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TV Wrap - Neville calls out Boris Johnson in high point for Sky's football coverage

The British Prime Minister also bewilderingly claimed that a World Cup co-hosted in Ireland would be ‘bringing football home.’

Gary Neville on Sky Sports on Saturday evening.
Gary Neville on Sky Sports on Saturday evening.
Image: Sky Sports YouTube

WHO KNEW THE coalition for social progress we all needed was the Sky Sports football panel? 

On Sunday, considering why there are still no openly gay players in the Premier League, Graeme Souness admitted the era in which he played the game was “extremely homophobic”, and had his attitude changed by attending Brighton Pride. 

“There were tens of thousands of people there. I found it extremely educational, and it was a thoroughly great day out. I would tell anyone, if you want to learn more come down here for that parade and you’ll go away with a completely different opinion.” 

Given Souness has become the avatar for glowering, stagnant men moaning of how things are no longer as good as they were in his day, it was a pretty powerful moment. 

A day earlier, Sky were equally as strong when talking about the continued populating of Premier League crowds with racists, after a Manchester City fan was filmed making a monkey gesture at Fred. 

“It’s not just happening in Bulgaria, it’s happening in our country and in our league”, said Gary Neville. “We always judge other countries of how they deal with racism, but we are poor with it ourselves.” 

Source: Sky Sports Football/YouTube

He said the banning of the fan for life was an obvious punishment, and called on the football authorities to do more in response. 

Firstly, football authorities shouldn’t be landed with the job of eradicating racism, but they could do more than they have been to date.

Fifa, for example, with heads forever stuck in the sands of their offshore utopia, disbanded their anti-racism task-force in 2016 declaring that it had “completely fulfilled its mission.”

So if football authorities lack some leadership on this issue, maybe it’s because the global arbiter of the game decided three years ago that racism no longer exists. 

Not that this is just a football problem, as Jamie Redknapp confirmed. 

It’s a society problem. The fact those are his views and is walking about in society with that, it’s terrible and something has to be done to it than that. It’s not just about banning him from a football ground, there’s more to it than that.” 

Gary Neville chimed in agreement, and explicitly linked it to the dribblings of Britain’s Hair Apparent, Boris Johnson. 

“You are watching the prime minister’s debate where he is talking about migration to this country and people having to have certain levels. It fuels it all the time.”

Neville and Redknapp are right, and it is utterly correct that they say these things, as the notion that pundits should “stick to sport” is one of the great fallacies of our age.

Firstly, sticking to sport means reading the score and perhaps moaning about VAR, so it is deeply boring and should be avoided at all costs. 

There is another, more sinister element to this notion too, as covering sport without reference to the world around it enables sportswashing, and the gradual exploiting of it to legitimise medieval, contemptible regimes. 

It was in risible action on Sky right after the football went off-air, as Anthony Joshua out-pointed Andy Ruiz Jnr in Saudi Arabia.

Joshua openly said he was fighting there solely for the money, admitted in an interview he didn’t know of Amnesty International and then clanged that he had plans to “decapitate” Ruiz.

This, in a country responsible for 146 executions last year. 

Saudi Arabia have deliberately targeted major international sports events to help massage their image in the west, and will host an expanded Spanish Super Cup next year, potentially capturing for themselves a clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid. 

Closer to home, Johnson was indulging in his own little bit of sportswashing over the weekend, pledging to support the UK and Ireland’s bid for the 2030 World Cup by saying it was time for “football to come home.” 

Quite how partly staging the World Cup in a country whose national sport ran a decades-long fatwa against football adds up to “bringing it home”, who knows.

To excuse Johnson of not recognising Ireland’s complex relationship with football is to give him too much credit, given he has become Prime Minister by largely not recognising Ireland at all. 

Of all of the indignities visited upon the FAI this week, becoming associated with Johnson was at least deeply unfortunate. 

Johnson also announced a £550 million investment in grassroots football, dishonestly spun as good news given the figure is only a fraction of the funding successive Tory governments are responsible for cutting. Councils have had funding cut in half since 2010, and this has led to the loss of more than 700 football pitches. 

On Sky, Neville at least gave football a chance to answer back. 

Sky began the decade with Richard Keys fronting their football coverage, a man so comfortable in his anachronism that he recently told the Athletic that “dinosaurs ruled the world for 300 million years, so if that’s what I am, so be it.” 

This weekend, Sky instead called out homophobia in football and racism in society. 

While British politics continues to indulge in the dark energies of benighted days, there is at least some measure of progress being made somewhere. 

- Originally published at 13.05 

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Gavin Cooney

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