Gray times for Andy and Richard – Sky is the limit for female officials

We’ve all been there. A group of football fans crouched around a beautiful HD TV screen, worth about the GDP of Ireland in the 1970’s, arses barely touching the couch for 90 minutes. The opposition’s centre-midfielder slides a perfect ball through to one of his forwards, who slams it past the ‘keeper for a last-gasp winner. With the loudest noise that you’ve made since you stepped on that upturned plug with your bare feet, you join half of your mates in bellowing “OFFSIDE!”. A lone voice, disinterested until now, pipes up: “Er, what’s offside?” There’s a unison of groans and the next half an hour is wasted with hastily scribbled diagrams and frantic movement of the salt and pepper shakers. “You’re alright there Melanie” someone says, “the lino doesn’t know it either.”

Like most stereotypes, the notion that women don’t understand the offside rule has a tiny element of truth to it. Just like the assertion that the Irish are drunkards, or the Americans are overweight, or all men want is sex. Now, as surveys have shown, the Irish do drink more than most per capita, the Americans do weigh more than most on average, and men think about sex quite a lot. I’m sure if a survey was done on the offside rule, less women would be able to explain it than men. This is natural, as less women follow football than men.

But just as there’s sober Irishmen, fit Americans and cuddly, romantic men (my e-mail is available on request), there are quite a few women who do follow football, and therefore understand the offside rule. To suggest the proportion of women who properly follow football and don’t understand the offside rule is less than the equivalent proportion of men would be incorrect. “Melanie” doesn’t understand the rule because she doesn’t follow football. Not because she’s a woman. To suggest a woman who has been involved in refereeing for 10 years and was elevated to Premier League status due to her prodigious talent, doesn’t understand the offside rule would be as ridiculous as propositioning a woman 23 years your junior and about as out of your league as Manchester United are to Rushden & Diamonds. Andy Gray, take a bow son.

Fans of karma will note that, mere minutes after the comments by Andy Gray and Richard Keys of Sky Sports asserting that the appointment of Sian Massey to the Liverpool-Wolves game was a sign of “the game [going] mad” because “women don’t know the offside rule”, Massey nailed a tight offside call that in real time had many of the (mostly male) crowd screaming for offside.

No more smug laughing

Fans of decent presenting will note that with the resignation of the hyperbolic yet robotic Keys, possibly football’s biggest presenting slot is now available. Were Sky down-to-earth football-loving people, they would most likely select James Richardson, the former Channel Five and current Setanta Sports presenter – affable, hilarious and knowledgeable in equal measures. As it’s Sky, you should probably brace yourself for another Jamie Redknapp clone: easy on the eye, without ever really saying anything of note. Oh, and with literally no understanding of how to use the word literally. Then again, the Daily Mail reports that Gary Neville is set to take up the slot vacated by Andy Gray, and he isn’t exactly Matthew McConaughey in the beauty stakes. Or even Matthew Etherington.

Getting serious, the saga does pose a couple of ethical questions. Should television personalities be reprimanded for remarks that were intended in a private nature? And were the comments of Keys and Gray really any worse than the daily anti-men diatribes of ITV’s Loose Women? For me, the pair crossed the line when they called into question the ability of a professional to do her job. They demonstrated as little awareness of the off-mic rule (never treat a mic as off), as they were purporting Massey as having of the offside rule. They have a duty to the public of fairly and accurately summarising footballing events, and such ridiculous opinions, regardless of whether they were intended to be heard, cast doubt on their ability to do so.

Lineswoman Sian Massey

Perversely, women in football have emerged the winner from the scandal. A whole host of football personalities, such as England captain Rio Ferdinand, have blasted the “prehistoric” views, and the performance of Massey last Saturday stood in stark comparison to some of the abject calls we have seen from other officials recently. The next time she is appointed to a game, fans will be thinking “here’s someone who’s shown she can nail a call” and not anything Keys or Grey-esque. Not that many did anyway. There may have been a few murmours at the appointment of Massey and, before her, Wendy Toms as Premier League assistant referees, but not many had actually dismissed their ability to do the job properly. Not seriously anyway. The comments of Keys and Greys were as noteworthy for their isolation as their stupidity.

The sacking of Gray and the resignation of Keys demonstrates that such outdated views have no place in football. Judging by the reaction, the next person to harbour such thoughts, if there’s any left, will think twice. More women will be encouraged to join the game and more will therefore be appointed. Richard Keys and Andy Gray have ensured that women in football are here to stay. And, deliciously, it’s their worst nightmare.


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