So, Andy Gray has been fired as a result of his remarks about the assistant referee Sian Massey when he thought the microphones were off during this week’s Premiership match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Liverpool. As things stand Richard Keys is still in a job – some cynics point out that unlike Gray he is not suing News International title the News Of The World over the phone-hacking scandal.
Yet for me Keys should be as much in the firing line, if not directly in front of the crosshairs for his role in the affair. What makes Keys’ comments in particular even more crass is his own position compared to Sian Massey’s.
You don’t just walk in off the street and run the line at a Premiership match. Sian Massey will have started in parks football – thankless freezing weekends at municipal sports grounds, probably having to deal with changing blocks with no women’s facilities, maybe having to change in the car.
From there she’ll have worked her way up through county and semi-professional football, passing exams and passing them well, keeping at it until she reached the highest possible standard that qualifies her to run the line in the Premiership. Very few make it this far. She didn’t just turn up at Molineux that day and ask if she could have a go with the flag, she was there entirely on professional merit. She knows the mechanics and nuances of the game better than pretty much everyone reading this.
Richard Keys is utterly unqualified to comment professionally on football matches and frequently proves it. He is, at best, a facilitator not a pundit. He worked his way up from the comfort of the TV-AM sofa to the Sky studio. His view of the game is always from a gantry or a glass-fronted box. He has passed no exams; he has no football qualifications, he has never played the game even semi-professionally. If Gray has any defence at all in his pundit’s role – and on this particular topic he doesn’t – at least he played the game at the highest level albeit a long time ago.
I’ve not had a Sky subscription since Charlton fell out of the Premier League, but I can remember being aghast at Keys’ and other occupants of the Sky studio’s frequent ignorance of the laws of the game. The laws are constantly changing and being tinkered with, something that often catches out the Sky (and indeed BBC and others) analysts.
Occasionally they’re even ignorant of some of the basic laws that have been around for decades: when I had Sky I lost count, for example, of how many times Keys and others demonstrated their apparent unawareness when re-running borderline decisions of the fact that there are three different flag signals for offside depending upon the part of the pitch in which the offending player is encroaching beyond the last defender. Their job is to interpret the decisions of match officials yet it seemed they didn’t even know some of the basic signals used by those officials to communicate their decisions (this is true of match commentators too).
The ridiculous notion that Sian Massey’s knowledge of a basic and integral law of the game is deficient because of her gender is bad enough, but coming from people who have demonstrated how their own grasp of the laws is sometimes tenuous when they are being paid very well (Gray was reputedly earning £1.7million a year at Sky) to interpret them shows up the farcical outdated lads’ club nature of English punditry. How many pundits have actually read and digested the laws of the game from cover to cover, I wonder? They are, after all, the basic tools of their trade.
Two things give me hope for the future in this matter: the first, that Rio Ferdinand and Graham Poll have spoken out against Keys and Gray: I never thought I’d be on the same side as them about matters of football.
Second, Kenny Dalglish. Keys commented that Dalglish would go potty if Massey was involved in a controversial decision, the implication being that this pottiness would be exacerbated by there being a woman involved. Yesterday before his regular press conference Dalglish knowingly asked the Sky reporter present if he was OK with there being women journalists in the room. His own daughter is an experienced sports journalist, yet Keys assumed – wrongly – that Dalglish would share his views.
It’s an extraordinary smugness, the assumption that all the lads would stick together nudging and winking and simultaneously appraising her appearance while dismissing her qualifications on the grounds she has a pair of tits, and it’s this all-lads-together atmosphere that has prevented football catching up with the modern world in terms of progress in gender equality .
But if people like Ferdinand, Poll and Dalglish are on the same side over this, there’s hope for Sian Massey and the women that will follow her yet. Sian Massey probably has no desire to be a feminist role model: she just wants to get on with her job. Now she’ll be the focus of attention wherever she officiates purely because of her gender and, in some people’s minds, because ‘she’s the one who got Andy Gray sacked’ (a Chinese whisper that I fear may not be uncommon in the seats at her next few games). The pressure on her will be enormous. Beyond her there are countless other women who would much rather their presence in the sport made headlines for their performances rather than their gender, be they referees, players, even journalists and broadcasters. It’s grossly unfair on Sian Massey that her head’s been hoisted above the parapet but hopefully this could be a turning point for attitudes prevalent in the game.
Things will change. They are changing, as the reactions of Ferdinand, Poll, Dalglish and others show. If anything positive has come directly out of this affair it’s the fact that the FA has in the last couple of days been inundated with enquiries from women wanting to take up refereeing.
One thing still confuses me a little though: given that Keys’ and Gray’s media careers have been based on the weekly criticism and haughty condemnation of the performances of England’s top referees, all of whom are male, you’d have thought they’d be all in favour of women officials being given a chance. For the good of the game.
This is an expanded version of a comment I left on the Anti-Room blog earlier today.