TV pundit and former Scottish striker Andy Gray is in a spot of bother in England right now, and that’s something that upsets me greatly.

I like Andy. I always have done, back even in the days when he was bursting out of our television screen in the gold shirt of Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Our paths have crossed many times since, first back at a time when I worked in London covering the launch of the Premier League and Andy was the main man on the fledgling Sky Sports satellite TV station.

Andy was good company in those days, frequently socializing with the soccer press in hotel bars up and down England after Monday Night Football, a concept Sky sorrowed straight from their NFL colleagues in the U.S.
He’s still good company as I discovered at an Aviva Stadium gig to promote my previous employer’s World Cup coverage back in late May.

I’m sure I’ve told this story on these pages before, but Andy and I had a good laugh at that old windbag Eamon Dunphy that night in the corporate area of the new Lansdowne Road.

Just to prove that Dunphy ain’t half as clever as he thinks he is, then Star columnist Andy and I set him up wonderfully in a question and answer section of the evening.

We got together after Dunphy had claimed that Bayern Munich’s poor central defense in the Champions League was the reason why Germany would do nothing in South Africa in June and certainly wouldn’t be there by July.

I begged to differ and so did Andy, not least because the two players at the heart of the Bayern Munich defense in their European Cup campaign were Argentinean and Belgian, neither of whom could play for Germany. 

Dunphy didn’t know that fact of course and fell into the trap hook, line and sinker -- much to our amusement.
That amusement grew when Germany got all the way to the semifinals of the World Cup, and even Dunphy had to acknowledge their greatness as he squirmed on the RTE panel.

This week, it’s been Andy’s turn to squirm after a female assistant referee was the subject of sexist remarks by himself and Sky Sports presenter Richard Keys during their coverage of Liverpool’s 3-0 win at Wolves on Saturday.

Their comments doubting Sian Massey’s understanding of the offside rule have prompted outrage in England, so much so that Gray has now been sacked by Sky Sports for that and other remarks of a sexist nature relayed to the media even though they were said “off-air” so to speak.

It’s a pity, not least because there isn’t a male football fan in the world who hasn’t wondered like Andy and Richard about female referees and lineswomen, for want of a better term.

That doesn’t make it right, of course. Here in Ireland we’ve had female referees in the Airtricity League for a number of seasons, and no-one sees anything unusual in it anymore.

Even at schoolboy level, we’ve encountered female refs with my Dunshaughlin team in the North Dublin Schoolboys League and they’ve been good as gold.

The first time we met one of the Whistle Sisters, the teenagers on our team did find it amusing and even tried to test her understanding of the game, but a yellow card or two quickly sorted the messers out.

Sadly, Andy Gray got a red card from Sky late on Tuesday night when he was unceremoniously sacked.
I can’t condone his behavior, but I do lament his departure from our screens -- particularly since we’ll have to endure even more of the mundane Jamie Redknapp now with our Monday night football.  

Duddy Goes With Class
GOOD luck to Derry’s John Duddy on his retirement from professional boxing, and congratulations to him for displaying some honesty in a sport built on so many lies.

The easiest thing for Duddy to do in 2011 would have been to accept the $100,000 on offer to fight Andy Lee in March.

It’s a fight all Ireland has wanted to see for years, and there is no doubt whatsoever that Duddy and Lee would have earned their money.

It wouldn’t have been easy money, but it would have been an easy decision for Duddy to take the fight and give his many supporters the bout they always wanted.

Duddy won’t fight Lee, however. Not this March and not any March. He’s hung the gloves up and assured everyone who will listen that he won’t be taking them back down ever again.

Boxing’s money game, easy or not, is no longer for Duddy. He admitted that the hunger and the desire and the passion had retired from his body even before he did.

That honesty doesn’t surprise me. I spent three hours or so with Duddy in a Manhattan bar about four summers ago and it was one of the best interview sessions I’ve ever been involved in during a very long stint at this game.

Duddy was affable, charming and brutally honest with me that day, so his honesty this week didn’t come as any great surprise, but I still applaud him for it. 

He leaves boxing as one of the good guys -- and very few boxers bow out with that reputation intact.

Sideline Views
GAA: Congratulations to the great Kerry footballer Paul Galvin, who has finally lived up to the old maxim which says “if you can’t beat them, join them.”  Galvin, scourged by the tabloid press according to himself, is now writing a weekly fashion column – yes, fashion -- for the Irish Independent. He might as well be writing about knitting patterns as far as my life is concerned, but I do welcome him into our humble ranks. And I look forward to the day when his editor demands that he adopts a critical tone -- as his editor surely will. Galvin might then find it ain’t so easy when his Adidas boot is on the other foot. In the meantime, good luck to him in his latest endeavor. Saturday’s Independent will never be the same again.

SOCCER: Professional footballers may be paid a small fortune in England these days, but they are still human like the rest of us and the recent cold spell proved it. Pity the Arsenal midfielder Alex Song, who is paid about $80,000 a week, after he had to slum it like the rest of us when London was engulfed by ice age conditions. Song has just been singing about the fact that he had to walk for five hours and eight miles before he could find a cab to bring him home in the worst of the December snowstorms. Now surely, he could have run the eight miles in less than five hours, even allowing for the snow?
GAA: New figures show that GAA clubs in Ireland are losing 250 players a month to emigration, many of them moving to America. It’s a figure that is only going in one direction as the economy here sinks into the gutter where our politicians belong. At least with the election looming, we finally get to have our say on the whole sorry mess but trust me, if I was younger I’d be on the way to New York or Boston myself.
SOCCER: Great quote from the Celtic manager Neil Lennon when asked about Kenny Miller’s decision to leave Rangers for the $90,000 a week, after tax, on offer from Turkish club Bursaspor. “He has scored 22 goals this season so I’m glad to see the back of him really,” said Lennon with just a touch of irony!

TYRONE manager Mickey Harte was bravely back on a football field with his players for Sunday’s McKenna Cup win over Donegal, just days after he buried his daughter Michaela, and it can’t have been easy for the great man. Nothing will ever console Mickey or his family for the loss they endured when Michaela was murdered on her honeymoon. Sport is so irrelevant next to their suffering but who knows, it might just offer him some comfort in the days, weeks and months ahead. Let’s hope so.

THE television viewer who sold Padraig Harrington down the river at the Abu Dhabi Championship on Thursday clearly had little to do with his or her time -- or did they? Harrington was disqualified from the tournament in quite a harsh way, but one that was true to golf’s penchant for honesty. But imagine if our petty TV viewer had laid Harrington on the betting exchanges on Thursday before he or she reported his misdemeanor? And imagine how much money the eagle eyed observer might have made if he or she did indeed do such a thing? It’s just a little question to think about in light of the very strange events in the Middle East.