From Al Shearer to Al Jazeera, it’s one small step for a football talking head and one giant leap for the rest of us who will be spared his oily, not to say hairy, presence on Sky Sports from now on.
The same reports suggest that he could be bringing his mate Andy Gray with him, though I’m sticking with my prediction that the next time we see Gray on our television screens it will be as a contestant on ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’, that fabled showbiz rest home for the disgraced and/or terminally bewildered.
In the frenzy of score-settling that has erupted since the duo’s downfall, there has been a rush to dismiss Gray’s work as a football analyst. I happen to think he was decent enough at his job, particularly bearing in mind that Sky Sports’ dominance meant that he was much more exposed on live television than his competitors on other channels. No Giles certainly and not even a Hansen, but Gray was still an astute observer of the game, notwithstanding his irritating habit of writing corny dialogue for the players on the pitch. (“And he says to him, go on son, put that in the back of the net”).
Quite what Richard Keys was supposed to bring to the party, I never really understood. A safe pair of hands, presumably, though that was before he turned into Gary Sprake. What’s obvious from the material leaked over the past week, however, is that Keys saw himself, almost literally, as a player or, at least, the next best thing. Maybe it was overcompensation for his background in the anodyne world of breakfast TV, but Keys clearly felt that, to be accepted as an equal in the macho world of football, he would have to out-bloke the blokes.
The risible comments about Sian Massey, which started the furore, were bad enough while the “do me a favour, love” line about Karren Brady would have been rejected as simply too naff even by Alan Partridge, but the most contemptible stuff was reserved for the ‘banter’ — a lovely all-purpose word — that was directed at Jamie Redknapp about an ex-girlfriend of the ex-player as, feet up on the studio desk in true Master Of The Universe style, Keys embarked on a sleazy riff about “smashing it” and “hanging out of the back of it”.
Interesting to note in the clip that, while all this is going on, Ruud Gullit wisely keeps his head buried in his mobile phone. Now, there’s a man who you’d like to think could tell Keys a thing or two about the difference between sexy and sexist, as Spinal Tap would have it.
Speaking of classic comedy, by the time the presenter got to his now infamous TalkSport cri de coeur — “shocking, horrible, out of order, wrong, old-fashioned, no place, behavioural problems that need to be attended to, yeah, reconstruction, yeah” — he’d seamlessly morphed, fully-formed, into David Brent after an especially bad day at the office.
Meanwhile, Andy Gray had finally sealed his own fate by talking through his crotch at co-presenter Charlotte Jackson, another sniggering schoolboy routine which was below the belt in every sense.
Of course, between Gray claiming he’d been “stitched up” and Keys muttering about “dark forces”, the dastardly duo made sure that their apologies were undercut by anguished claims to victimhood. And, certainly, the drip, drip of wicked leaks suggests there was some sort of conspiracy afoot to ensure that they were shown the door. However, any potential sympathy for the devils in this regard is negated by the fact that, lest we forget, they were the ones who, in blissful ignorance, had gleefully fed the ammunition to the assassin on the grass knoll.
The only extent to which Gray and Keys might be considered fall guys is that it’s hard to believe that they are the only two dinosaurs still stalking the studios of television punditry. I’m obviously open to correction here, but I’d reckon it’s a safe bet that, during the ad breaks, the crew of Sky’s ‘Soccer Saturday’ — the likes of Thommo, Merse and Tiss — don’t generally fall to furrowed-brow reflection on the finer points of Germaine Greer’s ‘Female Eunuch’. It would be nice to think that the hoary old gibberish spouted by Gray and Keys is increasingly the exception rather than the rule, but it’s more likely that, as they reflect on all the footage that never made it to air, it’s squeaky bum time now for more than a few of those who sit in recorded judgment on the game.
At least, from here on in, they’ll all think twice before they open their mouths.
Which, you have to admit, is a step forward from not thinking at all.
- Contact: email@example.com