Jan 272011

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, or indeed watching Sky Sports News, where they valiantly pretended the story wasn’t going on around them, you may have heard about the spot of bother Richard Keys and Andy Gray got themselves into, going all 1950s alpha male by slagging off the ‘state of football today’ for daring to employ a female lineswoman (who, incidentally, was excellent), while ‘hilariously’ joking about how she would need to be taught the offside rule, being, you know, a woman, and therefore incapable of understanding some complexities. Seriously, these guys missed their calling in stand-up. Don’t give up the day job….oh.

That they no longer have jobs at Sky has less to do with the incident that started the furore (the type of which would normally result in a slapped wrist), and more to do with the fact that they were almost universally disliked within the organisation they worked in. Subsequent leaked videos proved that the ‘joke’ was anything but a one off, and the lack of support from a company that usually rallies around its most esteemed employees was extremely telling. Never was this plainer than yesterday, when Keys went on Talksport and proceeded to commit career suicide with the worst of attempted apologies. That Sky deemed it unnecessary to aid their presenter with prepared material was akin to giving himself the rope with which to hang himself. Keys resigned later that day.

Gray, on that other hand, had already been sacked, and is considering legal action, which he will certainly win. Don’t get me wrong, I have no sympathy for either of them – their smug arrogance belied their own feelings of self-importance, and they had almost become parodies of themselves, their catchphrases (“Take a bow, son”, and “and it’s LIVE”) grating more with every passing week. But from a legal perspective, Gray’s is an open and shut case. He was warned about his future conduct after this week’s incident, and then sacked when it transpired he had done it before. However, you cannot fire someone for not heeding a warning when the second act occurred before the warning was received. It simply will not stand up in court.

It is precisely the same reason why referees cannot give a player two yellow cards in the same incident, no matter how many bookable offences they commit. Ever wonder why when player A hacks player B down, and then they square up to each other, the referee gives them equal punishment of a yellow card? Logic suggests that if B was booked for the squaring up, so should A, and given the booking he received for the original foul, he should be off, but it doesn’t work that way. A yellow card is a warning as to the player’s future behaviour, and a second yellow card comes when that warning is not heeded. The second card cannot be earned before the first has been officially given. In the legal sense, Gray hasn’t had the chance to heed the warning – he has been sent off for a foul he committed off the ball half an hour earlier, that the referee has just seen on the big screen.

The football world has gone into righteous indignation mode, with Henry Winter, the man who loves a bandwagon, leading the charge, tweeting over and over that he had written an article on the subject, as if we hadn’t noticed the first one and ignored it. The only surprise is that he resisted mentioning Henry’s handball somewhere in his piece, such is his inability to let things go. But while the faux surprise that sexism is rife in the Sky Sports studios has been nauseating, it has served a greater purpose – that sort of behaviour has no place in any workplace, and for it to be highlighted can only be a good thing.

Football does, however, have a habit of picking one evil, making a massive fuss over it for a week or so before going back to pretending there are no others to sort out. But while sexism is certainly an excellent problem to tackle, it is far from the only one. It isn’t even close to being the only prevalent form of discrimination that would be condemned in a ‘normal’ environment, yet is openly accepted in the alternative reality of football. I am referring in particular to xenophobia, which is both rife and legitimised.

During the first half of the Arsenal-Ipswich Carling Cup semi final on Tuesday night, Cesc Fabregas dived. It was a pretty poor attempt to win a penalty, and I expected him to be rounded on at half time. He was, but one line used by Alan Hansen struck a chord:

“These continentals have brought us great football, but they’ve also brought us diving.”

It was said brazenly, and raised no eyebrows in the studio. “These continentals” was used as a term presumably to represent all foreigners who have ‘corrupted the English game with their cheating ways’. Cesc was included in that ludicrously sweeping bracketing of nations, despite having barely broken into our first team by the time Wayne Rooney was diving to win United the penalty that ended our unbeaten run in 2004/5. Any corruption of the apparently previously squeaky clean game had occurred long before the Spaniard had come along.

