Andy Gray, the football presenter, is facing under increasing pressure after Sky News unexpectedly broadcast fresh footage of him making sexist remarks about assistant referee Sian Massey.
It followed a backlash from across football to off-air comments made during Saturday’s match between Liverpool and Wolves by Gray and his colleague, Richard Keys, in which they agreed that women did not understand the offside rule.
Both Gray and Keys were due to present Monday night’s game between Bolton and Chelsea but were stood down after Sky managing director Barney Francis personally oversaw disciplinary action against them.
It meant a rearrangement of the schedule on Sky Sports 1, with the programme put back 30 minutes and presented direct from the Reebok Stadium by David Jones rather than Keys and Gray in the usual Sky studio.
Keys telephoned Massey on Sunday night on behalf of both presenters and their apology has been accepted by the 25 year-old school teacher. According to one source, Keys was “very contrite”.
The comments have prompted widespread anger and criticism, with England captain Rio Ferdinand and sports minister Hugh Robertson among those to condemn the pair.
“What’s wrong with a woman being an official in a football game?” said Ferdinand. “Discrimination should not happen in our game at all — prehistoric views if you think otherwise.”
Keys also criticised Karren Brady after the West Ham vice-chairman had written a newspaper column about sexism. “Did you hear charming Karren Brady complaining about sexism? Do me a favour, love.” Brady said that the comments had her made her “blood boil”.
She added: “I have heard it and I don’t believe it is just banter.” That was also the view of the Government. “It is very disappointing at a time when we are trying to get more women participating and officiating,” said Robertson.
The newly released footage occurred before the Wolves-Liverpool match. In it, reporter Andy Burton claims a colleague described Massey as a “bit of a looker”. “He says she is alright,” Burton added. “Now I don’t know if I should trust his judgement on that?”
Gray replied: “Nah, I wouldn’t. I definitely wouldn’t.” A member of the Sky team then refers to Massey again, and Gray is heard saying: “I can see her from here. What do women know about the offside rule?”
Sky were aware of the pre-match exchange involving Gray and Burton when they took their action. It is also understood that there will be no internal investigation at Sky into how any of the comments were leaked.
Monday’s statement makes no mention of whether or not the duo will present next Tuesday’s live match between West Brom and Wigan, although the expectation is that they will return.
“It has been made clear to each of them that their comments were totally unacceptable,” said Francis. “They are inexcusable from anyone at Sky, regardless of their role or seniority. They have been clearly warned about their behaviour and reminded of their responsibilities.”
Keys was defended on Monday by his sister, Susan, who claimed that he had the “greatest respect for women” and suggested that people were “getting a bit precious”. The fall-out, however, has been considerable, not least for Massey.
Saturday was only her second Premier League game as an assistant referee and, at the Coventry school where she works, there were a mass of cameras on Monday. Media were also waiting outside her home and she stayed at an alternative address on Monday night.
Massey has risen through the football pyramid since officiating her first game 10 years ago and, according to her friends, has been heartened by the overwhelmingly supportive response.
Janie Frampton, the FA’s referee manager for education and training, spoke at length with Massey. “She is keeping her head down of course, but she is very positive,” Frampton said. “From a young girl, refereeing has been her life and she is genuinely very good. She is technically excellent, incredibly fit and incredibly intelligent.”
Frampton is also confident that the incident — and Sky’s reaction - will not discourage young women from adding to the 1,270 female referees in England. “The fact that they were taken off their programme is massive,” she said. “It was more than I thought Sky would have done and, credit to them.”
Presenter's new outburst
Andy Gray was taped making sexist comments about Sian Massey to Sky reporter Andy Burton on Saturday.
Burton: Apparently, a female lino today, bit of a looker...
Gray: A female linesman?
Burton: He [a Sky crew member] says she [Massey] is alright ... Now I don’t know if I should trust his judgement on that?
Gray: Nah, I wouldn’t. I definitely wouldn’t... I can see her from here... [expletives]. What do women know about the offside rule?
You didn't need any particular skin colour to believe that Ron Atkinson -- despite a fine record of encouraging and celebrating emerging young black stars like Cyrille Regis and Laurie Cunningham -- had made a pyre for his broadcasting career when, beside a microphone he thought was dead, he uttered a racist comment on the work ethic of Marcel Desailly.