I heard the on-air resignation of Dave Lee Travis in 1993, I had Radio 4 on in my kitchen when their presenters got Jeremy Hunt‘s surname wrong. Twice. They were gorgeous moments of aural splendour, but they were nothing compared to the breathless, runaway train crash that was Richard Keys defending himself on TalkSport. It takes two grown men the better part of a day to dig a grave. Keys managed it in less than an hour.
The timing was immaculate. Just as people were beginning to feel sorry for him and his partner in slime, Andy Gray, just at the tipping point between the righteous indignation of the British people and their natural inclination to back the underdog, Keys stepped in to send the scales crashing to the floor. If only he’d turned up, sat down, said sorry and then stopped talking, he might have gotten away with it. Gargh! If it hadn’t been for that meddling ego!
Everything was someone else’s fault. The fault of the press. The fault of ‘dark forces,’ the fault of those who knew that ‘success breeds envy.’ He lashed at out Rio Ferdinand, claiming that his sources had told him of far worse comments in the Manchester United dressing room. He poured scorn on the idea that he genuinely believed women had no place in football, putting his comments down to that awful word, ‘banter.’ He compared the leaked tapes to phone-tapping, he reminded us of the many women whose careers he had aided. He said that he was worried about Sian Massey and that’s why he praised her so much at half-time. He repeatedly apologised and repeatedly followed it up with more desperate self-justification.
This wasn’t ‘I’m sorry,‘ this was, ‘I’m sorry, but…’ It was frustrating to listen to. And yet we agreed on one thing.
When I saw a determined-looking Massey striding out of the tunnel at Molineux, I was worried as well. Don’t get me wrong. I read The Guardian, I’m partial to a good bowl of muesli, but I’m not so politically correct that the sight of a woman in a Premier League game doesn’t still catch my eye. Unless, of course, it’s Nani. I’m used to her now.
I wasn’t worried because I had pig-headedly assumed she’d just turned up from John Lewis, dropped her shopping bags and picked up the prettiest flag. She’s a qualified official, for Christ’s sake, she knows more about the offside rule than you and I combined. No, I was worried because I feared that any mistake she might make, and all referee’s assistants make at least one mistake a game, would be seized upon by the fans, the viewers and the media. I was worried because the bit of me that still opens doors for ladies and would never dream of saying Jeremy’s new surname in their company, feared for the way she‘d be treated. This, in itself, is probably sexist, but that‘s let’s not go down that road today. Anyway, I scribbled her name down (because I was writing a feature on the game for my employers, not because I’m creepy) and hoped that by the end of the match I’d be one of the few who could remember it. Didn’t quite work out like that, did it?
So let‘s get this out of the way. The comments about Massey were indefensible. If you’re the face of football and you’re caught expressing your belief that no woman can understand the offside law, you deserve to take a pasting. It wasn’t banter, it wasn’t ironic and I fail to see how, as Richard Keys so memorably claimed, that it was designed to calm debutant pundit Matt Murray. If vicious sexism is a sedative, what about any other kind of prejudice? How about nailing the gypsies next week? Will that slow the heart-rate?
The comments were dark, they were mean and they were desperately wide of the mark. What was even more shocking was that two men so influential in their industry could genuinely hold the view that women don’t understand it. There are more than enough first class female journalists and broadcasters out there to disprove that theory and, though the sight of a female official here is still rare, surely they know that it is commonplace elsewhere.
Andy Gray and Richard Keys should have been hauled over the coals, given a public bollocking, been forced to make a full and contrite apology and then been allowed to salvage what remained of their reputation. As Gareth Southgate said this week, the incident will actually boost the standing of women in football, so why not have them there as long-standing reminders that the game must be inclusive?
But Gray was taken down by other tapes, the release of which looks like an obvious hatchet job. Some of them weren’t even controversial. If it’s a sackable offence to stand with your mates and weigh up whether someone is sexually attractive or not then I’m first against the wall, I’m afraid. SmashGate, the brief, but impressively toe-curling footage of Keys discussing Jamie Redknapp’s ex-girlfriend, was nothing. If you leave four men in a room for long enough, they’ll say a lot worse than this. God knows I have.
The other tape, the Charlotte Jackson incident, was harder to judge. It could have been good-natured banter within the boundaries of a friendship. It could also have been sexual harassment. Before the TalkSport interview, there was no way to know. I was even beginning to feel sorry for Keys and Gray. Who was trying to destroy them? What did any of this have to do with their ability to do their job?
Keys’ simple comment, ’Charlotte can take care of herself,’ ended the argument at a stroke. That doesn’t sound like a friendship to me. That doesn’t sound like messing around with your mate at work. If someone alleges sexual harassment or bullying, you don’t pass it off by saying that they can handle it. With that one glib comment, it was all over. It has been reported that Keys and Gray are arrogant. After this, it was hard to argue.
Keys will lose his job. That much is inevitable now. He won’t lose it because he said mean things about Massey. He’ll lose it because he still doesn’t understand why what he did was wrong. He apologised for everything, even the things he didn’t need to apologise for, thereby cheapening the original sentiment. He tried to fight allegations of arrogance by being more arrogant. In attempting to destroy the story, he has succeeded only in making a much bigger story. Why did Sky let him do it? Perhaps, as journalist Dan Brennan suggested, they knew precisely how badly he’d screw it up. Perhaps they just wanted him to finish himself off.
There will be much celebration in the offices of TalkSport this evening. This was their finest hour and you’ll be able to hear corks popping from a ten mile radius. It won’t be the same at the Keys residence. The only thing that anyone should hear from there is the scratching of a pen on a letter of resignation.