Monday 5 December 2016

Sky has come crashing down on football's bantering classes

Dion Fanning

Published 30/01/2011 | 05:00

T he Sky man was pretty angry. He'd been let down and somebody was going to pay for it. He had shown up at Clontarf Castle expecting to get an interview with Marcello Lippi but Lippi had got caught in Dublin's Friday night traffic and had changed his mind. There would just be a press conference. Sky had lost their exclusive. The Sky man fumed.

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Lippi did his bit and lingered outside the hotel, smoking. In the lobby of the hotel, Sky remained furious. He stormed up and down, his plans in disarray. It was something we could sympathise with. Plans being in disarray is the default setting for journalists.

But he wasn't going to stand for it. The Italian press officer was standing in the corridor, waiting for Lippi to finish his cigarette which was being urbanely smoked outside. The Sky man approached the press officer and told him how he felt. "Tell Mr Lippi I said 'Fuck you'," he said and skulked off.

He could have told Mr Lippi 'Fuck You' himself. Mr Lippi, the Champions League-winning, World Cup-winning coach, was 30 yards away and anyone could have walked up to him and told him 'Fuck you' or anything else. But instead he told it to a minion. He might have been obeying the chain of command by behaving like an arsehole or he might have been reflecting a culture.

With Richard Keys and Andy Gray, this was Sky's way, even if they are not unique in that. Keys and Gray were clearly sexist but they also promoted a sort of aggressive, obnoxious cosiness. You were either inside or outside and those on the outside, like Rafael Benitez or women, were treated with contempt.

Their on-air broadcasts had an undercurrent of xenophobia. Foreigners dived and had to be distrusted. "He's been here long enough. Why isn't his English better?" Keys asked Jamie Redknapp of Fabio Capello.

This was Keys' on-air persona, the hectoring middle-England bully. It turned out to be his off-air personality too, joking with Jamie Redknapp, who looked embarrassed, and ignored by a foreigner, the sophisticate Gullit, who may even have been texting a real live woman instead of entering Keys' fantasy world.

Keys' greatest contribution to broadcasting turned out to be his Talksport interview last week in which he revealed himself to be Alan Partridge but without the hinterland.

When he was asked about a bullying culture and a specific incident of a runner being humiliated, he replied that he had no recollection of it. When he was confronted with the Sian Massey story last weekend, Keys' first reaction was to say he had no recollection of it either.

Keys -- "behavioural problems that need to be attended to, yeah, reconstruction, yeah" -- made change appear so simple which it is if you have no intention of changing. He made it sound like some driving awareness course he'd attend to knock a few points off his licence but really to give out about speed cameras -- "the world's gone mad!"

Keys' progress has been astonishing. He was the face of Sky when all he had to present was a boxing undercard from Bethnal Green gym. He stayed for 20 years, increasingly boorish, increasingly intolerant, never knowingly perceptive.

It may be time to become more intolerant of banter, the catch-all term for anything which really isn't funny. Roy Keane was right once more when he said the thing he wouldn't miss when he left football was the banter. Keane preferred straightforward abuse but it was still better than the banter defence. "There was much banter passed between us," Keys said of his conversation with Sian Massey, using a strange old English construction where you'd almost expect him to add "between me and the comely maiden". Their banter presumably didn't include the joke that Massey would for some time find it impossible to do her job again thanks to his comments.

Gray and Keys were pursued by a mob but when the bullies get bullied it's hard to feel sympathy.

Andy Burton was stood down for one game and the world wonders what will happen to him on transfer deadline day tomorrow. Who will call Leroy Lita if he's not there? It will be a human tragedy. They might as well have reached and ripped out his heart.

Football will now embark on a short-lived campaign to purge itself of sexism. The top pundit who stored a girlfriend's number in his phone under the name 'Xxxxx's totty' can probably be assumed to have made a few comments about women in his time and may be shifting uneasily.

In the search of institutionalised sexism, one reporter pointed out that Chelsea don't even let their women's team get anywhere near their male team. There are many valid reasons for this and they could well be called John Terry and Ashley Cole.

Footballers' objectification of women goes way beyond coarse language and very little will change that.

Keys and Gray were rightly judged by a different standard and Sky have a chance now to make their Premier League coverage more like their Spanish league or cricket coverage, where intelligence and a different viewpoint are not treated with suspicion.

Of course, Gray's demise was hastened by some dark forces. At the very least, Rupert Murdoch's need to purge his organisations of unsavoury elements as he attempts to take full control of Sky contributed to their demise. As the News of the World handed a dossier on phone-hacking to the police and fired an assistant editor, Gray and Keys picked a bad week to be revealed as sexists.

Gray was sacked after the release of a final sleazy clip of him harassing Charlotte Jackson. Murdoch reportedly said there were "other reasons" for sacking Gray. Some said he was referring to that clip and some saw the conspiracy involving Gray's action against the News of the World for phone-hacking.

Murdoch may simply have been asserting some old News International values. When an old City Editor on The Sun approached Kelvin MacKenzie for the go-ahead to mount a campaign against a City figure, he simplified it into language he thought his boss would understand.

MacKenzie wanted to know why they were attacking this man. The City Editor had facts and figures, flow-charts and projections which would make his case. But he brought it down to one thing for the meeting with his boss. "Because he's a kant," the city editor said. "Oh well," MacKenzie replied, "If he's a kant, let's get him."

Gray and Keys didn't stand a chance.

dfanning@independent.ie

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