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Sky has destroyed the beautiful game

Bill Shankly kept it simple. He built great teams that played simple but attractive and winning football. My abiding memory of the 1974 FA Cup final was watching Shankly on the sideline, grey suit, red shirt and tie and both hands spread out as he conducted his beloved team.

We didn't need over-excited pundits telling us something we already had seen with our own eyes. Football was simple then, still played with a ball and 11 against 11. Then in 1993 the Premiership was launched. With it came Sky and an unholy alliance of excess was formed.

An introduction to a run-of-the-mill Blackburn v Southampton match was given the whole works. Slick playbacks, noise effects with firecrackers. Then we sat through a dull, long-ball 0-0 match. Afterwards, we listened to Andy Gray until he bored most people to death.

Many times over the years I was offered Sky Sports packages. I turned them down without a thought. The reason? Simple really. Andy Gray drove me crazy. His granite Scottish accent and his faux know-all attitude was something I wasn't going to part hard-earned money to listen to.

Sky sacked Andy Gray two weeks ago. The interesting thing was this: Gray wasn't sacked for what he said about the female linesperson. No, he got a one-match suspension for that. He was sacked for alleged offences BEFORE that particular gaffe. When the heat came on Sky looked at its pocket and saw damage coming. Like the army of regulators who slept whilst Ireland sank, Sky's own moral custodians also lapsed. Gray was sacrificed.

I would have sacked both Richard Keys and Gray and it would be on purely for football reasons.

Looking at the one Sky programme I get without subscription, the sports round-up on a Saturday afternoon, we see the excess of Premiership football. An oily slick presenter surrounded by dilettantes who embroidered the edge of English soccer, Charlie Nicholas, Matt Le Tissier, Paul Merson and Jamie Rednapp give orgasmic shouts at the sight of a £150,000-per-week footballer actually trapping a ball.

That studio gives all the impressions of a blocky dressing room where any outsider would enter at their own peril, male or female. Knowing smirks, laughs and in-jokes are the trademark of that particular show. I never watch it without feeling uncomfortable and an urge to go for a shower. Andy Gray got sacked because he got caught saying something that's said a thousand times a day by others. He was wrong and paid the price. But, don't for a second believe that similar if not worse comments are still being passed, only this time people will be more careful.

Sky is everything I hate about modern football. Idiots prattling along, single earpieces in, laced with inane comments and no appreciation for a once-great game. To the Sky aficionado, soccer started in 1993.

I opened with a memory of the great Shankly. I close with the nightmare vision of looking as Dean Windass tries to put four consecutive words together as a match summariser for Sky. Windass gives the impression of a rabbit caught in the headlights as he stares wide-eyed into the camera as he tries to remember what to say.

That ultimately is what Sky should be judged on, their destruction of the beautiful game.

John Cuffe

Provincial rivalry is not very helpful

Brendan Fanning's angst-ridden analysis of Munster rugby [Jan 23] does enormous damage to Irish rugby and, in particular, solidarity of the players and fans at national level.

In short, Ireland simply cannot afford a division of rancour and exaggerated rivalry between two of the four provinces. The two provinces regularly contribute two-thirds of the national team. Munster success is self-evident and needs no explanation or justification. Move on Brendan and get over it. In any event, Leinster may well emulate them.

Personally, I am glad the Munster run of qualification for the knockout stages has come to an end. I think it's an unwelcome monkey off their back -- this remarkable record is unlikely to be repeated.

Brendan's comments about Munster arrogance are not backed up by any evidence; his remarks on coaching and development are frankly conjecture. We all know Musgrave Park is not the best, it was ever thus; on the other hand, Donnybrook is hardly the place of great rugby dreams and the RDS looks pretty makeshift to me.

I write as an Irish rugby fan who has cheered Leinster and Munster at Twickenham; seen London Irish triumph in the English rugby cup; delighted and followed Ulster's unexpected Heineken Cup win in 1999 and cheered Connacht at The Stoop.

Gerald Barry

Sunday Indo Sport