When I delve into the back catalogue of my footballing sub conscious to remember some of my most cherished viewing memories of the past 20 years, two voices are permanently etched into the audio feed of my imagination. These voices were there to witness and comment on some of world football’s most awe inspiring moments. From the watching magic unfold in the Premier League, to outings abroad in European matches and international tournaments. For nearly 20 years they spearheaded the most dominant force in British sports television. It was only until recently, more precisely over eight months ago, that they were dethroned from their seemingly untouchable status in the Sky Sports empire. They are of course, Richard Keys and Andy Gray.
After initially hearing the news back in January 2011 that the pair would be relinquished of their duties as anchor and analyst respectively, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of disbelief. Surely this was some form of practical joke. Sky Sports marking their 20 year anniversary as Britain’s preeminent football broadcaster by sacking two of the most influential members of their team? It became immediately evident however, that this was no laughing matter.
Keys and Gray had been caught making off air sexist remarks about female lineswoman Sian Massey in the run up to her performance on the touchline at Molineux as Wolverhampton Wanderers hosted Liverpool back in January. Their controversial claim that ‘women don’t know the offside rule’, backed up by other recorded rantings about Massey on the day, were perhaps enough to catalyse the downfall of the two. But there was more. Days later further incriminating footage was unveiled by the press, revealing further sexist remarks by Richard and Andy, this time aimed at Sky Sports News co-worker Charlotte Jackson and pundit Jamie Redknapp’s ex-girlfriend Louise Glass.
In a matter of days the consequences of their actions had spread like wildfire and their previously uncontested roles as the bastions of Sky Sports had been tarnished. Being a devout Sky Sports viewer since childhood, I was extremely disappointed. Of course once the news sank in, I was not so naive to be that astonished by the prospect of two old men (one an ex-pro) having what the modern day youth would describe as ‘a bit of banter’. Yet in this day and age, that sort of ‘banter’ on television will not be stood for by television producers and the politically correct audiences of 2011.
Back in January when the initial story broke, I along with many other ardent Sky Sports customers pondered over the future of football presentation on the channel. Who would fill the gaping chasm left by the two former stalwarts? With hindsight, their departures over eight months ago may not have proved as detrimental as initial forecasters thought.
The traditional anchor role that Mr. Keys had made his own was initially taken up to a large extent by David Jones and Ed Chamberlin. They have proven more than capable of manning the fort on a weekly basis, rather than their previous stints on Carling Cup weeknights and lower league fodder. Their reputable abilities in governing a debate and allowing it to flow, as well as their command of respect from the pundits around them, have shown just why producers had little hesitation in giving them the opportunity they deserved, rather than turning to a bigger name of the game.
Another man who is by no means new to the ears of Sky Sports viewers is ex-Arsenal talisman Alan Smith. Smith had figured quite prominently during the Keys-Gray era, often alongside the ever present Martin Tyler as analyst. Naturally after the incident his stock rose exponentially. Although the ex-gunner’s thick, brummy accent may not appeal to all, it is hard to contest his shrewd assessments and comments during crucial games. Furthermore his experiences as a player, with over 450 appearances at the top level of English football make him a trustworthy appointment.
Smith’s growing inclusion has also paved the way for Martin Tyler to acquire the dominant role as the voice of Premier league commentary. Whereas a few years ago Gray and Tyler shared an almost telepathic understanding and rapport on air, over recent years their appeal as a pair had waned. One could regularly be found plying their trade on a Sunday afternoon without the other. Hence the termination of Gray’s contract has allowed a shift in focus onto Tyler, and rightfully so. His magnificent ability to define a moment so rhythmically and in such few words proves his priceless status as the father figure of the Sky Sports commentary roster.
Perhaps the most ingenious yet unlikely newcomer to our television screens over the past few months, has been the inclusion of Manchester United legend Gary Neville. Fresh off the back of his retirement, Neville wasted no time in cementing his place amongst the punditry big wigs of Jamie Redknapp and co. After brief stints towards the back end of last season, Neville began the 2011/2012 campaign as the dominant voice on Monday Night Football, as well as Sky Sports main weekend event ‘Ford Super Sunday’. His brutal honesty and realistic viewpoints have been refreshing, even if his gravelly Manchester accent has not. Furthermore his lack of bias, something many believed could be an issue due to his devout red allegiances, have earned him even greater appraisal.
So with Sky Sports seemingly in such a healthy state these days, what now of the exiled pair who once ran proceedings? Fortunately for the two, their role in football and sport related debate has not been entirely tarnished as such. Shortly after the episode, Keys and Gray were offered their own weekday radio talk show on one of Britain’s most listened to sports stations, Talksport. Listeners of their 10 til 1 slot can enjoy an assortment of high profile guests ranging from ex-pros, current players and respected journalists, not to mention the two hosts themselves. It may seem like a step down (and it is), but the ostracized duo should count themselves lucky that the sports-media world has not totally blacklisted them from any further proceedings.
Today's viewers may now be without Richard Key’s dodgy suit jackets and Andy Gray's immortal one liners, but they will be able to witness the dawn of a new era. This new look face of Sky Sports punditry could act as a springboard for the future of football broadcasting well into the next decade.
Indeed these are exciting times to be a Sky Sports viewer. To quote the legend Mr. Gray himself as Steven Gerrard rifled home Liverpool’s crucial 3rd goal against Olympiakos in 2005, ‘you don’t need me to explain that.’
Well Andy, perhaps this time we actually don’t.
Well written but not much else to say. They deserved to be punished and their actions made their positions untenable. I was fed up of hearing Andy Gray's narrow minded opinions too, I mean, how many times can one man condemn zonal marking without addressing the facts that teams that employ it generally have a better defensive record? Or never condemning a man-to-man marking side when they concede a goal?
However, Andy Gray gave some of the best sound clips we have heard such as the one above and 'take a bow son, take a bow'.
Maybe that is true but a company such as Sky Sports can't afford to have people like this, it would effect their viewing figures since a lot of people would refuse to listen to them. IMO, an apology and fine would have suffice but totally understand Sky Sports' stance.