MALE officials, eh? Useless. When Blackburn’s Jermaine Jones brought down West Brom striker Peter Odemwingie two feet inside the area at Ewood Park today, referee Mark Clattenburg awarded a free kick, not a penalty.
Andy Gray, commentating on the game for Sky, decided against suggesting that Clattenburg’s error was down to his gender.
Gray and Richard Keys are perfectly capable of talking nonsense when on air, so it’s no surprise they should be caught talking rubbish off air as well. The Mail on Sunday got hold of a very scratchy recording of the pair of them making sexist remarks about female linesman Sian Massey in the build-up to Wolves’ game against Liverpool yesterday.
“Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her,” opined Keys, before getting back in the knife drawer.
Gray agreed: “Can you believe that? A female linesman. Women don’t know the offside rule.” A surprising statement, perhaps, from a man who has struggled getting to grips with the professional foul law in the past.
It went on, but you get the idea. The Mail on Sunday was suitably outraged over this outbreak of sexism, which was almost as bad as the time the Daily Mail – their sister paper – suggested that Jacqui Oatley belonged in the kitchen rather than the commentary box.
The joke ended up being on Keys and Gray, as Massey had a very tight offside call to make on Liverpool’s first goal at Molineux, and got it absolutely right.
From here, it does look as if a broadcaster that tarted up its early Premier League coverage with the quickly-binned Sky Strikers cheerleaders – and fills Sky Sports News with young women in low-cut dresses – has trouble getting its collective head around the idea of a woman holding a flag.
As I type this, Radio Five Live are having a phone in over the Keys-Gray outburst. (Mmm, a radio phone-in on sexism in sport. Do I really want to hear Bert from Tadcaster droning to the nation that “Keys and Gray were only saying what every man thinks – it’s political correctness gone mad”? No, that’s not what ears were invented for.) Perhaps the only way the story could have garnered more publicity is if they’d hacked Massey’s phone.
But you needn’t fear for Keys or Gray. In the highly unstable world of sports broadcasting, they are about as secure in their jobs as it is possible to be. Their remarks were idiotic, but they didn’t know they would make it into the public domain. Perhaps they know how Gordon Brown felt when his pre-election remarks about Gillian Duffy being a “bigoted woman” were picked up. By a Sky News microphone.
Gray’s longevity as a summariser is easy to understand. Even though he is constantly barking meaningless superlatives and criticising officials for no good reason, he’s the most tactically astute pundit around. There is no better commentary partnership on TV or radio than the one he enjoys with the superb Martin Tyler.
It’s harder to explain why Keys has been around for so long.
I was watching a match on Sky over Christmas while visiting my parents, and Keys’ face appeared on screen. My mum, who can remember the days when he was the mediocre Mike Morris’ chummy other half on the TV-AM sofa, took one look at him and said: “God, is he still going?”
Put together his stints with BSB and Sky Sports, and Keys has been the chief face of football on satellite TV for more than 20 years. And his secret, as far as I can tell, seems to be a complete lack of self-doubt. If he’s presenting, say, Wigan v Stoke, you never doubt for a moment that he believes it’s the biggest match on earth. And he’ll bore into your front room or local pub with his eyes until you believe it too.
With Sky Sports, that’s pretty much what you need to be a successful presenter. The rest takes care of itself, particularly as I suspect Sky’s pre and post-match presentation gets less attention than that of the terrestrial channels. If you go watch a Sky game in a bar, you’re not going to stick around for the analysis – you just want the match.
It’s what I call the Sky Sports News effect. SSN is designed to be understandable with the sound off, and I get the sense that the main Sky Sports channels are often watched in the same way. So as long as everything’s slick and moves along without significant mishaps, viewers don’t really bat an eyelid.
In fact, I reckon Keys could front a Super Sunday panel made up of Gok Wan, Bonnie Langford, Fingermouse and Officer Crabtree from ‘Allo ‘Allo, and get through it by chuckling in the right places while lobbing in questions such as: “Do Wigan really have the firepower to get out of trouble?”
The unfair off-air slating of Massey – who Keys couldn’t even bring himself to refer to by name – was an example of Sky Sports’ main football presenter letting the slickness slide and saying what he really thought. That a high-profile television presenter, male or female, in a well-paid job should turn out to be an unpleasant pillock is something that should surprise no one.