Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Gray Skies: Weekend Observations 22nd-24th January 2011: Part Two

The main controversy from the weekend came on Saturday as Kenny Dalglish's first win as Liverpool boss and an apparent return to goal scoring form for Fernando Torres was overshadowed by the offside law, the presence of oestrogen and careless disregard for the positioning of recording equipment.

By now, I'm sure we've all heard or at least heard about the conversation between Sky Sports' own Chuckle Brothers went all Gordon Brown and said something sexist about a woman lino when they thought their mics were off.

The fallout has seen Andy Gray lose his job. A sad day for fans of crazy electronic touch screen football analysis.

Apparently, women need the offside rule explained to them because according to Keys and Gray, they don't understand it and are likely to get the big calls wrong.
The irony being that there was a big offside call in the game and Kenny didn't "go potty" because it worked in his favour and, if you can believe it, little Sian Massey got the decision right! Bless her...

Offensive? Yes. Outdated? Of course. Surprising? Well, not at all really. While we have reached a point in society where we rightly promote equality among the sexes let's not pretend that that we've reached some sort of utopia of gender equilibrium. Football, like the majority of popular sports the world over is disproportionately male dominated. This kind of 'banter' is exactly what you will hear in changing rooms, boardrooms and in the stands week in, week out. Only recently has the women's game started to attain something resembling recognition but it is still very much a man's world where sexism will be rife. Is it really any wonder that messes Gray and Keys continue to hold these attitudes?

While they may not have expressed it in such a derogatory way, many people, of both genders, followers and non-followers of the game alike would raise an eyebrow when they hear that a female official is set to be involved in a high profile match. Not because of any underlying prejudice/sexism but because it's against the norm. It's natural to question whether someone who you perceive to be unfamiliar with a particular role is capable of doing the job properly. Football as whole is often resistant to any suggested 'non-traditional' changes. A case more of Institutionalised conservativism (small c) than discrimination.

Keys and Gray appear to have crossed the line, however. But just as the comments by the Sky duo were reprehensible, there is a risk from the other side of falling into a trap of being patronising and condescending which, for me, can be just as offensive. People have been quick to heap heavy praise on Massey for making the right decision but looking at the replays, it was not a hard call to make. People shouldn't go overboard. Drawing unnecessary attention, positive or negative, simply undermines her. Just let her do her job.

Back to Keys and Gray. As much as they would like to suggest any sort of non-offensive light hearted motives behind their comments, they are the two men who have been at the forefront of promoting the modern game and so they ought to know better. Don't tell me to get excited about Stoke v Blackburn with hours of build-up, needless over-hyped nonsense from pundits who fail to grasp basic English language skills *cough* Jamie Redknapp *cough, cough* and then say that "the game has gone mad" just because someone who sits down to piss has managed to infiltrate the 'Old Boys' Club.

The initail fallout saw the pair removed from our screens for this week's Monday Night Football encounter between Bolton and Chelsea before the news of Gray's sacking on Tuesday afternoon. As had been rightly pointed out, had these been racist or even homophobic comments, there would have been shown the door fast than you can say "Do me a favour, love".

People need to decide what they are more pissed off about; the fact what was said was sexist or because they were factually incorrect? The motives behind the comments might have actually held some weight if Massey's male counterparts were actually good at their job. As matter of principle, I feel it my duty as someone who watches far more football than is healthy, to point out the frequency with which existing, vaginally-challenged officials get decisions wrong. Not a week goes by without a mass debate about the bastards in black making mistakes.

For me, I don't care what gender they are because penis or no penis, they a likely to be as incompetent as each other. If Andy Gray or anyone who has an issue with the sex of a ref can find a woman who is worse than Chris Foy then I might listen to their views.

In fact, why not replace them all with women? Most of the current mob aren't fit for purpose anyway and with women enforcing the laws you'd probably bring a stop to all the foul-mouthed abuse from the likes of Wayne Rooney that the current officials rarely see fit to punish.


Liverpool looked a far more adventurous and expressive side in the game so maybe the fabled 'Kenny effect' is having its desired impact. Raul Meireles' sublime strike for the reds' second goal was a prime example. Previously, you would imagine only two players in the team would even dare try that shot. A better and encouraging performance from them.

After the loss of Darren Bent and injury ruling out Danny Welbeck, you'd have to think only Andy Coulson had a worse few days than Sunderland did last week but things ended on a high thanks to a 2-1 win over Blackpool at Bloomfield Road.

Like Hull before them, a fantastic early start might just see Blackpool stay up this season but recently, their obvious limitations are coming to the fore and with just one league win and four defeats in 5 matches since the turn of the year, Ian Holloway's team may soon find themselves dragged into a relegation dogfight against a load of teams far more experienced when faced with such a battle.

Their poor form has been largely ignored thanks mainly to news of vultures circling over Lancashire looking to snatch a Charlie Adam shaped carcass. As it stands, the tangerines' star player has handed in a transfer request which the club has turned down. For many, this isn't quite Wayne Rooney or Carlos Tevez but the impact that would be felt by Blackpool if they were to lose their man would be far greater than if the aforementioned pair were to leave City or United respectively.

For now, they remain in a fairly comfortable midtable spot three points behind a Blackburn side that disappointed me this week by not doing anything bonkers... what's that you say? A two year contract for untried and inexperienced initially-only-intended-to-keep-the-seat-warm manager Steve Kean? Nevermind.

In fairness, Rovers did manage to pick up a pretty useful 2-0 win over West Brom thanks in part to another quality own goal, a screamer from young pup Junior Hoilett, and a dodgy decision from the officials who failed the award Peter Odimwinge one of the most nailed on penalties you are ever likely to see at any level of football.

"Someone should got down there and explain the rules about fouls to Clattenburg"

As clear as it is that Kean is literally doing nothing that Sam Allardyce wouldn't have, isn't it funny to see how unhappy the Walrus is looking these days? The simmering tension between him and fellow pundit Ian Holloway on Sky after the game when asked about their respective styles of play was just a joy to behold. Ollie preached on about the importance of entertaining - which admittedly may well prove to be his downfall - while Big Sam talked about 'playing to your strengths'. Any poor soul who has ever had the misfortune to sit through 90 minutes of watching his teams play "football", would know that this translates into hitting it long to the big man up top and kicking anyone who is better than you.

On a similar subject, one of this season's less interesting subplots has involved two angry Welshmen who have spent the last few months publically bickering over tackling. For those that care, it began when Fulham's Moussa Dembele was hacked into next week by Stoke's Andy Wilkinson back in September's Carling Cup match between the two sides. This led to an angry, dismissive handshake by Fulham boss Mark Hughes to Stoke boss Tony Pulis. Fulham midfielder Danny Murphy then suggested that Pulis - among others - consciously send players out to go in too physically on opponents. His comments were greeted with scorn and widespread condemnation from the same backward thinkers of the game who probably still think that women don't understand the offside law...

3 weeks ago, Pulis returned the angry handshake to Hughes after Stoke were beaten at home by the Whites. The sides met again this week at Craven Cottage where there was yet more controversy as Fulham were awarded a penalty which saw thug-in-chief Ryan Shawcross sent off and the home side eventually run out comfortable 2-0 winners. Of course, the two managers saw the incident differently to continue the perceived bad feeling between the clubs.

Ok, Hughes actually squashed the beef after the game but forgive me for trying to get myself excited at the prospect of a huge heated and more improtantly, new rivalry developing between two of the league's most unfashionable sides. Would keep things interesting, right?

You could even have a woman ref their grudge matches...

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