Eamon Carr: Broadcasters should be rightly ashamed of ugly side of beautiful game
League football isn't like Subuteo, that cute domestic table-top game with dinky little figurines of players and match officials.
Real-life football is as much about violence and passion as it is about circus-style skills and team loyalties.
It's essentially an urban game that has traditionally acted as a safety valve for the stresses and pressures of its working-class supporters. Unfortunately, the aspirational description "the beautiful game" has long disguised an ugly reality at the heart of the football experience.
Hooliganism, thuggery, racism, bullying and sexism became part of the game, reflecting the social conditions outside the pitch.
Valiant attempts have been made to stamp out these evils. And much progress has been made. But, as Andy Gray's and Richard Keys' pre-match banter on Saturday indicated, there's still work to be done.
What I find particularly puzzling is how tame the remarks are. Anyone who has stood on football terraces (that's an expression still used despite the fact that Premier League stadia are now all-seater by decree) will have heard much worse abuse directed at players and officials. Men.
But the casual nature of the lippy duo's dismissal of referee's assistant Sian Massey suggested a mindset that has been in lockdown since Alan Sillitoe wrote his epic of the English working-classes Saturday Night And Sunday Morning. And that was 1958 when, as is said, women knew their place.
The sneering antics of Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish at the apres-match press conference further underlines the difficulties facing the educationalists in trying to make men of a certain age see sense and get with the programme.
While the commentators' remarks might seem mild in football terms, they are disgusting and dumb. A quick glance at some online football discussion boards give a flavour of the milieu in which they were made.
One poster declares, "Couple of dickheads and pathetically predictable comments. I'd love to punch the f**k out of him (Keys)".
Another one observes, "I f**king hate that monkeyman Keys. he's been shit from day one. It's ridiculous that he's got that job."
That's the tone of debates in the unforgiving world the Sky Sports commentators are hired to address.
Discrimination has long been used as a weapon by players and supporters. Even in these enlightened times, ethnic minorities still attract vile abuse, if not as vocal and prevalent as previously. Football, and society, appear to be getting its act together.
That's why this glimpse of a bygone age is so alarming. The broadcasters should rightly be ashamed.
Gray and Keys have now brought the debate into everyone's home. We've campaigned to Stamp Out Racism while conveniently ignoring the implications of sexism. Not any longer.
With increasing numbers of women attending matches, you can be sure that Keys and Gray will be hearing much more about Girl Power.
That is if they're still around and not shoved out to pasture.