Kris Boyd’s Mentality

by | Jan 24, 2020

That sound you could hear as ten o’clock approached on Wednesday night was probably the disbelieving reactions to Manchester United’s latest travails. But in the background, there was also a collective “fcuk off” in response to Sky Sports pundit Kris Boyd’s latest punditry abominations, words rendered worse by their context.

With the midweek’s EPL games on BT Sport, the Sky Sports Main Event channel’s main event on Wednesday evening was the Scottish Premiership’s return after its “winter” break. Their cameras were at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park for the visit of Celtic, who have struggled there in recent seasons. This time, Celtic eased to a 3-1 win over a Killie side far below recent season’s standards, the latter mainly due to Steve Clarke being stood on a TV gantry rather than sat in the Killie managerial ‘hot-seat,’ which he’d left to become Scotland boss last summer.

Clarke was part of Sky’s apparent outsourcing of their coverage to Kilmarnock TV, as he was co-analyst alongside ex-Killie striker Boyd, with a Celtic perspective from the twin sibling of H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man. Thus, the Killie perspective excessively featured in the analysis of a first-half Celtic controlled. While the post-match perspective was even more skewed when Boyd focussed mainly on…himself.

Six minutes after half-time, Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths scored his second goal in a game-and-a-half, after a lengthy absence from first-team contention. And he ‘celebrated’ by running and pointing towards the TV gantry, and Boyd in particular, before putting his fingers to his lips to suggest that Boyd “keep quiet” (polite version). This was long-forgotten by full-time by everyone, except Boyd.

Griffiths’ lengthy absence began in December 2018, which Celtic’s then-manager Brendan Rodgers attributed to “on-going issues” including “some relating to his mental health.” Rodgers said Griffiths “needs to find a happiness” and that Celtic would provide “all the professional help he needs to get back into a good place,” while referencing “issues that young people can come across” which were “no longer a weakness to talk about.”

There were many unkind rumours about these issues until last July, when Griffiths revealed his battles with depression. He told a press conference that “in society nowadays, a lot of people are taking their own lives and, maybe if they open up and speak up a little bit, it can saves lives.” For him, he added, “it was very lonely at times and, without the help of the club, friends, family and support, I wouldn’t be sitting here now.”

He was back in regular first-team contention in November. And before Christmas, Boyd said his future depended on him being “first in” to and “last away” from training “every day” and training “every single day to the best of his ability” as “the days of playing games to get your fitness levels up are done.” This was the kernel of a good point, given the relentlessness of modern fixture lists. Except Boyd wasn’t lambasting fixture lists.

He said Griffiths’ career was at a “crossroads” and hinted that he needed to “look back at himself” and “think could you have done a bit more in training some days?” Griffiths took issue with this, hence Wednesday’s goal celebration. But in response to this response (I know, I know), Boyd unequivocally blamed Griffiths for hindering his own Celtic career.

Boyd acknowledged that Griffiths had “knuckled down and worked hard” since he’d given the striker “four weeks to save his Celtic career” in early December. “But he doesn’t need to prove (anything) to me. I’ll go by stats because you can’t argue with them. Brendan Rodgers was appointed manager in 2016 at Celtic Football Club and we heard the professionalism, the standard, the training levels went through the roof.

“And I’m doing him a favour here,” he continued unconvincingly, “because I’ll only include league games. There’s been 135 league games. Leigh Griffiths has played 34 of them. That suggests to me that you’re not doing it on the training field. You don’t need to come to me and have a go at me to appease the Celtic fans. Go and do it for yourself, because there’s no doubt there’s a talented footballer in there.

“Steve Clarke’s standing here tonight. Would he love to select Leigh Griffiths for Scotland? Of course he would. Never mind coming for us, go and do it for yourself. Perform on the pitch, score goals on a regular basis. It doesn’t seem to me that Leigh Griffiths has been able to pull his weight along with that and, as I said, the stats back it up.”

