube exposé showing him making ribald remarks to Jamie Redknapp about one of his former girlfriends. Keys jumped before he was pushed, though not until after an extraordinary radio interview yesterday afternoon which seems sure to be used as an example of “what not to do” on crisis management courses for years to come.

I wonder who in the Sky backroom team has taken a delight in dropping Gray in it? Richard Keys has hinted of “dark forces at work”, which confirms my information that Gray and Keys had made enemies by being too laddish. They, ignorantly it has to be said, gave their anonymous antagonists the ammunition with which to shoot them.

Onside: Sian Massey's Premier League debut was widely seen to be flawless

In my days as a This Is Your Life scriptwriter, I often used to sit in as the subject at rehearsals. I was always fully wired for sound and I remember one of the all-time great broadcasters Eamonn Andrews once warning: “Never ever think you are off mic until it is in a different room to you.”

Eamonn once forgot his own golden rule, saying in what he thought was the privacy of his dressing-room: “He must have been the most boring and arrogant subject we’ve ever had on the show.” This went out live to the studio floor, where the “boring, arrogant” subject was standing with friends and relatives, holding the Red Book that Eamonn had handed him five minutes earlier.

Gray and Keys have been around long enough to know that their sort of sexist views belong to the dustbin of history, as Keys, a consummate on-screen presenter, has acknowledged. They could have done with my experience of learning from Julie Welch the meaning of equality and respect for a female assessment of the finer points of football.

As for Ms Massey needing somebody to explain the offside law to her, can they include me in the lesson? When I watch goals being allowed, with players standing yards offside according to the law when I was a regular reporter, I am always reminded of the classic quote from Bill Shankly: “If any player is not interfering with play, they should’nae be on the bloody pitch …”

Apparently Gray was earning £1.7 million a year for his punditry. I am willing to do it for just £1.5 million, but I will need a refresher course on the offside law. I wonder who will inherit Andy’s million-pound box of tricks that analyses movements on the pitch with mind-blowing state-of-the-art technology. Dare they employ a woman for the job?

GRAY AND KEYS MAY NOT BE the only presenters kicked to the touchlines as Sky works flat out to polish its image.

Rupert Murdoch’s arrival in London this week has led to News Group executives jumping around as if on hot coals, and rumours gather strength that Sky News could be sacrificed in their £7.5 billion bid to get full ownership of BSkyB.

Back to Julie Welch. I am just reading a preview copy of her latest book, The Ghost of White Hart Lane, that she has co-written with Rob White. He is a respected photographer and the son of John White, the genius of a schemer who was killed by a bolt of lightning while playing a solo round of golf in 1964.

The sub-heading to the title is: In Search of My Father the Football Legend.

I shall be reviewing the book here soon, but suffice to say that any authors looking forward to picking up sports book prizes this year have scorching opposition. It is a cracker.

Not bad for a woman (joke, Jools). I just hope my mike wasn’t switched on.

Read Norman Giller’s previous columns for the SJA website by clicking here

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