That foreign players brought diving to the English game is a fallacy that the English media, players and pundits like to promote. It dates back to World Cup 90, the first time it became a real issue in our national papers, largely because the offences were being committed on the grandest stage. Klinnsmann was making a name for himself as a theatrical cheat during West Germany’s triumphant run, never more so than against Argentina, when his histrionics ensured Pedro Monzon became the first player to see red in a World Cup final.

Four years later, Klinnsman became one of the most high profile foreign players in the English game when he joined Spurs, becoming one of the early adopters of the Premier League’s rise to prominence. He was still best known for his playacting, a fact he showed himself aware of with his self-deprecating celebrations. Despite curtailing that activity before he even arrived in the country, he was perhaps the first to be labelled as ‘the cheating foreigner who will corrupt our honourable game’. That stigma has never left those coming to these shores, and neither has the country’s distrust of foreigners subsided.

Football, as a global sport, is now richer, more powerful and more greedy than ever before. Prizes for success are astronomical, and with that certain moralities have dissipated – the agent is now the corrupting voice in the ear, contracts are there to be broken at will, and diving to win a crucial penalty is seen as an acceptable risk. None of that is due to having more foreigners in the English game – it has far more to do with the greater rewards and consequences of success and failure.

To say that foreigners are the purveyors of diving and the only perpetrators is at best, laughably myopic and at worst, obscenely xenophobic and offensive. Steven Gerrard, a man adored by the very same Hansen who apparently abhors diving, will tell all and sundry how he tells his new foreign teammates that simulation is not accepted in the English game, only to do his best starfish impression the very next week. And he is not alone. Rooney is a persistent offender, while the likes of Ashley Young throw themselves to the turf at every occasion. Going back further in time, I don’t remember too many people complaining at how easily Michael Owen went to ground winning a penalty against Argentina in the World Cup.

Foreigners did not bring diving to the English game – it was an inevitability that came about by itself. To suggest that if we hadn’t imported Europe’s best talent then we would have avoided the problem is a laughable piece of self-denial. The game has exploded into a multi-billion pound industry, and with that comes cynicism and the desire to win at all costs.

Hansen, along with many other pundits and papers (particularly the openly racist yet strangely untouchable Daily Mail) will continue to blame foreign players for every woe in football. But not only are they misguided in the extreme, they are promoting an opinion that is every bit as outdated and objectionable as those that saw Keys and Gray ousted.

  37 Responses to “After the sexism row, can we now do something about the xenophobia?”

  1. Excellent read

  2. Sky gettin rid of Gray seems more to do with his law suit against thenews of the screws really! Him and Keys are odious smug gits and I am glad they are gone, but it doesnt change the fact that Sky still employ ignorant old pros like fat sam alladyce, while the BBC still seem happy to pay hansen and lawrenson for their illogical, out moded bitter views.

    Apparantly Franny Lee and Rodney marsh were diving to win penalties back in the 70s.

    Great article by the way.

    • Yeah, diving’s not a new thing in any way, but is naturally far more exposed these days.

      As for the coverage, all the major channels need to freshen up. It is an old boys clubs across the board, but the trouble with that is they base their opinions on the era they played in, rather than the present day.

  3. Great article. Some of the racist and homophobic rubbish that the media (as you said, particularly the Daily Mail) get away with is incredible. It exists in quite subtle ways sometimes, and I found the recent bashing of foreign players wearing snoods quite pathetic; English players were wearing them too, but more importantly, why the hell does it matter? The Daily Mail were calling them girls, tarts, wimps, pansies and all sorts. It’s a disgrace.

    • Agreed entirely on the snood thing – it became a symbol of ‘weak foreigners’ when actually it is simply sensible regulating of body temperatures by people used to warmer climates. Quite sensible when you think about it.

      Lawrenson is the worst for that sort of thing, constantly harking back to the ‘glory days’ where everyone wore short sleeves and kicked lumps out of each other. Don’t expect him to accept that the standard and speed of the game is better now. I’m not knocking the standard of the game then, just stating that times have changed.

