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How are you, Premier League?

Skandal! Bei Liverpools 3:0-Sieg gegen die Wolves stand eine Frau an der Linie: Sian Massey machte ihr zweites Spiel in der Premier League. Die Kommentatoren waren außer sich – und Titus Chalk nach 90 Minuten auch. Titus Chalks England-Kolumne (23)imago images

»Who’s farted?«, said Sky Sports presenter Richard Keys to co-hosts Andy Gray and Ruud Gullit back in April, before protesting his innocence at the smell in the studio. That unguarded remark, which the presenter made when he thought he was off air, was accidentally broadcast to Dutch TV amid much laughter. The follow up this weekend though was far less funny and fouled up the air with a very unpleasant stench indeed.


During Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Wolves, both Keys and ex-striker Gray were caught off air insulting female assistant referee Sian Massey in her second-ever Premier League performance. A recording of the pair’s studio sniping was passed to the press and revealed their painfully unreconstructed attitude towards women.

»Why is there a female linesman? Somebody's fucked up big.«

The incident which drew their fire was a tight offside call for Liverpool’s first goal. Dirk Kuyt played a slide-rule pass to the excellent Raul Meireles who was bursting forward into the space behind the Wolves defence. Out-of-position Wolves defender Roland Zubar was playing Meireles just onside, and the Portuguese midfielder was able to slip a neat ball into the path of Fernando Torres for an easy finish. Wolves fans howled for offside and Keys and Grey up in the studio were aghast to see Massey, 25, not raise her flag:

Richard Keys: Well, somebody better get down there and explain offside to her.

Andy Gray: Yeah, I know. Can you believe that? Female linesman. Forget what I said – they probably don't know the offside rule.

RK: Course they don't.

AG: Why is there a female linesman? Somebody's fucked up big.

RK: I can guarantee you there'll be a big one today [a mistake]. Kenny [Dalglish, Liverpool's manager] will go potty. This is not the first time. Didn't we have one before?

AG: Yeah.

RK: Wendy Toms.

AG: Wendy Toms, something like that. She was fucking hopeless as well.

Massey though was completely correct – and besides, this disdainful exchange was not about her ability. Sky Sports’ top presenters decided she was unfit for the job based purely on her gender. Both Keys and Gray can be helpful and funny pundits, but their eagerness to judge based on bias rather the facts before them damages their reputation as »experts«. This was no ironic joke either as the audio clearly shows. Their prejudice, pure and simple, is unprofessional.

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Certainly, these remarks were made off air and many would argue therefore that punishing the presenters for a private conversation amounts to a gross injustice. That is not entirely correct though: both men knew they were sat in a studio wearing microphones, surrounded by a crew of hard-working colleagues, presumably mixed in gender, busy doing their jobs in the vast collective effort required to put their famous faces on television. What Keys and Gray did is essentially to start mouthing off inappropriately at ‘the office’. No wonder a disgruntled colleague took offence and went public with their sexist remarks. A discriminatory workplace should not have to be tolerated by anyone in the 21st century.

Suspended from covering a Premier League match

It was interesting then to see Sky Sports’ reaction on Sunday evening, one that many will have found inadequate (not least Sian Massey and any women amongst Sky Sports’ five million subscribers): »The comments were not acceptable«, Sky Sports said. »We have spoken to Andy and Richard and told them our views and they have apologized and expressed regret.« The star presenters themselves issued no apology, and only after growing public pressure on Monday were they suspended from covering that evening’s match between Chelsea and Bolton.

Compared to the aftermath of the Ron Atkinson affair in 2004, that punishment remains small beer. After analyzing a Chelsea match for ITV (a terrestrial UK channel), the former Manchester United manager disgraced himself in an unguarded aside that was accidentally broadcast to an audience watching in the Middle East. »Marcel Desailly«, said Atkinson, »is what some people would call a lazy, thick nigger.« He was swiftly sacked and ostracized by most other media.

How to deal with the Premier League presenting duo?

With that precedent in the public’s mind, Sky Sports now face an uncomfortable decision on how to deal with their premier presenting duo.  Anything less than sacking (when considered alongside Ron Atkinson’s fate) would make the channel look like apologists for prejudice, a label they are unlikely to relish. The choice of firing their stalwart football anchors though is hardly any more appetizing.

Besides, who would replace them? However much society at wide has changed since Gray and Keys first graced our screens 20-odd years ago, football does not seem to have adjusted its attitudes so much that the next generation of pundits will be any more enlightened.

Some players’ treatment of women, if the many stories are to be believed, has degenerated largely into one long pornographic romp. Their wives meanwhile are often pneumatic bimbos who make impoverished role-models for girls. And machismo still rules the sport supreme: just ask any player who likes to read books rather than have them ghost-written. Or who, heaven forbid, is gay.

But when players are hermetically sealed into an adolescent world at the age of 17, with a multimillion contract safe-guarding them against reality and responsibility, it is hardly surprising that they go on to nurture childish opinions long into what the rest of us call adulthood. However well media-trained and less gaffe-prone players are becoming, there will almost certainly be more dinosaurs.

853 female Referees in England

That makes Sian Massey’s job harder – but all the more important. She is one of three female officials to have been promoted to the Premier League’s ranks and together with her female colleagues can challenge attitudes within the game. For all its numerous other sins, the FA deserves credit for encouraging women officials into the game in increasing numbers (there are now 853 female referees in England) and standing by them in the face of sexism. Though Frauenfußball in Germany is well established, are the DFB doing the same thing or does Bibiana Steinhaus remain a lone example? Similarly, what would happen if two German presenters made the same remarks, which on the face of it seem far more serious than a »Reichsparteitag« slip up? Women who love football deserve better all around Europe.

Die Titus-Fussballing-Eng-zyklopädie
An dieser Stelle erklärt Titus Chalk die englische Fußball-Kultur auf Deutsch

Folge 23: Dude, where’s my car?
Ach, wer macht das nicht? Seine Schlüssel, Handschuhe, oder sein Handy zu vergessen. Stellt euch vor, wie viel harter es noch wäre, alles seine Dinge sich zu erinnern, wenn Man ein Profi-fussballer wie Jermaine Pennant wäre. Der verwirrte Winger, der vorerst von Zaragoza an Stoke ausgeliehen worden ist, hat scheinbar ein Porsche in Spanien vergessen. Die Spanische Polizei haben das Luxus-Auto beim Bahnhof verlassen aufgefunden, mit seinem Zündschlüssel noch auf dem Fahrsitz. Natürlich, hat Pennants Agent geleugnet, dass einen obszön reichen Lebemann so achtlos sein könnte. Aber das Autokennzeichen hat das Mysterium verratet: »P33NNT«. Ey Mann, wo is’ dein Gehirn?