Off-air remarks become news of the world

Wed, Jan 26, 2011, 00:00

Opinion:The covert recordings showed it was Andy Gray’s career that deserved to be shot

ANDY GRAY would, most probably, have weathered the storm until, mysteriously enough, that 12-second video popped up on a brand new YouTube account yesterday, and those 12 seconds proved enough to end his career with Sky Sports.

The sight of a 55-year-old father of five – three of them girls, incidentally – chuckling heartily as he asked a female colleague to tuck in his microphone, his hand over his crotch just to guide her to his preferred location, was, they concluded, a bit too much.

Back in the day when he was affectionately dubbed “Randy Andy”, for his energetic off-the-field activity, that carry-on would have been regarded as fine and dandy, but the times have changed, even if Gray hasn’t. His “unacceptable and offensive behaviour”, then, brought the final whistle on a contract that earned him €1.5 million a year.

Schoolboy error.

What was most notable in the video was how a giggling Richard Keys seemed unfazed by the scene, which could only lead you to conclude that it was a common enough occurrence when Sky’s football team got together. The woman, Charlotte Jackson, ignored Gray, like it was just another day at the Sky Sports office.

As an aside to the affair, a chin or two was scratched in puzzlement yesterday when the video came to light, similar to the curiosity on Monday about Sky News’ decision to show, repeatedly, a clip of Gray’s “banter” on Saturday with reporter Andy Burton – now suspended.

Their exchange about official Sian Massey, before the Wolves versus Liverpool game on Saturday, had been an off-air chat, so would never have emerged if Sky News hadn’t opted to show it.

So, why did Sky News needlessly broadcast a clip so damaging to Gray? And who recorded Saturday’s exchange between Gray and Keys and passed it on to a newspaper? And who posted yesterday’s video, recorded in December, on YouTube? Could, the chin-scratchers wondered, there possibly have been any connection to the news, less than a week before, that Gray was starting legal proceedings against the News of the World(owned by Rupert Murdoch) as part of the phone-hacking scandal? Sky News (partially owned by Rupert Murdoch) didn’t allude to this allegation, but the Sun(owned by Rupert Murdoch) did, suggesting that relations between Sky News and Sky Sports (partially owned by Rupert Murdoch) were now less than warm after the clips were aired.

Gray, then, could well be caught up in a game where the rules are considerably more complicated than offside, but that’s by the by, a whole other issue. However sneaky the messenger might have been, the covert recordings simply showed that it was Gray’s career that deserved to be shot.

And whoever clicked the record button evidently was certain there’d be rich pickings once the Scot and his sidekick began pouring forth.

Back in 2004 Gray came to Dublin to promote his autobiography, doing a string of interviews during his visit. An amiable and thoughtful fella he was too, as he sat in the Shelbourne Hotel chatting about his life.

Granted, he had a book to sell, so he was hardly going to be obnoxious, but there was a bit more substance to the fella that all those tabloid tales had suggested, not least the one about him having two sons called Jamie with two different women in the space of four months. Now, that’s what you call a complicated life.

Unlike many footballers turned pundits you get to meet, who seem to have as much genuine affection for the game as most of us do for the Universal Social Charge, he still loved football to its core.

He talked about the misery that was the end of his playing career, how amazed he was that more players didn’t take the “ultimate choice” and end their lives when they were told “sorry, your contract’s not being renewed”.

Television, he insisted, didn’t even come close to replacing those days, but it was as near as he could get to re-enacting them. He missed the dressingroom banter, the camaraderie, he as good as admitted he’d never really grown up.

And with that he was off, back to work with the Sky Sports crew. Back in to his make-do dressingroom where boys could be boys, where team-mate Keys and the rest could egg each other on, trying to outdo each other with their laddish banter.

And that’s exactly what he and Keys were doing in their Saturday exchange, trying to impress each other by spewing ridicule and contempt all over Sian Massey. A nasty edge there was to it too, with no thought for how hurtful their comments were. They might be grown men, but they never grew up.