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Weighing in on Andy Gray, Sian Massey, and Football Culture

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I suppose I should add to the commentary surrounding now ex-Sky Sports pundit Andy Gray, lineswoman Sian Massey, and sexism, because I don't think the discussion should be limited to any of these things. This fight is about more than just some obnoxious comments made by Gray in the last few months, and keeping the scope on Gray ignores the forest for the trees - there are fundamental problems with football culture that won't go away with sacking one stupid man (and let's not kid ourselves, Andy Gray was an awful, awful commentator).

First of all, I'd like to say something about taping private conversations: I'm pretty sure if everyone knew everything else we had ever said, we'd never ever interact with each other. Ever. Goodness knows I've said some pretty offensive things at times simply to get a laugh out of my friends. Banter does happen and I think it's ridiculous to condemn someone for it without admitting you're bathing in a tub full of stinking hypocrisy. It's even more ridiculous to tape someone's personal conversations and use that to get them in trouble. All of that said, offensive comments are only harmless banter if you don't actually believe it - and it doesn't become public.

The comments made by Gray over the weekend appear to fail both of those tests. Keeping it private is out by definition, although that's hardly Gray's fault, and anyone who's listened to the tapes will probably agree with me that Gray was communicating deeply held beliefs about the intellect and competence of women when he launched into his tirade in conversation co-pundit Richard Keys, who appeared to sympathise. Nor was the pre-match chat between Gray and Andy Burton much better. Gray does genuinely appear to think that women have no place pretending to understand the game of football.

Well, duh. Andy Gray is a 55 year old man who's been embedded in football for most of his life. We knew what he was saying in private. We know what football mutters to itself about women, about gays, about clever people, and, in the darkest, deepest recesses of ignorance, probably about people who aren't white too. If you'd asked yourself two weeks ago what Andy Gray would have thought of a female linesman on the pitch, you'd have managed to generate the entirety of Saturday's leaked conversation in your head fairly accurately. And yet we're somehow surprised that this has come to pass?

Give me a break. Sky doesn't care about sexism. They care about the public relations hit from this going public. There is literally no way you could have spent more than a few minutes in Gray's company without realising that the man is a complete and utter twat. They knew what the man's views were, probably years before this came out, but they were absolutely fine with letting him stick around until the recent uproar. If there was a genuine commitment to stamping this out, it would have been pre-stamped - his firing is simply a reaction to increased public pressure.

Frankly, despite being mildly appalled by the way the information came to light, I'm glad it has. Since we cannot trust football's old guard to police itself, it looks like the only way to actually get anything done about the fact that there's a culture of institutionalised everything-ism at the top of the game is to get the public interested in it. So, thanks, Andy. You've got us interested in exposing England's proud sporting culture for what it really is - a fetid swamp of prejudice that's stuck fifty years in the past.

This isn't even the tip of the iceberg. I'm not even going to touch on the race thing, although I think we can rest unassured that racism is alive and well in the game. Football culture is, in layman's terms, fucking stupid. It lionises stupidity, which it also equates with manliness, which, by the way, are the opposite of femininity and homosexuality. The bastions of its belief stand diametrically opposed to what I'd imagine most people consider rational, intelligent thought. Don't believe me? Look at Blatter's comments about video replay (none of your technology here, thanks!), or Vlatko Markovic's comments on gay footballers. Look at how Graeme Le Saux was vilified for being interested enough in the world around him to read The Guardian*. Look at how the rules of the game are somehow considered difficult to understand, when in reality your average five year-old would comprehend most of the subtleties of the offside law within two minutes of being introduced to the subject.

Unfortunately for the sport, this sort of thing isn't considered acceptable in this day and age. Doubly unfortunately, football sees this a PR problem rather than a cultural one, which means that instead of actually doing something about the ridiculous state of affairs, they're sweeping all of their problems under the rug. When Andy Gray is stupid enough to be caught in public, he's thrown to the wolves, but Gray is hardly alone in his views, and nothing is being done about that apart from hiding unsavoury thinking from the public.

So, some advice to the powers that be of football: It's time to ditch the fake caring and start getting serious about moving into the 21st century. The sport is too important to be run by dinosaurs. Get with the fucking times, or each and every one of you who perpetrates this bullshit is going to end up marginalised. The soil has been upturned, some of the vermin exposed, but there are many more worms to be dug out. Time to fix this.

*Not my favourite paper, admittedly.