Who do we believe? What are we meant to believe? The story of the dismissal of Andy Gray and the censure of Richard Keys has taken on a life of its own since it broke a couple of days ago and, by this afternoon, there was a degree of inevitability about what would was to come next. This, it started to feel, was not a story that was going to blow over with a one match suspension and a week off on account of the Fourth Round of the FA Cup and, after a new video came to the attention of the public demonstrating that Gray’s little outburst wasn’t even a one-off on the day in question, he was gone. Gray has, by all accounts, instructed the law firm Schillings to deal with the matter on behalf, but we will presumably have to wait and see what he has instructed them to do.
In the meantime, the conspiracy theory mill has already gone into overdrive with a glut of apparently contradictory information. Much has been made of Gray’s impending legal action against News International over the News Of The World telephone hacking issue it is easy to add two and two together and arrive at the conclusion that there is a desire on the part of Sky/NewsCorp (who aren’t yet, we should remind ourselves, completely one organisation yet) to somehow be “punishing” Gray for his decision to sue. Yet this would appear to be out of step with the organisation’s recent behaviour in such situations, which, in the case of Gordon Taylor of the PFA and the publicist Max Clifford, was to settle out of court. Why would they go to all of this trouble to discredit Gray when they have given every impression of having been reluctant to go to court so far over phone-hacking cases?
As if this contradiction isn’t enough, we have the added understanding that the recordings that did for Gray may well have been an “inside job”, as it were, to some extent. Both recordings could only have been picked upon by someone with some degree of “access”. It may or may not be that we may find out in court what exactly was happening. It or or may not be that there will be out of court settlements to come. Within just a few hours the sacking of Andy Gray has, with videos being put up and taken down on an hourly basis, already started to resemble a real-life game of Cluedo, but Richard Keys seems to have avoided the metaphorical candlestick in the hallway by virtue of a personal apology made to Sian Massey, for the time being. As more and more previously unseen footage enters the public domain (however fleetingly), however, whether his position will still be tenable by the morning remains open to question.
Today hasn’t just been a bad day for Andy Gray, though. It has been a pretty dismal day for the British media, too. The Independent had run an article in which they attributed quotes from a fake Andy Townsend Twitter account to Townsend himself and had to issue an apology. Still, at least they apologised. It will probably be a cold day in hell before we get anything approaching the same from The Mirror, The Sun or the Daily Mail, both of whom seemed to consider an appropriate reaction to a story about sexism within sport to be publish photos of Ms Massey dancing and wearing a short skirt. While The Sun and The Mirror’s decision to do this was bad enough, it was the ever-cretinous Daily Mail – a newspaper which seems to be becoming little more than the journalistic equivalent of an internet troll, seemingly choosing to publish articles of increasingly questionable taste for reasons that we can only guess at – who seemed to have done the most trawling of her MySpace page, putting copyright notices for MySpace in the corner of said images (with a few desultory words as filler between them) but riding roughshod over any sense of common decency. Quite a feat, for a rag that spends so much of its time sermonising about morals.
Talking of sermonising and the Daily Mail (we read this stuff so that you don’t have to), Richard Littlejohn, their chief attack dog and never man to shy away from a sentence containing the words, “mad”, “correctness”, “gone” and “political”, weighed in by asking, “Why on earth should Sky presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys be pilloried for something they said off-air?” The answer to this question, which was presumably intended to have been a rhetorical one, may well be, “all’s fair in hate and politics“, and he may choose to add that Keys and Gray hadn’t just been speaking to the person that they criticised, but this would only raise the question of whether they did or would have done had they spoken to her or had the chance to speak to her on Saturday, to which the only rational answer would be to say… doubtful. Whatever tactics were used to catch Gray and Keys out were dubious, but the undortunate truth of the matter is that this is the nature of public discourse these days. The Mail on Sunday was happy to go public with these stories. The NotW may have been systematically hacking the celebrities of mobile phones for a some time. It’s a moral maze, for sure, but for anyone near the tabloid end of the media to comment on the practice of publicising private conversations is an act of gross hypocrisy.
So, the British press remains beyond the point of no return, Gray has gone and it would, at the time of writing, be surprising if Keys lasted much longer in his position. Perhaps the most valuable thing to come from this whole depressing episode is that there has been a debate on the subject of sexism in football and, while some people have chosen to retreat into a predictable, “PC gone mad” defence mode, many others may have had a chance to actually ponder this issue and really take a moment consider its implications. Andy Gray, the former international footballer who has been earning a very fat salary from his twenty years of television work, will be fine. The genuinely innocent party in all of this, Sian Massey, has had her pictures plastered all over the tabloid press and was withdrawn from this evening’s match between Crewe Alexandra and Bradford City by the Professional Game Match Officials board. The statement issued by their general manager, Mike Reilly, should end as a footnote to this most dismal of stories.
PGMO and Sian believe that, with any football match, the focus should not be on the officials but on the players and the game itself. Sian is an excellent professional who has unwittingly found herself in the middle of a story that has nothing to do with her competence as a match official. Sian only wants to be notable for her performance as an assistant referee and is keen for things to get back to normal so she can return to officiating as soon as possible.
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