I grew up watching Andy Gray play football, and distinctly remember his big-hair-phase photo from the ’81 Panini album. Then he went into the ‘boot room’ at Sky Sports, and made a respectable career for himself. I actually liked him.
I also grew up watching Ron Atkinson haul his heavy weight along the gantry walkways at Derby County to take up his commentary position on the match days that were televised. Ron was an early hero of mine at Manchester United – I still have the ’85 Cup Final programme that symbolises what was perhaps his finest hour. I actually quite liked him too.
Gray and Atkinson worked together rather well at Aston Villa, Gray being coach under Atkinson’s management tenure. They produced attractive football. There was a lot to like about it.
What else to Gray and Atkinson have in common? Well, Atkinson’s post-football media career went up in smoke in 2004 when he disclosed his racist streak on air, not realising his microphone was switched on. I won’t repeat what he said – it’s easy enough to find – but he was rightly banished to obscurity for the ridiculousness of his insult. Gray, just last week, was fired from Sky for a combination of comments of a retrograde and unwarranted sexist nature, also recorded when he thought his microphone was switched off. Again, no need to report what was said, but only to point out that the female referee’s assistant to whom the jibes were directed got the big decisions right on game night and made the chauvinists look like complete idiots.
It’s all very bad for the game and makes one wonder whether anything has really changed out there. In general, the FA has done a good and high-profile job of kicking racism out of football, and so far as I can tell it has been making a real effort to do the same for chauvinism of late. Things like this really taint that effort, and it’s such a shame. I have a feeling that for Gray, much like for Atkinson, the comments made were an expression of what it means to ‘be a man’; I would style it, ‘being a macho idiot’. If there is anything this blog does consistently it is to call out the disjuncture between manliness and being a moron; the distance between the finer points of the masculine disposition and the knuckle-headed attitudes of those who would wield clubs and grunt. Gray and Atkinson got what they deserved. If our heroes are revealed to be so deeply flawed we should not be disappointed, but grateful for the insight.
For my part, it’s just another nail in the coffin wherein I have lain football. May it find some peace.