  4. Its about time something was done about the blatant xenophobia that’s been spouted by the so called football experts like the Muppet Alan Hansen.

  5. You mentioned Cesc and it was interesting to see Lineker mention the Ipswich were a long ball rugby playing team comments that were attributed to cesc when he said no such thing. Just as that hack in the London Evening Standard wrote a long piece on those comments as if they were true as well.

    It is scandalous that so called journalists can perpetuate bullshit and lies, really. It is sad that the very 1st thought a hack has is to put words into someones mouth to create a story where none exists.

    • Yeah, I noticed that too. I read the same article, looking for quotes that backed up the inflammatory headline, but found none.

      Sadly, it is the press stooping to the depths of gutter sites that produce the most attention-grabbing headline they can, irrespective of the relevance to the article’s content. Instead of competing on quality, some papers think that they have to match that style to compete.

  6. Agreed.

    I remember Trevor Francis was banging on about problem foreigners too. Saw him on a show with Roberto Martinez and said something along the lines of “English lads are honest, only foreigners dive”. Bobby looked stunned.

    There are voices of dissent within the company, but I’m sure they’re being diluted as it’s one big old boys club. We’re being fed a product, especially from sky, that is out of date and has nothing but contempt for the customer and obviously, football as a sport. There was a good article in the guardian about how this would be a great opportunity to usher in a more enlightened look at the game, but it won’t happen.

    The racism comes across subtley at times, but you can feel it. Whether its the quick jumping-on of people like Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Theo Walcott, to the fawning over, the Terry’s, Gerrard’s, Johnson’s. There seems to be a collective feeling in the media that certain players are untouchable and that, especially on sky and the bbc, they seem scared of upsetting their “mates”. There’s an insiders’ group and an outsiders’. Ever feel like Sol Campbell and other brilliant footballers of colour, from england, arent looked upon in quite the same way?

    I’ll go one step further and say there is an element of racism and xenophobia from the ref’s too. If you don’t see it, there’s no way I can convince you, but I’m sure we see how certain players are let off, and others arent.

    All these apologists and idiots are ruining my enjoyment of football.

    • There is certainly a massive old boys club in football, and I completely agree that certain players get off very lightly because of their profile. Gerrard is top of that list.

      Anyone who claims that English players don’t dive and foreigners do instantly goes down a few notches in my book.

      Not sure about the skin colour issue though – 15 years ago I certainly would agree, but I think that has been mostly eradicated (more so in England than in certain countries, particularly Italy). I think Walcott’s suffering has more to do with his early elevation to the England team and Hansen’s dislike of all things Arsenal.

      • I agree, it’s not something so apparent (skin colour), but it’s a general feeling I get. Take, for example the lack of Black players on the England legends dvd. The subtle things like, if he’s a tall black player, he’s the next PV4. White players are often seen as able to play inteligent roles in games, whereas black players are the athletes. These remarks are sometimes unnoticed, but I think there’s a general laziness throughout the game, and an ignorance from these people. I think refs see, sometimes a big black “athletic type” go into a challenge, and they wince and give a decision. Off the top of my head, Howard Webb sending off Adebayor for nothing against pool. Was that racist? Why were we so shocked to see Shearer get sent off against Taylor? Why are there so few Black refs/managers. You could easily argue Im talking out of my arse :P But I think thats something we shouldnt rule out. In every organisation it should be seen as a possibility, from the police, to office hierachy. Why does it occur? Is it concious? Its all hard to analyse. Maybe I’m being unreasonable.

        Even take Balotelli, being told by Mourinho to basically suck it up, regarding the racist abuse, to sort out his head. I think its too easy to think racial sterotyping and apologists for racism in football is dead, even in this country too. Far too many in high positions are happy to sweep it under the carpet too.

        I’d like to see some real accountability, rather than the scapegoating of a few, and everyone behind the scenes in football is responsible. Its a shame that a game of football can be so rotten.