This was either a pre-meditated response, knowing that Griffiths would respond to comments designed for that purpose, or Boyd had spent the second half dredging up the stats rather than watching the game (and while Boyd can be an articulate pundit, his comments can suggest he’s not been watching). And it was hopeless analysis, even aside from the fact that Griff was involved in 71 of those games, STARTING ‘only’ 34 (you “can’t argue” with stats, eh Kris?).

The biggest current block on Griffiths’ prospects of regular Celtic starts is manager Neil Lennon’s preference for playing a lone striker. And Edouard is currently about the best in that business in Scottish club football. Griffiths and Edouard worked well at Kilmarnock. But it remains to be seen whether it will prove effective against sides in better nick than six-league-defeats-in-a-row Killie.

And Lennon’s predecessor Rodgers also preferred one striker. Still does. So when he got injured before Celtic’s win over the Rangers in September 2016, and his replacement, Moussa Dembele, hit a hat-trick, Griffiths’ first-team chances became limited. Rodgers rated him sufficiently to try to accommodate two strikers. But while Griff scored in a 1-0 win over Hamilton that December, even I saw from the stands that night how a front two didn’t quite work.

Yet Boyd was let spout his nonsense by presenter Eilidh Barbour, who stood there grinning at him throughout. Barbour is refreshing Sky presenting progress from the execrable David Tanner and is a fine sports broadcast all-rounder, football or golf, presenter or commentator. Not here. Worse, it seems no-one on Sky’s production team saw fit to advise Barbour to stop Boyd. But what made this Boyd rant any shoddier Scottish football journalism, print and broadcast, than the half-million I’ve previously featured? Why would/should anyone have intervened here?

The answer dates back to September 2016, when Boyd’s 27-year-old brother, Scott, committed suicide after suffering from depression. Boyd admirably admitted that he “didn’t see” Scott’s troubles and “hadn’t a clue” when faced with the “bad anxiety” from which his wife Christine suffered. So, he founded the “Kris Boyd Charity” in January 2018, “to help those suffering with mental health issues find someone to talk to and get help,” and to “educate people to engage with others instead of dismissing them or brushing off their feelings as being ‘weak.’”

The charity organises regular promotions of mental health awareness, offering “financial help to various charities, businesses and support groups.” And it has blazed a trial, as football generally has recently focussed on such issues. The FA delayed all third-round FA Cup-tie kick-offs by a minute as part of an initiative encouraging fans to “reflect on the positive impact 60 seconds can have on their own well-being or in supporting a friend or family member.”

Thus, fans have criticised Boyd for hypocrisy or, at best, a clumsy lack of self-awareness, especially as, last July, Griffiths echoed the charity’s encouragement to people with mental health issues to “open up” about them. Others believe Boyd knew his criticism would have the most cutting impact. It is hard to tell which is right. Boyd admitted in an admirably frank article on the charity’s website that he was “listening and learning” after his “failings” in dealing with his wife’s anxiety and “should have been more understanding.” But his comments on Wednesday suggested he’d learned little. And one wonders whether other mental health charities would condone them.

Boyd also offered his usual punditry drivel. After being substituted, Griffiths flung some sock tape towards some Killie fans, whose abuse of him during the match was audible on TV.  It was kindergarten stuff all-round, like me laughing at the ‘big-boned’ Boyd referencing Griffiths not “pulling his weight.” But he offered a masterclass in false equivalence, equating the floating sock tape to the ‘cut-throat’ gesture Rangers’ Alfredo Morelos aimed at Celtic fans at Celtic Park last month. This was predictable, dismal ‘whataboutery.’ Boyd’s comments on Griffiths’ struggles, and Sky’s facilitation of those comments, were another matter entirely.

Celtic have reportedly complained to Sky Sports. And rightly so. Boyd should, and maybe does, know far better. However, the more credit Boyd and his charity’s work deserves, the more contemptible his Griffiths comments seem. I genuinely admire Boyd’s charity work. Which is why it is so desperately sad that among those who need “educating” on “engaging with others instead of dismissing them or brushing off their feelings as being ‘weak’ seems to be Boyd himself.

The Kris Boyd Charity – “Getting your head back in the game” can be contacted at:    @krisboydcharity