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Just in case you have missed the furore over the past week that has seen two of the most widely disliked of the self-made celebrity football pundits bundled out the back door of Sky Sports headquarters: in a leaked conversation that occurred minutes before the start of Wolves v Liverpool, Andy Gray and Richard Keys described the game of football as having “gone mad”.
Perhaps they were referring to the ridiculous wages most Premier League players are on whilst we suffer cuts that could cause a double-dip recession? The amazingly high transfer fees, specifically the multi-million pound premium that seems to be added on to English players? The fact that the 2022 World Cup will be held in air-conditioned stadiums in January at the country ranked the 105th best in the world? The massive disparity in financial outlook between Premier League and Football League teams resulting in clubs falling into administration left, right and centre?
No, none of these things. According to these prima-donnas of the highest order – please remember Keys earned around £500,000 a year while it has been said Gray was on as much as £1.7 million a year – the game has gone mad because a woman was running the line. A woman who, they suggested, required a man to “go down there and explain the offside rule to her”. A woman who got a key offside decision absolutely spot on.
There can be no denying that what the average person in the street terms football – the hyped-out-of-the-stratosphere clashes between titans such as Burnley and West Bromwich Albion that are beamed into homes and pubs up and down the country each weekend – is inherently male dominated. It is entertainment made by men and predominantly watched by men.
It is real football, the grass-roots football, the university and even school level football that is not inherently male dominated. Moving back up to professional level, women’s football is growing in popularity. Admittedly, it is not as popular as the game played by their male counterparts, but women’s football is televised and enjoyed by many. Try telling one of these sportspeople and, indeed, the match officials regardless of sex, that they do not understand the offside rule.
Universities nationwide have women’s sporting teams, including this very institution; so why Keys, who has been perhaps accurately labelled as an 80s breakfast TV hangover, can justify describing the game as having gone “mad” for having a female running the line is beyond me. I fail to understand how these views could have any place in the modern world, and applaud the fact that these two idiots will now be very far away from our television screens for the foreseeable future.
This situation has, however, started a much wider conversation beyond the idle banter of some relics from the prehistoric era, and I think this is a conversation that needed to be started. There is much more to this story than the question of whether or not women understand the offside rule. The debate about the degree to which football, and wider sport in general, is sexist is now happening up and down the country and in mainstream media. As a result, perhaps one positive has come out of this sorry affair – and maybe, just maybe, we should be grateful to Keys and Gray for that. Take a bow, son, take a bow.