    • I remember Jimmy Greaves saying that he had a problem with black players because they were lazy.

      I remember Des Lynam not saying a single word to condemn the blatant racism (and bananas) thrown at John Barnes during a match at West Ham.

      I remember David Mellor call a player a “pineapple head” on radio, John Motson saying he couldn’t tell between one black player and the next, Alan Green … well, where do you start with Alan Green.

      The point about doing something about xenophobia is that its origins lay in racism and there the bar for condemnation and reaction is still set appalingly low.

  7. Brilliant read. Thankyou.

  8. Beautiful groan… Beautiful post.. thanks..

  9. Check the stats the the number of Whit Vs non-white players getting cards in the Premier League years. You will be quite amazed at how a disproportionate number of non-whites get cards.

  10. Grays comments were not just offensive- they were stupid, being unevidenced and based entirely on prejudice. Keys was just doing what he has always done- sucking up to celebrity footballers- by intellectually bringing himself down to their level.

    I do have to ask though are their views a typical of British footballers and for that matter British football presenters? I think not.

    There are far too many ex footballers commenting in the media about the game in Britain. They may have been good players in their day but many have have only received a basic education and possess a very limited capacity to analyse anything- have great difficulty in differentiating fact from opinion and as a consequence rely on prejudice and stereotypes to entertain us with.
    How about presenters and football pundits- being required to be qualified for the job?

    • It still puzzles me that so many inarticulate ex-footballers have made the step into punditry. Even within football, there have to be more insightful voices that Shearer, for example, ot more up to date ones than Lawrenson.

      On the flip side, people with Phillippe Auclair and James Richardson are highly entertaining to listen to but have a far more suppressed voice.

  11. By all means, but the sexism row isn’t over, is it?

    Have you seen and heard the support Gray and Keys are now getting and the conspiracy theories relating to “dark forces ” at News International.

    Both Gray and Keys should have been sacked for either of the incidents I’ve watched and heard. One may be regarded as “carelessness”, but two establishes consistency, which means that neither sacking constituted “misfortune”.

    • To be honest, I’m not sure the support is that forthcoming. Sky hung Keys out to dry on Talksport, and while I’m certain Gray will win his case, he’ll only get compensation, not his job back.

      The dark forces line was perpetruated by Keys himself, but in an interview in which he made himself look like a complete muppet, so it loses credibility instantly.

  12. I agree with most of this blog. However, the earlier incident (in which acts amounting to harassment of a female work colleague) could be seen as gross misconduct and would therefore prove a sackable offence regardless of a seperate and subsequent case and warning. The fact that Gray is caught doing so on camera would make his defence before an employment tribunal a little more problematic than is suggested.

    Good to rid us of these neaderthals though and hope the xenophobia issue is also addressed in the near future (post big Ron!).

    • You could be right, although I think Charlotte Jackson would have to make a complaint for it to be treated as gross misconduct, and I doubt she has – she seemed to want to ignore the comment.

  13. Great analysis and there is definite English player bias look at how Roonet,Terry etc get away with total ref abuse and intimidation and I remember Vieira getting sent off for just questioning Poll’s decision making!!
    Your argument about the law is wrong and can’t be compared to football as if when someone is accused of a crime then another person comes out and says they committed another crime it has to be taken into account. If Sky decide to settle it’s because they can afford to and just want it over.
    Maybe this will make all media think about the outdated people they employ, worst is ESPN pundits ok presenter is from pre-historic.

    • To be honest, I think Sky are more than happy to pay Gray off, they just wanted him out of the building. If he wins his case he’ll get compensation, but Sky still won’t have to deal with him anymore. From a PR persepective there are still up.

  14. excellent article

  15. Well written! “Take a bow, son!” ;D

  16. What I find frustrating is that diving is cheating but kicking someone is part the game.

  17. Brilliant piece. The xenophobia & blatant bias towards English players by commentators & journos is nauseating.

  18. Excellent stuff. The level of xenophobic bias and prejudice being spouted by various pundits in the media/press are so unbelievably cringeworthy I am surprised not more is done to expose these bigots for what they are. Frankly there’s so much material out there I’m disappointed not to see more youtube vids on this subject. Somebody get on it quick.

