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Tuesday, January 25, 2011 

Coincidences and conspiracies.

Is it ever a good idea to sue your employer? Of course, when Andy Gray went to the high court last week in an effort to force Glenn "Trigger" Mulcaire to name which News of the World journalists had allegedly instructed him to target his mobile phone, he wasn't technically suing BSkyB directly; as any fule no, News International has only a 39% share in Sky, albeit one it wishes to turn very shortly into a full 100% stake.

It does however seem to be a strange coincidence that in the same week Gray's lawyers sought the identities of their client's former pursuers that he should so suddenly be ratted out, apparently by the same people that must have put up with similar outbursts to the one directed towards Sian Massey, the unfortunate young female referee caught in the middle of the understandable furore surrounding Gray and Richard Keys' comically clich├ęd views on women not being able to understand the offside law. After all, it's one thing for your antiquated and expletive strewn musings on football going mad to be leaked to the Mail on Sunday, which would be quite conceivable for an underling at Sky to do under their own volition, it's another for your own broadcaster to then add fuel to the fire by releasing an earlier exchange with a different reporter containing much the same outpourings of disbelief at a member of the opposite sex being allowed to officiate what has always been and will hopefully always remain a Man's Game.

There are, it must be said, some discrepancies to be dealt with before it can even begin to be proved that Gray has been the victim of believing he could take on his ultimate employer and still remain in a job. It could just be that Sky had finally tired of Gray's boorishness and saw an opportunity once the original leak had been made to the MoS to get rid of him. Neither was it clear that Gray could stay in his job at all, with many instantly comparing his and Keys' exchanges to the infamous racist remark which did for Ron Atkinson back in 2004. There does though seem to have been some fairly major stabbing in the back involved: the video which resulted in Gray's sacking was posted anonymously on YouTube and removed almost as quickly before being reposted by those who downloaded it while it was up, and a new video of Keys engaging in banter with Jamie Redknapp has gone up in exactly the same fashion. It also seems rather remiss, considering the warning was made as regards Gray's future behaviour for him to then be sacked over another unfunny, sexist exchange which took place at the beginning of December.

It could just as much be that with Rupert Murdoch himself in the country and with Sky trying desperately to keep under the radar while Jeremy Hunt takes his time over the decision on whether or not to refer the takeover bid to the competition commission that Gray's sacking was inevitable, removing any further embarrassment to the broadcaster, or any additional stick to beat the company with. The Mail itself points out that Gray obviously wasn't off limits for other parts of the Murdoch empire if he is now seeking to find out who authorised the alleged hacking of his phone, as well as bringing attention to stories in the Sun about him four years ago. It's doubly mysterious then that Monday's Sun contained no mention whatsoever of Gray and Keys' troubles - only today did the paper splash on it, albeit in the form of a photograph stolen from Massey's MySpace profile, although perhaps as the social networking site is wholly owned by News International they treated as if it was already their intellectual property. The paper often remains silent about the travails of employees on sister publications and broadcasters - perhaps the OK was only given to go with it yesterday as Gray's fate was being sealed, or then again, it had simply become too big a story to ignore.

Regardless of the internal politics and machinations, Gray's sacking ought to be just the beginning of a wider clear out of the supposed punditry talent not just on Sky but also the BBC. Match of the Day, once a relative joy to watch on a Saturday night has become a tired wasteland of pomposity and incompetence, Alan Hansen having long ago become a parody of himself, his relevance and connection to the modern game being just as questionable as Gray's. While Gray and Keys were criticised for their glibness and insular regard for the English game, questioning whether Lionel Messi could deal with Stoke City's tactics on a cold night, Hansen displayed much the same triteness when he commented tonight at half-time on the Arsenal Ipswich game that "continentals", as much as they bring to the game, also brought diving along with them, as if cheating and underhand tactics had only properly permeated the game once foreign chaps had infiltrated the leagues. Alan Shearer meanwhile seems to be inflicted on the nation simply to make Hansen and Gary Lineker look better by comparison, his banal, obvious insights on the game constantly refrained by the "brilliant", "incredible" or "awesome" play he's asked to comment upon. There's hardly a shortage of decent football analysers out there, as the briefest trawl of any of the former broadsheets' sports pages will attest, it's the getting out of the silly constraint that seems to have grown up that new presenters and commentators must have played the game, even if it means putting on air numerous ex-pros that can barely string two coherent sentences together, Chris "pelanty" Waddle being a case in point. In that sense we could yet come to cheer Gray being put out of his misery.

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