A Gray Day for Football

Finally it’s happened. For years I’ve secretly suspected that Andy Gray was a fool and a bigot who made a lot of money from talking a lot of rubbish. As a Liverpool fan whose team was constantly on the receiving end of his scathing comments, I’d have to admit to feeling a certain smugness at the news that he had lost his job for making sexist comments about a female assistant referee. I had to tread carefully; in damning him, I would run the risk of being labelled a gloating kopite (although the way Liverpool have been playing this season, I’ve all but lost the ability). I would also be up against a number of sporting figures to have come lunging out of the traps in his defence, not to mention the ‘PC-gone-mad’ crowd which invariably rears its ugly head every time the horrifying subject of equality is mentioned.

But damn him I shall, because bigotry of any sort in football needs to be given the boot, as it were. As a nation we pride ourselves on having built a free and fair society where minority social groups have perhaps more of a chance to prosper than in any other country in the world.

A quick gloss over the forums and news sites revealed that commentators on this story appear to fall into three categories:

1) those who think his comments were not sexist, but merely idle ‘banter’,

2) those who acknowledge the sexist language, but who think that the punishment was too severe,

3) those who believe his words were sexist and that sacking him was an appropriate response.

The first group is categorically wrong because they misunderstand the meaning of the word ‘banter’. Banter, in the truest sense of the word, is a jocular exchange of light-hearted insults in which all targets of said insults are present and during which no malice is intended or felt. This is the point: Sian Massey was not present and therefore unable to defend herself. That said, it’s worth pointing out that she was the only person in a 30,000-seater stadium to spot Wolves defender Ronald Zubar playing Raul Meireles onside in the build-up to Liverpool’s first goal, thereby ruthlessly dismantling Gray’s theory that she was unfamiliar with the rule.

Ergo the conversation between Gray and Richard Keys cannot accurately be termed ‘banter’. As far as malice goes, anyone who has listened to the recording of the conversation would have detected that this was no joke. Gray meant what he said and Keys had no hesitation in endorsing him.

One might say that the second group have a case: a suspension would have been appropriate. They are also wrong. Gray was already under investigation for making a lewd comment to an attractive co-worker only a month ago. This sort of behaviour, if left unchecked, will fester and ultimately bring the English game into disrepute. Footballers face serious repercussions for the same offence – why should this not be extended to the shop window of English football, Sky Sports?

The timing of these two recent revelations is curious. Was Andy Gray set up? If he was, it was a necessary sting. The question on everyone’s lips is the same one floating around when Ron Atkinson left ITV for making racist comments: “how long has it been going on behind closed doors?”

We are lucky enough to live in a country where people are judged on what they do, not on who they are. Any one in such a position of influence who cheapens these values has no place on our screens. Good riddance to bad rubbish.


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