Well, Andy Gray eh? Sacked! Richard Keys, resigned!

Where do we stand? Either the “Sky Sports 2” are irredeemably sexist dinosaurs who have no place in our thrusting, dynamic society or they’re simply hapless victims of carefully orchestrated media outrage and hysterical public opinion.

Let’s look at the facts, Andy Gray, and Richard Keys made off colour comments regarding the officiating capability of Sian Massey, the referee’s assistant for the match at Wolves last Saturday. Also, videotape of Richard Keys making what could only be described as unfortunate comments about Jamie Redknapps’ former girlfriend to a work colleague has emerged.While it could be argued that their utterances aren’t in the best possible taste and have no place in the dynamic, thrusting society we live in today. I ask, is it in proportion to sack Gray and pressurise Keys into resigning?

Well, my answer is “No, no it isn’t”.

What we have here is a re-hashing of Gordon Brown’s “That Woman” incident. Old G.B referred to one of his supporters as a “bigoted woman”, during the middle of an election campaign. Now we know that Brown lead his party to electoral defeat, but he still has employment as an MP in Westminster. Where’s the difference? Why are Gray and Keys being hauled over the coals of public opinion while Brown is still able to represent his constituents?

Who knows? But what I find most disturbing about all this is the lack of people who are willing to defend Gray and Keys. Are people not concerned that two men have lost their jobs over privately held views, accidentally made public? If a corporation like Sky are prepared to take this sort of step with two of their most highly paid and identifiable front men, what would stop another corporation doing the same thing to their employees?  Can you imagine? Being disciplined or even sacked, for merely holding an unpalatable opinion, that way tyranny lies.

 George Orwell wrote in “1984”, “You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”. It turns out that Orwell, was closer to describing modern day living then even he would have imagined.

And that, Dear Reader, should concern you more than any of Gray and Key’s ramblings.

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“Tikkaboo Son”

January 25, 2011

Gray and Keys - Yesterday

Mike’s back blogging, thank God! That’ll give me the kick up the backside I need.

So here’s my first entry for a while, and it’s about the biggest story in football at the moment. As I type, Richard Keys and Andy Gray are facing increasing pressure from their employer, Sky, regarding sexist comments made about Sian Massey, the referee’s assistant at Molyneux last weekend. Of course, there’s a delicious irony at play here that Keys and Gray would find themselves censured by, of all companies, News Corp. The same company that owns The Sun, which, as we all know, still proudly has its daily “Page Three” feature.

The notion that Sky would suddenly jump on the sexist bandwagon is utterly nauseating to me and it’s not just Sky, its Rio Ferdinand, who described their views as “Pre-historic”. This would be the same Rio Ferdinand who happily filmed a group sex session with Frank Lampard, Kieron Dyer and two other women. The next time Rio feels the need to sermonise from the gospel according to Harriet Harman, he should take a good long look at himself in the mirror and then decide to keep his mouth shut.

This is the problem though, women have been treated as little more than objects for so long by football, footballers and the general mainstream media, that when something like this happens, it all seems a little false to me. Is Sky genuinely angry about Keys and Gray? Of course it isn’t, it’s sorry they’ve been caught out, undoubtedly, but hardly sorry for what they said.

So please, Sky, spare us all the ridiculous posturing, you don’t really care about what Keys and Gray said. Just bring them back, and we’ll forget all about it.

A lot can happen in a week or so. Just 8 days ago, England were still in South Africa, very much a part of the World Cup. Fans of the Three Lions were swallowing up every spoonful of Sky’s Premier League propaganda; the country dazzled by a blind belief that 2010 really could be the new ’66. The “greatest league in the World” had contributed to creating “world-class” players for manager Fabio Capello, players the Italian would mould into a team to challenge the world’s elite. Yes, football really could be “coming home”.

Four German goals later and the haze that the Premier League has caused on the English public appears to be lifting. The stranglehold that the Premier League have over the rest of the game in England is finally being both recognised and criticised, and at long last, people are beginning to realise that Sky’s league is killing the national game.

Fans are crying out for fundamental changes in the game, and most of these changes are designed to put the national side first. From limiting the number of foreign players, forcing teams to field a certain number of players under the age of 21, or the ridiculous notion of the State pump funds into the game (this is the same game that already receives over a billion pounds in television revenue, the same game that can afford to pay wages of £160,000 a week to a plainly average Chelsea captain) fans are certain of one thing: they want to see the FA take control of the game back.

If you’ve followed my blog from the start, you’ll be well aware by now that there are elements of the Premier League I can’t stand. The ‘business first’ attitude sickens me, as does the fact the ticket prices are vastly out of reach of the working man. I hate the attitude that many Premier League footballers have, and just how far away from the rest of society they have become. I hate the fact that clubs would rather finish in mid-table than win the FA Cup (OK, an exaggeration, fourth isn’t strictly mid-table but you win exactly the same for finishing there as you do for finishing 17th, so my point still stands. So much for the “first is first, second is nothing” mentality, eh? Let’s see your fourth-place medals, lads.)

