Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


GRAY, IN BLACK AND WHITE

Play-by-play man Richard Keys and color commentator Andy Gray,  Sky Sports’  leading soccer voices since the launch of the English Premier League in 1992, have been ousted over sexist remarks that have triggered a debate in Britain over the role of women in what is a male-dominated sport.

Keys resigned under pressure one day after Gray was sacked.  Both issued public apologies.

The two thought their microphones were off before a Wolverhampton-Liverpool match telecast when they questioned whether a female assistant referee knew the offside rule.  Keys predicted that the lineswoman, Sian Massey, would make a mistake during the game (she actually nailed a critical offside call), and Gray used an expletive in referring to Wendy Toms, the first woman to officiate in the Premier League.  Keys piled on by criticising West Ham executive Karren Brady, known for her complaints of sexual discrimation in the soccer media.  Then the off-air remarks were leaked–perhaps by someone within Sky–to a Sunday newspaper.  [January 26]

Comment:  Keys isn’t well known in these parts, but Gray, thanks largely to his work for ESPN as a color man during the 2010 World Cup, is.  And Gray was a misogynistic misadventure waiting to happen:  a reputation as a playboy backed by a ledger sheet of five children by four women (for the record, two were wives).   

Perhaps Gray will be able to resuscitate his career across The Pond, but it’s doubtful he’ll be back for ESPN’s coverage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  And so much the better.  While Gray’s resume as a striker, from the mid-’70s to the mid-’80s, was impressive–20 games, seven goals for Scotland and many more goals for Everton, Aston Villa and Wolverhampton–to American viewers he wasn’t much more than that gravelly voiced truck driver with the thick Glaswegian brogue who happened to wander into a broadcast booth.

If Gray will be missed here, it’s because in a world in which English play-by-play men are for some reason routinely paired with Scottish color men, Gray was one of the few Scotsmen whose comments could be deciphered by American ears.

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ESPN GOES ALL IAN DARKE, ALL THE TIME

Ian Darke, part of ESPN/ABC’s all-British team of play-by-play announcers for its telecasts of the 2010 World Cup, has been signed by ESPN to be the network’s lead announcer through the 2014 World Cup.

Darke, who leaves Sky Sports for ESPN, will call English Premier League games, U.S. men’s and women’s national team matches, marquee Major League Soccer games, the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany, the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil and Brasil ’14 itself.  [September 24]

Comment:  First, a personal disclaimer:  The author worked for Darke during a couple of 1994 World Cup matches and found him to be a consummate professional and a very nice man:  funny, quicker than you or me,  beyond well-prepared, so comfortable calling a game he coulda done it from a lounge chair.  Darke was the only Englishman working that tournament for ESPN/ABC, and he proved to be a refreshing change of pace from the stable of American announcers the network had lined up.  And during the 2010 World Cup, with or without his memorable call of the dramatic U.S.-Algeria game, Darke out-announced (if there is such a word) the network’s lead play-by-play man, fellow Englishman Martin Tyler.

Nevertheless, appointing Dark as The Voice of ESPN Soccer for the next four years represents a step back in the development of the game here.  No doubt, Darke did a fine job in South Africa, helping ESPN set ratings records, and ESPN (a for-profit operation, last we heard) is understandably sticking with the hot hand.  But Darke’s assignments include not just English matches and international tournaments but MLS and U.S. men’s and women’s games.  The move will only reinforce the opinion among those who are not soccer’s friends that this sport is, and always will be, foreign.  For the country’s so-called Euro snobs, meanwhile, it bolsters the view that when it comes to announcing soccer, there’s the American way, the wrong way, the right way, and the British way.

And in the short term, it accelerates a trend in soccer announcing here that can be described as “Brit Creep.”  Words and phrases like “fixture” and “cup tie” are worming their way into the vocabulary of Americans calling games and narrating highlights.  Players don’t have “speed,” they have “pace”; even balls have “pace.”  Players don’t “appear” or “play” in games, they “feature.”  A player doesn’t score two goals, he scores a “brace.”  It’s only a matter of time before a struggling MLS club finally scores a goal and some fellow at the mic, American born and bred, works the term “break duck” into his call.