Andy Gray and Richard Keys: Is anyone surprised?

Sian Massey (image by Joncandy via Flickr)

These two rather unreconstructed gentlemen have their own radio show now. This article first appeared in An Focal on February 7 2011. 

So male soccer commentators are sexist. Is anyone surprised? Soccer has never been known as the most enlightened sport. Sepp Blatter, a man of prehistoric views and the president of FIFA, once advised women soccer players to wear tighter shorts if they wanted increased media coverage. In the 1990s, the first- and so far only- openly gay professional footballer Justin Fashanu, hung himself after being made an outcast in the game. When the Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough found out Fashanu was gay, he wouldn’t even let him train with the other players. This was less than twenty years ago and if the fact that no footballers have come out since is anything to go by, not much has changed.

Indeed nothing has changed since the days of Mad Men for Andy Gray and Richard Keys, now ex (in the case of Gray) Sky Sports pundits. Apparently “the game’s gone mad” now that women are getting involved. Forget about Robbie Keane earning £65,000 a week for sitting on the bench. Women officials are the real problem with the Premier League. Keys and Gray, like complete clichés, then went on to question Sian Massey’s knowledge of the offside rule. This was, I would like to stress, before a ball was even kicked in anger. If Massey dropped a clanger, you might be able to understand where Keys and Gray were coming from, but they were ridiculing her before the game even kicked off. And as an aside, has anyone ever sat either gentleman down and explained to them exactly how their microphones work?

It could be argued that Andy Gray and Richard Keys are relics of a bygone age. My mother, growing up in London in the 60s and 70s, was soccer mad, and would regularly go see Spurs at home. Yet she wasn’t allowed played soccer in school- it just wasn’t done for girls. I’m part of a generation that was expected to play sports, notably GAA. Once the local hurling team stopped to watch us train and remarks were made; our trainer- a man- ripped them to shreds. Keys and Gray are of a similar vintage as my mother- in their day, sexism was open and rampant. Today, it’s still there, but frowned on; or it’s an ironic pastiche, just as I assume all those “women making sandwiches” groups on Facebook are supposed to be.

Soccer- in Britain especially- has done an admirable job in reducing racism and hooliganism. Will this controversy ensure that sexism is kicked out of the game too? After all, in 2011, we surely have moved beyond the tired notion that our gender informs all our characteristics. Plenty of men don’t like sport; plenty of women do. Sian Massey, one of those women, did an excellent job on the line on Saturday; hopefully she’ll have many more games to come.

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