Tuesday 23 January 2018

Vincent Hogan: Gray and Keys relics of dark past

Former Sky Sports double act emblems of a time when celebrity brought dangerous power

A new video of Andy Gray and Richard Keys has emerged which, again, casts them in a poor light
A new video of Andy Gray and Richard Keys has emerged which, again, casts them in a poor light
Former Republic of Ireland manager Steve Staunton
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was a picture of frustration during Chelsea's 0-0 draw against West Ham on Wednesday
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Claire Tomlinson emits the slightly pinched smile of a parent waiting patiently for the kids' bedtime. She stands pitch-side in Cardiff, preparing to go on air for Sky Sports, her attention thieved by loud guffaws rolling down from the stand. A camera picks out Andy Gray and Richard Keys, serenading Tomlinson with a loud, grinning invitation to get her "t**s out for the lads."

Tomlinson doesn't look especially offended. "Good morning boys," she responds to their initial wolf-whistles. "Get off the pitch," shouts Gray. "I'm not on the pitch!" she answers lightly.


The footage may already have been a decade old by the time Gray and Keys were sacked in 2011 for leaked tapes of sexist comments made about female referee's assistant Sian Massey, but the timing of its emergence this week can be no accident.

Gray appeared on BT Sport last weekend as a pundit for Everton's FA Cup game against Stevenage and seemed ready to relaunch his TV career. Someone, somewhere, believes that must not happen.

Watching Tomlinson, you detect a breezy acceptance of their moronic taunts, an understanding almost that in the predominantly laddish environment of football punditry, a woman must condition herself to this kind of sexist 'banter'.

When Gray scoffed of Massey's appointment as a referee's assistant four years ago that "women don't know the offside rule," he was – he submitted later – simply passing "a light-hearted quip."

The irony is that Massey has since established herself as, arguably, among the most respected officials in the English game. Time and again, TV replays have backed her judgment on borderline offside calls. Yet, four years ago, all Gray saw was a ponytail.

So, what exactly does he represent?

You can't avoid a suspicion that many of those only too happy to sermonise on Gray and Keys might, themselves, have delivered their share of misogynist comments over the years, yet escaped the trap of a mike capturing those words for posterity.

Sports punditry, be it broadcast or print, is hugely male-dominated. And, from that domination, leaks childishness, particularly in the presence of an attractive female.

I doubt there's a sports journalist alive who hasn't, at the very least, sat within earshot of some puerile comment passed about a woman spotted in the crowd. Does anyone jump to their feet, repulsed by such immaturity?

Not in my experience.

Gray and Keys have come to represent an extreme version of that culture. A culture that, largely, excludes women and – in its exclusion – regresses into some kind of bawdy, schoolboy-humoured sitcom.

You have to suspect if they could treat Tomlinson with such openly sexist disregard in front of a camera crew and sound technician, that this represented just breezy, everyday conduct to them. An exchange almost considered warm.

The jolt is in seeing how asinine it all looks now, but also in recognising Tomlinson's apparent resignation that this was a reality of life for a female broadcaster in football. The image of Gray and Keys chortling away at the originality of their suggestion that she get her "t**s out for the lads," as if this was simply how it had to be.

Don't doubt both men squirm now when they see it. But, equally, don't doubt that the vaults of every broadcast organisation around conceal the sins of kindred spirits.

Gray and Keys just stand as emblems of a time in broadcasting when, in England especially, celebrity brought dangerous power. And we are only beginning to know what it led to.


Stan deserves praise not scorn

Steve Staunton was one of Ireland's greatest footballers, yet his name seems to evoke reflex denigration in light of his troubled spell as an international manager.

This isn't simply wrong, it is unforgivable. Staunton played more than a hundred times for his country, including at three World Cup final tournaments, earning broad renown for his leadership of a shaken squad after the infamous Saipan eruption in 2002.

Yet his subsequent time as Ireland manager unravelled quickly, the health issues of his assistant – Bobby Robson – undoubtedly proving a major contributory factor.

Now Staunton's legacy seems framed exclusively by that failure. He isn't a naturally accomplished communicator, as his interview on television reaffirmed this week. Yet, neither is he some kind of national pariah.

In a country awash with scoundrels, it is time surely to decommission the hostility towards 'Stan'.


Time for Mourinho to stop hiding behind sandbags

On Monday night, Jose Mourinho takes Chelsea to what may prove a season-defining game against a team now all but creating its own football syntax.

Manchester City have been averaging four goals a game at the Etihad Stadium, where, Liverpool apart, opponents have been almost deferential in the face of a creative threat boasting the surnames Aguero, Negredo, Dzeko, Navas, Silva and Toure.

If Chelsea lose, they will be six points adrift in the title race. So what does Mourinho do?

He took exception to West Ham's "19th century football" after a midweek stalemate at Stamford Bridge, but, for a man who chose not to play even one recognised striker at Old Trafford earlier this season, Mourinho's outburst surely bordered on self-parody.

"Boring is a team that plays at home and cannot score a goal," he said mockingly of Arsenal after Chelsea's scoreless draw there in December.

The challenge for Mourinho now is to deliver a statement of thrilling intent in Manchester on Monday, thus suspending any sense of City free-wheeling towards the Premier League crown. Of course, he might just settle for safety first and tossing a few more smirky one-liners to the press instead.

But anyone calling themselves 'the Special One' could surely never settle for the equivalence of 90 minutes cowering behind sandbags. Could they?

Irish Independent

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