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Friday, January 28, 2011

Richard Keys and Andy Gray: Good Riddance to Bad Commentators by Adam Howard

by Adam Howard for World Football Commentaries

So Richard Keys has jumped before he was pushed and resigned from Sky Sports, meaning that he of too-much hair joins he of too-little at the job centre, after Andy Gray was shown the door at the weekend for his sexist comments towards both Sian Massey - the lineswoman of the match between Liverpool and Wolves and a female colleague. It certainly marks the end of an era, and I have to be honest - it's probably about time they went.

And not because of their sexist behaviour - many a blogger has already jumped on the "they're sexist monsters" bandwagon and so this is not an article looking down on them for making a joke that has been made by male football fans for decades. Instead, this article suggests that in amongst all the probably justified sexism hysteria - you just can't say that on telly - this incident also showed that as pundits... they're no longer cutting it.

It's an interesting case really, given that what Gray and Keys have actually done is simply to criticise the performance of a match official, and they don't mean her referee shoes. And let's face it, that's a national pastime for the people of Britain. We love our football right enough, but rarely are we happier, somewhat paradoxically, than when we've got something to moan about. And referees and their assistants are popular targets for our ire.

Lack of Respect for Match Officials

Indeed, I'd go so far as to say that someone completely new to our culture watching a football match for the first time may think that the referee is actually there to be abused, such is the constant stream of vitriol aimed at him (or her, I must add) from not only both sets of fans but also the players and managers as well. Being a match official is a job that is not for the faint hearted - they will get abused. It's a fact of life.

Of course, the exception here is that Sian Massey is female, and it was implied in Gray and Keys' criticism that her gender was the cause of her failure. Of course, we can't have that. It's a popular gag, that women can never understand the offside rule, but to be perfectly honest, I don't know too many men these days who understand the damn thing fully. I'm man enough to admit that I can't recall off the top of my head exactly how it stands at the minute - they chop and change it so much that the old gag has lost its relevance.

That's not why Gray and Keys got what they deserved though. If every commentator who made a lame joke on TV was sacked we'd be listening to crowd noise (maybe we should introduce that ruling, thing about it). No, the real problem with this whole incident for me, and the reason why Gray and Keys showed themselves as no longer being up to the job, was that Sian Massey was absolutely 100% spot-on in her decision.

Fernando Torres was not offside. It was a perfectly legal goal. There was nothing wrong with it. It wasn't even really close. And when an Everton fan is saying that, you know it's true. So why on earth were Gray and Keys questioning the decision in the first place? Regardless of the gender of the linesman or lineswoman, if they get the decision right, you shouldn't be questioning it.

There's nothing more infuriating than watching a game of football on the telly and seeing a commentator stubbornly stick to their real-time judgment as TV replays prove them wrong. All it takes is for them to admit that in the flesh they got it wrong and that actually, the right decision was made. We won't think less of them for it, we'll actually admire them more and hate them less if they accept that they're human and they make mistakes.

Because it will also highlight the very difficult job that referees and match officials have. We all think we're experts and could do it with our eyes close but when you're out there and the games going a hundred miles an hour, it's not easy. And so we need to lay off referees and officials a bit. When they're wrong, give them some stick - that's never going to stop and it'll keep them on their toes. There's no harm in it (as long as common sense is used).

Praise Rarely Given

But when they're right, they have to be applauded. We can't have idiotic commentators trying to blindly preserve their professional pride by insisting beyond reasonable doubt that they were right and the official was wrong when it simply isn't the case, regardless of whether they offend an entire gender in the process. When referees make the right calls, we have to give them the credit they deserve. We have to encourage them.

Are Referees Becoming an Endangered Species?

Because I rarely meet anyone who wants to be a referee. I play football in Wellington and last season we had a referee for one match in the entire season - the Cup final. Otherwise, we had to ref ourselves. It's the same everywhere. Nobody wants to be a referee anymore - why would they? Who wants to have abuse routinely hurled at them? But that's a problem because football needs referees. There's nothing worse than playing football and having a member of one team refereeing the match. It doesn't work. And if we keep this up, we will start to have a serious problem. The standard of refereeing in the Premier League is quite poor. I don't think it's as good as it should be and I think too many mistakes are made. But it's a bloody pressure cooker environment to work in and when they're criticised even when they do something right it's no longer that they sometimes seem to give decisions according to popular opinion. We really have got to back the referees and give them a reason to make the right decisions. If they get abused either way, they'll take the easy way out every time.

And that's why I'm not sorry to see the back of Gray and Keys. I live in New Zealand and don't get the proper Sky coverage of the Premier League over here so I haven't listened to them in a few years but even back six years ago they were fast approaching a point where they had far too high an estimation of themselves. They felt that every word they spoke about football was gospel and was right. They were short-sighted when it came to certain players and they had their own agendas and ideas that they would not depart from.

Time to Show them the Door

From what I've heard, that development has only continued since I last saw them on air. And thus I was not surprised at the comments they made at the weekend. Of course they were wrong to joke about Sian Massey's gender. But the main thing that they did was to misrepresent the accuracy of her decision. She got the call absolutely right, but who'd know? All that's been reported is two commentators questioning her understanding of the offside rule and so the casual observer may assume she got it wrong.

And that's an injustice and is indicative of the way we treat referees in football. Of course they make mistakes and I deny no one the right to criticise them when they do. But when they get it right, lets emphasise that too. Let's make sure that they get the praise they deserve. For the sake of football at all levels, we need good referees and we need more referees. For that to happen we've got to treat them with some respect and with Andy Grey and Richard Keys off the TV, well, they might finally get a little.

About the Author

Adam Howard
is the founder of They Think It’s All Over…

Adam Howard Archive

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1 comment:

Steve Amoia said...

Adam, thank you for the excellent commentary.

We would have no games without referees. I would suggest that critics put a whistle around their necks, study the 17 laws of the game, and give it try. They would return with a much different perspective.

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