  19. Fantastic article. I noticed the Hansen comment and couldn’t believe how he could sit there and give that view so shamelessly and to no negative reaction. Either he is blindingly ignorant or a liar. The comment itself smacks of xenophobia but the view in general seems to also be based on which club you play for. Take Berbatov’s dive to win a penalty against Liverpool – how many times was that mentioned and replayed compared to Cesc’s against Ipswich? I have every faith that if this Keys/Gray story hadn’t come out then there would have been even more coverage on Cesc’s dive.
    When Vela was fouled didn’t win a penalty in a CL group game this season, ITV’s way of ‘analysing’ that was to show ‘that’ dive by Eduardo which had occurred over a year previously insinuating that it could have been the reason as to why Vela was denied a penalty.
    I think there has been such a reaction to the sexism because these were comments which were not expressed on air, therefore giving the impression that Keys and Gray knew what they were saying was not an acceptable view whereas the ‘diving foreigners’ comments are stated by all pundits/commentators/journalists so openly and unashamedly that it is somehow deemed ‘acceptable’ and therefore I’m not sure how quickly it will be recognised by the majority as being wrong, let alone dealt with. Sadly, too many people take the ‘analysis’ of people like Hansen and Gray as gospel, you hear their clichés repeated in pubs as if they have been programmed into the speaker and it’s scary to think that people see them as credible commentators of the game.

  20. Fantastic article, excellent.., well done and thank you..

    I think the xenophobia and racism definitely exists in football and society in general. It is and will always be difficult to prove, but one can sometimes see subtle differences in how people are treated through statistical data, for example one has a far higher chance of being stopped and searched if one is black.
    We also see this difference in football, many have spoken about diving, Rooney, Gerrard being masters in the art, they and others routinely get away with it, but Eduardo a generally honest player, has one questionable incident and he is hounded out of the country.
    It was truly disgusting watching the media and officials attack this man who had just come back from brink. He had almost lost his leg, it was a miracle he was playing again and for one questionable incident he was crucified. I think his colour and nationality had a lot to do with that.

    There are many examples of black players being treated unsympathetically by the media, officialdom and the general public. Remember Cashly Cole?? what happened when Rooney held Man U to ransom for more, much more cash? No nicknames for Shrek eh?

    It’s sad and often disgusting to see, the obvious bias and evident racism in football and society in general…

    Thanks again for an excellent article.

  21. A good blog except for the bit about thicko Gray having a good legal case over his dismissal. I’m now worried that if he wins and Sky have to re-instate him, we viewers will be condemned to his ludicrous pontificating for ever and ever. Just as I was enjoying not to use the Mute button whenever he came on air. Get a good lawyer, Sky and a bent judge!!!

    • Gray won’t be back at Sky even if he wins his legal case, which I’m certain he will. Sky will pay him off, as with most unfair dismissal cases.

      I’m pretty certain they’ve sacked him even knowing their weak legal position, and are happy to take the financial hit to be shot of him.

  22. Can we now do something about xenophobia? Why, yes, we can… and no, “we” won’t. It’s like anything else: The only way the xenophobia will stop is when there’s more money in the alternative.

    Gold Digga says Franny Lee and Rodney Marsh were diving in the Seventies? So was Billy Bremner. And, being Scottish instead of English, he was, by the standards of that era, a “dirty foreigner.” But who had the guts to punish Don Revie’s Leeds, any more than they have the guts to punish Sir Gumchomper’s ManUre now?

  23. gem of an article..

  24. WOW, what a bunch of cry babies we have commenting on this article. Why don’t you all hold hands and fight the evil’s of straight white men. Seriously someone is really saying ref’s are racist because they only book and send off non-whites?? Maybe the numbers show that because there are now more non-whites than whites in the ENGLISH premier league!!!!!!!

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