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The Keys and Gray Saga [part 1]: Welcome to the new football…same as the old football

February 13, 2011

So, the game was preparing to wake up in a brave new world, one without Andy Gray and Richard Keys, a world where savvy owners from America could hold a conversation about ‘pass and move’, where punters could watch the Premiership via a foreign feed.

And then…what? Gray and Keys get snapped up by talkSPORT, with a new flagship show to go live on Valentine’s Day (going head-to-head for ratings with Woman’s Hour). Former Liverpool owners Hicks and Gillett return to the courts for another legal set-to, and Niall Quinn “despises” fans who watch Sunderland on foreign feeds rather than sit in the Stadium of Light. Oh, football.

The disgraced pair should be a perfect fit for talkSPORT. This is the station that had Alan Brazil, presenter of its breakfast show, cited by Ofcom for racially slurring the Japanese team at the 2006 World Cup. The following year Gary Bushell and Mike Mendoza again incurred Ofcom’s wrath with their derogatory comments on homosexuality. In November 2008, while Jon Gaunt was sacked after labelling a local councillor “a Nazi”, Rod Lucas was dropped from the station after his name appeared on a leaked BNP membership list.

The station has also been the vehicle for Stan Collymore’s rehabilitation after bouts of depression and his beating of then partner Ulrika Jonsson.

It is not only the unreconstructed company that means Gray and Keys will fit in. Radio will suit them because, ironically, they have been operating for years in the same kind of medium.

Breaking the spell: the artificial studio has come to be seen as a part of the stadium with as much legitimacy as the stands, though with fewer restrictions on conduct.

An art form: commentary must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.

Consider this: where exactly have they been sacked from? Take that Sky studio, tucked away in a corner of the ground that the majority of their audience – those millions who don’t attend games – never see from any angle but on their TV.

The studio is something of a non-space, then. If you consider the structure of it, it is literally a window onto…well, not the action, but where there could feasibly be action. It has only two walls, at either side. The front wall is the screen itself, and the back is usually a window out onto an empty stadium. Sky are well aware that this studio is merely a way of viewing football, rather than a place of debate. They know their dramatic tricks – look at how that ‘fourth wall’ is broken again, every so often, when the camera cuts to the commentators in the gantry outside.

Football on TV is cursed by commentary on what you can already see: with Sky, that is compounded by seeing the commentators. Commentary must not only be done, but must be seen to be done.

The studio for Monday Night Football, as its name hints, is obviously stolen from the play-by-play, interruption-driven coverage of American Football. Like Keys’ chairs, Gray’s dais with his screens and ipod tablet and replays is another non-space. It is a simulacrum of the TVs in homes and pubs that have the option of camera angles, pausing live TV, or betting in-game.

As Keys puts it in the most recent tapes to surface (centring on his racist description of a prospective Scottish international):

“Remember you can push the help button at any time for more ­information and if you can’t work this out you sad b******s shouldn’t have this kit.”

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