Siberian Soapbox

A lot has happened in the last quarter of a century. Hong Kong has returned to Chinese rule, Princess Diana is no longer with us, the whole world now knows what a metatarsal is, and money still rules the world. In fact, it is perfectly possible to trace the moment money officially took over the glorious sport of football. Ladies and gentlemen, the beginning of the end: the Sky Sports behemoth was born.

Those first days of flashy, modern graphics and more hype than Don King on speed were entrancing. In hindsight, it was a sort of morbid, ghoulish fascination with a disgusting beast, but at the time we weren’t to know that.

Perhaps that’s a harsh way to refer to Richard Keys. Actually, you know what, no it isn’t – the man’s become an engorged globular orangutan with the sophistication and insight of a dung beetle. Did you ever notice the back of his hands? There are silverbacks in the jungle jealous of that depth of hair cover.

Nowadays the prat can be found chortling to himself and his Scottish partner in crime over on Qatar-based BeIN Sports. Given the human rights violations perpetrated against thousands upon thousands in the country, it seems only fitting that Keys is finally at home in their studio. Too close to the bone? Perhaps, but this is the Soapbox. I am an angry man with a bloody irritating sport to dissect every week, so you’ll have to excuse the odd inappropriate comment.

The early days of Richard Keys and Andy Gray

If we’re going to give him a roasting, then let’s at least marinade him in context. When those heady days of Sky Sports’ glamorous grand opening swung into view, Keys was brilliant. You know, back when foreigners were a novelty and graphics were SEGA Megadrive at best. His on-screen manner was smooth. His voice wasn’t quite as iconic as Martin Tyler’s, but it was still emblematic of the era.

Then it became clear he was a prick. The whole ‘locker-room banter’ thing trumpeted by that flabby bloke in the White House reared its head with the whole Sian Massey incident. In case you don’t remember, Massey (now Massey-Ellis) was one of the first female officials in the top flight. She was on duty in only her second Premier League game when Keys suggested she needed the offside rule explaining to her. Andy Gray took it further by saying, in between gulps of Irn-Bru and deep-fried Mars bars – probably: “Women don’t know the offside rule.”

Last year Massey-Ellis claimed he had apologised. Such was his hubris, however, that he thought it a good idea to take to Twitter to deny this. You’re effectively getting a free pass, you moron! No, instead it was Massey-Ellis who made the “bad move”, as Keys called it, by opening up with this claim. Whether or not it was, in fact, part of the phone conversation or not isn’t the point here. Keys showed his sexist attitude was not a slip of the tongue or ‘banter’ by bristling against the opportunity to partly redeem his name.

Inadvertent comedy

It reminds me of Abdul the Geordie, the worst stand-up comedian of all time. Mark Watson was compere at a comedy club in Greenwich about 15 years ago when Abdul strolls on and launches into a diatribe against women without even a slither of humour. After two minutes he bombed and called it a night. “Well I’ve gone down like a lead balloon,” he muttered before flicking two fingers to the increasingly hostile crowd. Wanker.

Why bring this up again now? Well, thanks to the beauty/curse of social media, we cannot escape Richard Keys and Andy Gray despite them thankfully being bolt-holed away in Dubai. Now presenting Premier League coverage for Qatar-run network beIN Sports, they are pathetically shit. Liverpool recently appointed a throw-in coach, which was apparently hilarious to the neolithic tossers.

Everton – A Gray area or a Silva lining?

In fact, let’s take it back to last summer first. Everton made a raft of relatively big-name transfers and had a positivity around them. At first, anyway. Keys waded in with an attention-grabbing tweet claiming Everton would finish above Liverpool. OK, I admit it is a little harsh to lambast someone in hindsight. I did think Everton would be better than they were to be fair.

When it became clear that Sam Allardyce did not intend to play a flowing continental style, or that he did not, in fact, have much ability to manage overpriced unmotivated stars beyond an eighth-place finish, one would think that a reasonable response would be to suggest Samão should go. I actually defended Allardyce’s record, but only from the short-term perspective. Marco Silva was floated as a name to take over, but oh no, Keys spoke up.

Marco Silva at Everton. Really? Again, I wish him well. We’ll see. I’m not convinced. Not at all convinced. Everton is a club that should also be chasing CL places. I genuinely thought they would be this season, but what a shambles it turned out to be. How? Why? Look around the Boardroom for the answers. If you don’t have unity there you’re asking for trouble.”

Ah, the good old Johnny foreigner doesn’t understand the Best League in the World™ line of reasoning. I just can’t go down that rabbit hole today or you’ll have a 4,000-word epic rant on your hands.

Throw-in coach

No, today it’s the throw-in coach mockery that is more pertinent.

Listen, Dick, let me break this down for you; the coach is not teaching them how to extend their arms and throw. He is coaching them how to make use of a set piece to create an advantage. It will probably only lead to two or three goal-scoring opportunities a season, but how is that a bad thing? The number of times throw-ins are wasted, particularly those near the opposition’s corner flag, is astonishing. If free kicks and corners are afforded attention, throw-ins should be worked on too.

The pathetically childish sniggering live on air between Keys and Gray was cringeworthy. Their presenting skills have descended into pointing and laughing from a distance rather than actually back up opinions with analysis. Good riddance you hairy bastard.