I also really dislike the clubs coming out on top in the club-v-country battle, something which is a potentially huge pitfall of the game. What has long-been accepted is Premier League clubs expect national associations to bend to their will. From criticising federations for playing a friendly, to suing them for players picking up injuries whilst undertaking the privilege of playing for their country, the self-interest seeps out of every pore. Clubs force players to pull out of squads with an ‘injury’, only for it to miraculously heal in time for the next Premier League game. Managers even complain about having to release players for competitive qualifiers, something that is clearly entirely detrimental to the national sides.

And whilst this leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I can at least see the manager’s point of view. Yes, it is pure self-interest, but in the current days when almost entire squads are international players, all it takes is a couple of injuries and your season could be over. What I cannot see however, is how that same argument can be used by clubs who are refusing to release players ahead of the Under 19s European Championships, which begins in France next week.

This is an invaluable opportunity for young players to experience the unique atmosphere of tournament football. We’ve all seen the potential pitfalls this brings, be it England’s apparent problems this time around, to the inevitable implosion of the Dutch squad at every major competition since the dawn of time. Squads being together away from their families is hard on the players, yet the more they are exposed to it, the easier it becomes. This offers the players a chance to prepare for that experience, whilst the tournament isn’t paramount of importance, and mostly away from the prying eyes of the media. In essence, this is a dress rehearsal for what is to come.

Not only that, but England’s future generation of players will gain vital experience that only playing competitive football can bring them. This is a tournament of some pedigree, and many of the players on display will go on to become full internationals. Indeed, there are great hopes over players such as Aston Villa’s Nathan Delfouneso, Blackburn’s Phil Jones, and Danny Rose of Tottenham, the winger who burst into prominence by scoring a screamer against Arsenal last season.

In a time when there appears to be a dearth of youthful talent, it is essential that the promising youngsters who are available are nurtured and allowed to flourish. That will not happen by playing for youth sides, or even reserve teams, as much of this squad would find themselves doing. It can only happen by playing genuinely competitively football. Without these players, England’s squad will be dramatically weakened. Indeed, some may question the value in even participating in the tournament without a full-strength side. But there is a more important question here than just the immediate issue of these championships.

If the FA cannot even win the battle with the Premier League over youth team players, what chance do they have of winning the battle for the top players? Are they really so impotent that they cannot even ensure the clubs release a bunch of teenagers for international duty? What power do they have to do what the fans have clearly indicated, and that’s pull the power back from the big clubs?

For anybody who felt the desperate disappointment of last Sunday, and never again wants to experience the embarrassment the Germans caused England’s top players, it is an argument to follow very closely indeed. “Club England”, it’s over to you.

So the issue of the final Champions League spot has once again raised it’s head today. The Premier League are said to be considering the option of introducing a play-off to decide who gets the fourth slot, and with it, the millions of pounds that qualification provides. And it would seem from early reports that it has the backing of 16 clubs. I’ll bet it has!

Surprise, surprise, the four who are against the proposal are the so-called ‘big 4’ of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal. Now, I’m no supporter of these clubs, and have been crying out for a change in the status quo, so I’m quite vociferously behind any side who can break this stranglehold. However, despite my original excitement at the prospect, I’m not convinced I’m behind the idea.

Perhaps it is the cynic in me, but this feels very much like a money-making scheme, and I’m sure Sky will have pound-signs in their eyes at the prospect. Whilst the idea provides additional excitement, and stops games from being a non-entity in the middle of the table, I’m not convinced it’s for the good of the game.

A friend of mine has already suggested that this is a slippery slope, and to a degree I agree with him. After all, if this is a success what comes next? A relegation play-off? Maybe a Super League-esque Grand Final to decide who wins the Championship?

And what about in international years? This means that at the end of the season, the players from 4 clubs have further risks of getting injured, which ultimately does not benefit the national game. Imagine in a World Cup year, just a few weeks before the tournament begins, Steven Gerrard breaks his leg? Or Wayne Rooney? Particularly as the Play-Off involves 4 sides, there will be at least three more matches (going by the basis of a two-legged semi final, with home and away fixtures and a one-off final match at Wembley) that’s a lot of risk to take with players.

However, I have a proposal which both shakes up the Premier League and is only one extra match. Now I’ve long supported the idea of the FA Cup winners getting the final spot, which will completely revolutionise the competition. Indeed, this idea has the backing of many, including Platini and former England striker Gary Lineker. However, I’d suggest the Premier League are less than keen.

Despite that, a play-off between the Cup winners and the fourth-placed team would be my proposal. I’d like to see this as a one-off match, played at Wembley or Old Trafford, and thus reducing the risk of injury to players. This way, it would ensure that sides field a full-strength 11 and breathe a new lease of life into the FA Cup. And at the same time, would provide an opportunity to shake up the status quo.

Who knows, it may even provide some of the smaller clubs with a European adventure, and gradually erode the stranglehold the ‘Sky Four’ have on the English game.

As always, I’d appreciate your feedback.