When Banter Goes Bad

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Wolves vs Liverpool at Molineux a couple of weeks ago promised very little entertainment aside from the opportunity to witness another calamitous chapter in the scousers’ miserable season. Pre-match, however, an off-camera conversation took place which has since been replayed thousands of times and ultimately led to Richard Keys and Andy Gray, the two figureheads of Sky’s football coverage over the last two decades, losing their jobs…yet able to console themselves with a now legendary status amongst NWAF advocates everywhere.

This conversation of course, caught the pair in full-on unreconstructed man-mode debating the appointment of Sian Massey as the game’s lineswoman. A furious-sounding Keys then going on to berate Karen Brady for having the temerity to claim sexism remained rife within football. He amusingly dismissed this crazy notion with a beautifully-timed “do me a favour, love…”, a the killer line which would surely have seen fellow TV anchor alumni Alan Partridge and Roger Mellie nodding sagely in agreement.

By early evening the recording had hit the internet where it was welcomed with widespread glee by the Twitter and Facebook communities. Not surprising given that celeb-fuelled schadenfreude is only eclipsed by pornography as the web’s most enduringly popular currency. Within a couple of hours the mainstream press were on-board and a Sachs-gate style witch-hunt (or in this case ‘hoary old dinosaur hunt’) was in full-swing. As is the case with these events, finding anyone genuinely upset or outraged was a difficult task, though plenty take the opportunity to enthusiastically proffer an opinion.

As an onlooker to these developments, it was difficult to feel much sympathy with Keys and Gray for the situation in which they found themselves. Whilst the pair were obviously not intent for their words to reach a wider audience, they had spoken with the knowledge other on-site staff could be privy to their conversation. It’s also fair to say neither have been afraid of inflaming non-events with their own sanctimonious hyperbole in the past, they’d almost made a career of it in fact.

Sky themselves reacted quickly to the growing shit-storm by issuing a statement late on Saturday and it briefly appeared that a simple apology might prove sufficient to placate the world at large. By the close of the weekend however, things had gathered pace and the story was now headline news.

By mid-morning on Monday, people were lining up to have a pop. Sports Minister Hugh Robertson said his piece and ex-ref Graham Poll’s comments tellingly showed the two had managed to cultivate as many enemies as friends, over the years. Even Kenny Dalglish showed uncharacteristic humour, enquiring during his morning presser if the Sky journo present was comfortable with a female presence in the room.

Twitter behemoths Rio and Collymore weighed in with their thoughts. “Dinosaur people have dinosaur opinions”, fumed Stan. Strong words from a man who in the immediate aftermath of England’s failed world cup bid, claimed on live radio that the square-mileage of Qatar is similar to that of Birmingham.

Support from within the game was hard to find aside from Alan Brazil’s laughable on-air claim he’d resign from his Talksport gig if the pair lost their jobs. Keys’ sister Susan was wheeled out to fight his corner on Five Live, apparently he wasn’t sexist and remarkably, he even had some women in his family.

Monday afternoon saw Sky Sports main man Barney Francis issue a statement explaining that disciplinary action had been taken, no details forthcoming other than confirmation that the shamed pair had been suspended from covering that night’s Bolton vs Chelsea fixture. Feverish speculation followed as to who would take Andy Gray’s place in the commentary box, suggestions ranging from the sublime (Germaine Greer) to the ridiculous (Paul Merson). In the end, literally Jamie Redknapp was joined by David Jones fronting the show, with thoroughly modern man Sam Allardyce making a debut uttering banalities alongside Martin Tyler.

Given Tyler’s recent suggestion that the FA should review video evidence of Rafael Da Silva’s conduct following his red card at Spurs, I tuned in wondering whether he’d call for Keys and Gray to receive similar treatment with a view to a more-severe punishment being dealt. This didn’t happen, sadly.

Tuesday arrived and fuel was added to the “firestorm” as Key’s was later to describe events, in the form of two further video leaks courtesy of the “dark-forces” roaming-large within the bowls of News Corp and BSkyB. The first led to Gray’s dismissal later that day, a short clip showed him thrusting his crotch in the direction of Charlotte Jackson, enquiring whether she’d “tuck this thing in for me, love?”  The 2nd showing Keys  ‘bantering’ with Jamie Redkapp, loudly enquiring as to what he’d got up with an ex-girlfriend as he sat alongside a distinctly unimpressed-looking Graeme Souness.

So with his partner sacked, what was next for Keysey? Disappointingly, he didn’t choose to face Paxman on Newsnight or the harridans of Loose Women, instead wisely opting for a gentle one-hour grilling at the hands of Paul Hawksbee and Andy Jacobs on Talksport.

Whilst failing to deliver a full-on comedy meltdown for the listening public’s amusement, Key’s did manage to sound both contrite and indignant as to what had occurred since Saturday.

“I don’t have an agent or spin doctor” Something for you to consider in future then, maybe?

“We enjoyed some BANTER!” You certainly did, pal.

“Is football inherently sexist?” Durr…yeah.

“Am I defending what we said and did? No.” Yes, you are.

“Is it political correctness gone mad?” “That’s not for me to say.” Probably wise.

“There are two sides to this, we’ve heard one a lot” So go on…

By this point Keys was clearly floundering and the impassioned fightback he’d hoped for had clearly failed to materialise. It’s extremely questionable whether there was genuine malice intended in any of his words, but like Big Ron racist gaffe-gate back in 2004, it was damning stuff and something had to give. By early evening Keys had tended his resignation.

Accusations of sexism aside, the manner and timing of the tape-leaks made it clear that the pair were short of key allies within Sky in spite of their hugely successful tenure. In any industry, reputed seven-figure salaries trigger resentment and bitterness in others keen to usurp the chosen few enjoying great wealth and privilege.

Keys and Gray will no doubt be back at some point, though it’s hard to see them working as a double-act again in future. That’s unless some outer-limits satellite channel decides to make an audacious swoop for the pair. One can picture them now, unshaven and depressed whilst plotted up in a garden shed somewhere debating Danish 3rd Division talking points. Gray shorn of giant iPad and instead reliant on a knackered Etch A Sketch, Paul Merson just off-camera, cackling like a lunatic…

Copyright Red News – February 2011

www.rednews.co.uk

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