Monday, 24 January 2011

It's Not Very Nice Football Is It?

I should have known that on my first ever visit to a professional football match when I witnessed the Notts County centre half being subjected to a barrage of monkey chants every time he touched the ball. Had I been fifteen at the time I might well have said "sod this" and left Southport's Haig Avenue never to return. But I was a naive twelve year old for whom the sight of a black footballer was exotic and the thought that the jolly crowd's chanting might be upsetting him never crossed my mind. It has taken me some forty six years to waken up to just how unpleasant the whole game is.

The weekend's controversy around Andy Gray and Richard Keys brings it into focus. As I write, the news has just come in that they have been suspended from presenting tonight's Chelsea game but anybody who was surprised at their outburst must know very little about football as their sexism rates on a par with (insert your own pope/Catholic- bears shitting in woods remark here).

Football has been sexist, racist and homophobic for as long as I've been going. Marion found to her discomfort that a trip with me to the Kop at Anfield would result in a pinched and groped backside and she gave up attending regularly well over thirty years ago and, whilst my love of the game and the spectacle has blinded me to its unsavory side, I am finally starting to see the light. Whether it's retirement giving me more time to think about it or perhaps the recent string of media exposes of players like Rooney and Crouch, I don't know, but think about what the experience of a Premier League football match involves.

It starts with an absurd entrance fee of about forty quid. That's at least five trips to the cinema where you can sit in comfort and see equally highly paid prima donnas but ones who don't happen to spend the whole time spitting and mouthing obscenities at those who they don't see eye to eye with. 

You then have the comfort of a tiny plastic seat from which you have to constantly stand to allow late comers and the incontinent to pass. As the match kicks off you have to stand again whenever the ball approaches your part of the stadium so hard luck if you are less than five foot five. 

Your ears are subjected to non stop cursing and abuse be it from individuals or the entire crowd. I smiled when I read that Liverpool's new owner John W Henry's wife planned to learn the Liverpool supporters' chants. Which did she start with? The charming "Fuck off Chelsea FC", or maybe "Steve Gerrard Gerrard he's big and he's fucking hard" or perhaps she stuck with the traditional "The referee's a wanker". I'm honestly not a prude but it sometimes just grinds you down.

So Keys and Gray's comments on a young woman who had more balls than anybody in the twenty odd thousand crowd who witnessed Liverpool play Woves on Saturday and on Karen Brady (a woman who was the youngest MD of a UK plc) are totally in character with the sport and totally and utterly out of order. 

I've enjoyed reading the Internet comments on the story. In the main there have been two distinct camps - "sack them" and "come on it's just a bit of banter what's wrong with you feminist wankers".  However, what struck me the most was the "they weren't on air so it doesn't count" argument. It's a bit like me writing something horrendous and racist on here and arguing that, as nobody reads this blog, I'm perfectly in the clear. Keys and Gray have been exposed as condescending "Do me a favour love" sexists and, if Sky wants to increase it's female audience share, they really can't go on presenting football on their channel. At least Sky News hasn't shied away from reporting the story.

And will I be renewing the Kop season ticket I've held for years? What do you think.