IT might not have been as destructive as the sexist comments about Sian Massey or the puerile innuendos directed at a junior member of staff that ultimately cost Andy Gray and Richard Keys their jobs at Sky Sports, but in my eyes, it was every bit as telling.

I'm paraphrasing ever so slightly, but on Wednesday, during an excruciating radio interview in which he attempted to justify his position, Keys said: “It was the kind of banter you hear in football dressing rooms all the time, and the studio is our dressing room.”

There, in a nutshell, is everything that is wrong with so much sports coverage on both the television and radio, and increasingly within the written press, in this country.

“The studio is our dressing room”, a phrase that conjures up an image of desperate ex-professionals clinging on to the faded glory of their playing days. Engaging in the bawdiness and ribaldry that helped foster team spirit during their time as a 20-year-old, but which appears forced, pathetic and more than a little seedy now they are well into their forties. Convincing themselves that they are every bit as important as the players they are watching. “You haven't lost it son, now get out of that dressing room, crack a sexist joke and prove it.”

There is nothing wrong in employing ex-footballers as football journalists or broadcasters, and a decent understanding of the game is clearly a fundamental prerequisite of the job. Plenty of former pros add to our enjoyment and appreciation of the sport every weekend.

But the clue to the role of a football journalist or broadcaster is in the title. Part football, part journalist or broadcaster. At the moment, the balance within the biggest media organisations is totally out of kilter.

Presenters, pundits, columnists and reporters are appointed because of who they are, how they look, what demographic they might pull in, rather than their ability to do the job.

So we get television studios populated with people who fully understand the offside rule, but who don't really know the first thing about how to research a story, how to conduct a basic interview, how to frame a debate and how to adhere to a basic code of journalistic ethics.

A flagship programme like Match of the Day, which sets the agenda for much of the discussion concerning the weekend's Premier League events, does not feature a single qualified broadcaster or journalist in any of its three most senior positions.

“Ah, but Alan Shearer captained England,” you might say. Well yes he did, but it doesn't mean he's equally adept at delivering a level of perceptive analysis that reflects in-depth thought and research.

In many ways, Sky have taken the situation to its extreme, and that, as much as anything, is what has caught the organisation out this week.

The style and content of its presentation is far too cosy and cliquey, part lad's mag chauvinism, part gentleman's evening with after-dinner speaker.

As Keys was right to point out in another section of Wednesday's ramble, when the broadcaster first took to the airwaves, it had to be like that. It had to be bold and brash, divisive and different because it was a small fish in a very big pond.

Now, it is a giant whale swimming in a fish tank, so isn't it about time things moved on? Yes, the British public likes a bit of celebrity and a pretty face. But most football fans I speak to, even some of the less enlightened ones, also want a level of debate, insight and argument that strays beyond the level of the bland, expected and mundane.

There are plenty of talented journalists and broadcasters out there. Read a newspaper, listen to local radio, log on to the internet and read a column or blog, and it won't take you long to find views that are challenging, controversial and perceptive.

But the chances are that the person expressing them didn't win caps for England or Scotland. So unless there's a change of approach, we'll still switch on to Monday Night Football to listen to a former player in a sharp fitting suit uttering the same old platitudes before heading down to a local nightclub to “smash it”.

Keys and Gray have gone, but will the problem remain?


SWITCHING back to Match of the Day briefly, I couldn't understand the consensus on last weekend's show that West Ham striker Frederic Piquionne should have been allowed to celebrate in the crowd without picking up a yellow card.

I agree that players should be allowed to take off their top if they wish, although why they should be so desperate to do so remains beyond me.

But entering the crowd is surely a different situation. First, it potentially endangers supporters, particularly disabled ones who are often at ground level. Second, it threatens to incite violence, even if players are only celebrating with their own fans.

Imagine a Newcastle player leaping into the away end after a last-minute equaliser at the Stadium of Light. Given events at the ground earlier this month, I would imagine the police authorities are more than happy with the current rule remaining the same.


MATT Prior might have finally found his batting form in Wednesday's fourth One-Day International, but I'm still not convinced by his presence at the top of the order.

The best one-day sides nearly always lay the foundation for their success in the first 20 overs of their innings, and orthodox batsmen are best equipped to do that.

With the World Cup looming, I'd promote Ian Bell to open with Andrews Strauss, and keep Jonathan Trott at three. If one of those gets 70 or 80, as they should, you're pretty much guaranteed a competitive score.