Why did Andy Gray and Richard Keys leave Sky Sports?

Why did Andy Gray and Richard Keys leave Sky Sports? As the two pundits give first UK TV interview in over a decade to Piers Morgan, how sexism scandal cost them their job

  • Richard Keys and Andy Gray were UK’s top football pundits for nearly 20 years 
  • But a sexism scandal in January 2011 saw each of the pair depart Sky Sports 
  • They later relocated to Doha, Qatar, after signing a contract with Al-Jazeera
  • As an explosive interview airs tonight with Piers Morgan, we recount their story  

Two of football’s most famous pundits who upped sticks to the Middle East after a sexism scandal involving a female referee will tonight share their story with Piers Morgan.

For nearly 20 years, Richard Keys and Andy Gray were at the helm of Sky Sports’ Premier League coverage – sharing their insight with a generation of football fans.

But in January 2011, Keys, 65, resigned and Gray, 66, was sacked after both made derogatory comments about female referee Sian Massey and the fitness of women to officiate at matches – for which they later apologised.

In June 2013, the pair signed on with Al Jazeera to present football coverage from Doha, Qatar, where they also continue to present their Talksport show.

As millions tune in to tonight’s tell-all Piers Uncensored on TalkTV at 8pm, we take a look at what led to their notorious departure.

Andy Gray (left), 66, and Richard Keys (right), 65, enjoyed runaway success as Sky Sports anchors from 1991 until January 2011, when a scandal brought their careers crashing down

Former Everton player Gray (left) and sports journalist Keys (right) began helming football coverage for the fledging Sky Sports channel in 1991

The duo will share their story with Piers Morgan on Talk TV’s Piers Uncensored tonight at 8pm

A Mail on Sunday investigation revealed an audio tape of Keys and Gray talking about female referee Sian Massey-Ellis (pictured) and other female assistant referees off-air on January 22, 2011

New faces for a new TV channel 

Richard Keys started out as a sports journalist, beginning his career at the Fleet Street sport agency Hayter’s in 1976. By the late 1980s, he was a sports presenter for British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB).

After BSB’s merger with Sky in 1991, Keys transferred to the newly launched Sky Sports channel. 

He was frequently paired with Gray, a recently retired footballing legend who had played for Aston Villa, Everton and Rangers, but was new to commentating.

Between them, they became the faces of Sky’s Premier League coverage upon its inception in 1992.

Richard Keys (right) and Andy Gray (left) left Sky Sports in 2011 following a sexism scandal 

A sexism scandal

A Mail on Sunday investigation revealed an audio tape of Keys and Gray talking about female referee Sian Massey-Ellis and other female assistant referees off-air during Liverpool’s 3-0 win at Wolves on January 22, 2011.

Keys was recorded saying: ‘Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her (Massey),’ while Gray replied: ‘Yeah, I know. Can you believe that? Female linesman. Forget what I said – they probably don’t know the offside rule.’

Keys then stated: ‘Course they don’t’ and Gray responded: ‘Why is there a female linesman? Somebody’s f***** up big.’

Keys did later call Massey-Ellis over the weekend and apologised for his comments.

The pair fronted Sky Sports’ Premier League coverage for nearly 20 years before they left

How did Sky Sports react

Both presenters appeared on air after the initial story broke, while Sky Sports executives are said to have debated whether an apology was needed over off-air comments.

But unfortunately for the pair, that wasn’t to be the end of the leaked recordings.

A second video emerged of Gray talking to pitch-side reporter Andy Burton at the same game crudely referring to Massey’s appearance, followed by a third clip of Keys and Gray using inappropriate comments towards colleague Charlotte Jackson during a recording the previous month.

In the video that ultimately condemned Gray, he suggestively asked Jackson: ‘Charlotte, can you tuck this [microphone pack] down here for me love… Tuck this down here.’

Jackson, furious with Gray, immediately turned away and ignored the laughing pair before continuing her rehearsal for a Sky Sports Christmas special broadcast.

Gray, who had already received a warning, was sacked on January 25, 2011, while Keys resigned the following day. Burton, who was suspended, later returned to presenting on the channel.

The original story came after off-air comments directed at female official Sian Massey-Ellis

Who is Sian Massey-Ellis?

Sian Massey-Ellis, 37, is a football match official who typically officiates as assistant referee in the Premier League and Football League.

Since qualifying in 2010, Massey-Ellis has also officiated in the Football League Trophy, UEFA Women’s Champions League,[4] FIFA Women’s World Cup qualification rounds, the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the UEFA Europa League.

After the story broke of Keys’ and Gray’s sexist comments in January 2011, Keys phoned Massey-Ellis to offer an apology. She is said to have responded that he ‘should have known better’.

Massey was awarded an MBE for services to football in 2017 and is married to fellow referee Robert Ellis. 

Keys and Gray now front beIN SPORTS’ coverage of football and are based in Doha, Qatar 

Where did they go next? 

After their exit, Keys attributed the comments to a ‘misguided fun’ and ‘lads mag banter’. 

He later said: ‘Prehistoric banter isn’t acceptable in the modern world. I accept that. We failed to change when the world has changed. We wholeheartedly apologise for our behaviour. It was wrong. I deserve to be battered. I can stand up and take a beating. I’m not sorry for me, I’m sorry for Sian Massey.’

Gray also said: ‘If off-air conversations of television and radio presenters were recorded, there would be no one left working. That is not to defend what happened.’

Two years after the furore, the duo went on to sign a contract with Al Jazeera in June 2013, covering football from Qatar where they provide analysis about the Premier League, FA Cup and the Champions League games. 

Keys and Gray are also now the chief presenters of the BeIN Sports channels.

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