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[Part 2]: Throwing away the Keys

February 14, 2011

Richard Keys’ spectacular showing in the talkSPORT interview he gave to clear up the sexism row – which led to him having to resign – demonstrates another layer of the alienation that separates even commentators of his previous status from today’s football.

First in this Alan Partridge-esque breakdown was Keys’ insistence that he came into the radio studio without an agent or a manager. Of course he didn’t – he’s not one of the footballers that he interviews. This was just another facet of the affair that showed how the dominant media became obsessed with its own idea of ‘the language of the changing room’. It is this same force that operates at either end of the punditry spectrum. It guarantees a showing for ex-pros in the commentary seats. However, the mediating presence of the ‘journalist’ – Keys and Gray – did not evolve to match the attitudes of more recent retirees.

Put simply, the pair had been there too long. Sky is often ridiculed for claiming to ‘invent’ football in 1992. Really, the lesson the broadcaster needs to learn is reinvention. The camaraderie these pundits enjoyed with ex-pros in the early ‘90s does not pass muster in 2011. Nor will today’s last forever.

That is largely due, in Keys’ case, to the attitude showcased in this weekend’s revelations. Belittling women and foreigners could – and was – put up with. But his mocking of Dave Bassett and Joe Kinnear  shows how occluded he was from the traditional press role. At the same time as creating his own boys’ club with Andy Gray, Keys was pulling down the last representatives of that club’s past. Bassett and Kinnear were already unlikely to manage again at the top level. Keys walks into another job, taking on the blunt attitudes and self-aggrandising personality that he associates with the old guard. It is being charitable to put these events down to a misreading of a footballing language, but even as such is not forgivable.

It is difficult to know exactly how Keys’ media persona appeared to him in that last interview as Sky anchor: was he making the case for himself as another figure, like Gray, who could be excused because that is the way footballers talk? Sky themselves were onto this much earlier, and in a more subtle way. Notice how the FA described Massey’s being pulled from running the line in her next game as her being “stood down”, and how Sky borrowed the phrase to apply it to its errant anchors.

If we were being generous, then we could look at the debacle – the aftershocks of the affair, not the actual comments themselves – and see a perverse attempt to break out of the nepotism that fuels the football punditry industry. Only, Keys’ PR manoeuvres played dangerously with another nepotism, closer to home.

First, the sexist comments themselves would, presumably, have seriously hampered any attempts to lure Kenny Dalglish back into the studio. The assertion that Dalglish would go ‘potty’ at Massey’s decisions was just plain wrong, and were shown to be by Kelly Cates, nee Dalglish, who ironically tweeted about being unable to understand the offside law because of nail polish fumes.  Was Dalglish really going to “go potty” about women in football, given that both his daughter and his wife have received so much help from the game?

Keys not only insulted Cates and Dalglish, but his own daughter, who works on ESPN’s football coverage. To make it worse there was the Daily Mail coverage, where Keys’ wife was shown taking tea out to waiting journalists, and defending her husband. His sister also came out in his defence, prefiguring today’s classic “Dion Dublin…my bud” defence.

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