As Andy Gray often said himself; “It’s what I call one of those indefensible ones â€” you can’t defend against them.”
When evidence emerged yesterday of more workplace sexism from Sky Sports’ long-serving co-commentator, the yellow card Gray received on Monday for his comments about assistant referee Sian Massey was always going to turn to red.
Even before Sky’s managing director referred to “new evidence of unacceptable and offensive behaviour”, when Gray and fellow male supremacist Richard Keys went to the well this week, reserves of sympathy were low.
Even \’Big’ Ron Atkinson could call on a few old friends to fight his corner in the days after his career unravelled in the Stade Louis II. But it was largely left to Keys’ sister to mount any defence this week. And even her testimony more or less amounted to underlining Richard’s achievement in assembling a family of three sisters and a daughter. Now there’s a God complex.
There’s a feeling that Keys and Gray, with their puffed-up sense of importance and cast-iron certainty in their own parochial opinions, have accumulated an enemy or two over the years.
Not least within the organisation that employs them.
TV3 commentator Trevor Welch, who has been on the European circuit with Gray for several years, admitted yesterday that he wasn’t particularly surprised when he heard the pair’s initial comments. He said: “My own impression of Andy Gray, having met him at matches, is that he’s very smug and loud. There’s an arrogance there. He has an inflated opinion of himself and some of the ex-professional footballers I meet wouldn’t have a lot of time for him.
“I’m not surprised that he made the comments, rather surprised that he was naÃ¯ve enough to do it in front of a mic. There are a lot of women in the Sky production team. What must they think of these kinds of remarks?”
What indeed? For a few days this week, we all became feminists. In our rush to distance ourselves from the rantings of these shamed old lunatics, we anointed young Massey with the vision of Emmeline Pankhurst and the bravery of Rosa Parks for not sticking her flag up when Raul Meireles streaked down the right at Molinuex.
But, as is the way with these things, when news of Gray’s sacking filtered through yesterday evening, the balance of opinion shifted slightly.
That old saver “PC gone mad” cropped up in places, usually, it must be said, from men.
Meanwhile, the kind of unthinking sexism that pervades professional football and its media coverage continued more or less unchecked.
Samuel Eto’o was fresh from a lapdance on Italian TV. In a French publication, Wigan poster boy Mohamed Diame was bemoaning the genes distributed among the ladies of his adopted city.
Sky, themselves, gave no indication they were set to retire the Soccer AM Soccerettes.
Yesterday morning, Talksport’s Alan Brazil waded into the controversy by suggesting women reporters couldn’t comment on football “because they had never played the game.”
And maybe there is a nub of truth somewhere in Brazil’s silly words. Not that it matters whether we’ve played the game or not but maybe we can’t know how damaging or otherwise Gray’s words or actions are unless we’ve been in Sian Massey’s shoes.
Unless we’ve been in Charlotte Jackson’s shoes, trying to stay professional before Monday Night Football while Gray invites you to “tuck that in there for me, love”.
Unless we’ve been in Wendy Toms’ shoes, struggling to build a career as an assistant referee with the likes of Gordon Strachan ranting about “PC appointments”.
Unless we’ve been in Amy Rayner’s shoes, the Football League’s first female referee, who caused Mike Newell to erupt: “This is not park football, so what are women doing here?”
Unless we’ve been in Jacqui Oatley’s shoes, laughed off Match of the Day for the pitch of her voice.
Perhaps the loss of Andy Gray would be a small price to pay â€” some would say no price at all â€” if it narrowed the focus on the millions of women frustrated and abused in male-dominated industries.
Take a bow, son.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner