From the diary of Martin Tyler – 26th January 2011.
…So of course it was a bombshell when the news broke.
I was in my study poring over the Opta stats for Samir Nasri’s pass completion when Paula came in with a cup of PG Tips and a plate of Jaffa Cakes in a 4-4-2 formation – just how I like them.
Instinctively, I knew something was wrong. Paula was wearing her good apron and an anxious expression.
“I’ve just put some flap jacks in the oven for later,” she said brightly. I nodded my enthusiastic approval, and murmured “Thanks Petal” but continued with my work, head down, engrossed in jotting down evidence of Theo Walcott’s profligacy in front of goal. After a few moments, I realised she was still there, standing awkwardly in the doorway, shuffling from foot to foot.
“I think you’d better turn on Sky Sports,” she said, dropping an affectionate pat on my shoulder before scooting away.
As the Samsung flat-screen flared into life – preset dutifully to channel 405 – I was instantly confronted by that familiar big, soppy face frozen in a slightly sinister leer. The tone of the news anchor was grim, and I caught him mid-sentence: “…persistent offensive behaviour. Before the new footage came to light, Gray and his colleague Richard Keys had been reprimanded for making fun of a lineswoman while off-the-air at the Wolves vs. Liverpool game – but this new evidence has clearly been viewed by bosses as the final straw…” I glanced down. “GRAY SACKED” screamed the ticker, and an icy chill went down my spine.
Andy’s eyes bore into me from a giant screen in the studio as the presenters chattered back and forth – the sombre, right-on tone just failing to extinguish the jubilation from their voices. Jackals, I thought. Scumbags. Andy never stood a chance.
Ironically, the previous day, I hadn’t been too worried. Andy had been pinged before for perceived “indiscretions”, and had always twinkled his way out of it.
The incident with the tea lady and the iced finger was a low point, I don’t mind admitting. I carried the can as far as I could on that one. “He was just suggesting Ms. Davenport retrieve the… er… bun I accidently dropped under the table,” I stuttered at the resulting disciplinary hearing. “I don’t recall him ever uttering the sentence: ‘And you can ice MY bun while you’re down there, sweetheart! Hubba Hubba.’ Not at any time.”
It didn’t help that he was sitting there chortling at me and pulling faces the whole time.
As usual, I took him to one side afterwards and gave him some paternal advice:
“Andy, you are going to have to smarten up your act. The knives are out, you know…”
“Och, lighten up, ya wee prude. I dinnae mean nae harm,” was the stock response. “Anyways, the lassies love a sense a’ humour. Did ya see the outraged way she jiggled around in her blouse as we went through the tertiary evidence? Lovely stuff!”
And I couldn’t help but laugh, despite myself.
With Andy stood down, they partnered me with Big Sam Allardyce for Monday Night Football. Apparently they couldn’t get Smudger Smith on such short notice. It was an uncomfortable experience. Sam was a sweating, porky presence who squidged in unnecessarily close and filled the air with a faint whiff of bacon. He would grab at my thigh whenever Kevin Davies touched the ball – and referred to all the players matily by their Christian names – like Andy did, but somehow without the dressing-room intimacy. “Great working with you, Martin,” he said at the end, proffering a podgy mitt as I hastily gathered my things. I left the comm box feeling a little bit soiled.
But I hadn’t panicked. It was just a reprimand - a one-match ban – a slap on the wrist. He’ll be back alongside me after the FA Cup break for Chelsea v Liverpool, I told myself. And I pictured him grinning sheepishly towards the camera after the initial handover from the studio, declaring himself raring to go and enthusiastically ripping into the frailties of the Liverpool midfield.
Besides, it was Keys-y who put him up to it – and that little wannabe scrote Burton who gave it an unwanted sensationalist angle by describing Sian Massey as a “bit of a looker”. As far as I knew, all Andy did was reiterate his genuine long-held belief that the fairer sex struggle habitually with the offside rule. “It’s about spatial awareness, Martin,” he has often said. “They can’t parallel park either.”
But they get a sniff, these hacks, and they pick at the scabs. Now some footage emerges of the microphone down the trousers in front of some young killjoy with a trouser-suit from Cricket and a 2:1 from Nottingham Trent. Wet behind the ears and tooled-up on EU Diversity Directives and Health and Safety nonsense. A word in the ear of le Grand Fromage, and it’s “Adios Andy – thanks for the memories”. 20 years. Booted out for a microphone down the trousers. It’s hardly up to Berlusconi standards, is it?
Later, I went out for a drive in the Mondeo to try and clear my head. The talk-radio jocks were smugly deriding him as a “dinosaur” and a “liability”, and I couldn’t really argue too much, if I’m honest. But the audacious hypocrisy of most of the contributions left me incensed and incredulous. Rio Ferdinand went all po-faced and righteous and Tweeted about how he was outraged, and that women deserved more respect. Has the world gone mad? “What about the roasting, Rio?” I shouted out loud.
In the end it all got too much – I pulled on to the hard shoulder of the M25 and blared the horn – “You don’t know him!” I screamed into the wind as the lorries shuddered past. And then I dropped my head and sobbed like a baby.
Time passed. I don’t know how much. Eventually I pulled myself together, blew my nose, and activated the hands-free: Speed dial 1. A dozen rings.
“Eh? Hello? Martin – Is that you?” He sounded the worse for wear.
“How are you, Andy?”
“Ahm fooked, Martin…”
“Try to hold it together,” I encouraged. “It’ll all blow over. Look at Stan Collymore, look at the Merse – they’re back on the air and more popular than ever.”
He sniffled something inaudible and I heard a bottle smash in the background. I sighed.
“I tried to warn you, my old friend. It’s the modern way. You can’t get away with the lewd remarks and the bottom slaps any more. The old days are over. You have to accept that.”
A long pause, before he spoke in a coarse whisper.
“I cannae rein it in, man,” he said, his voice cracking. “It’s me. It’s who I am.”
I knew then that he was finished.
And I HAD tried. I tried for 20 years to save him from himself. But the words spill from his mouth like a perverted waterfall. His hands are pre-programmed to goose and grope. And the irony is that Andy adores women. He just doesn’t understand them. He’s like a small child, slapped for a crude remark – all wide-eyed and brimming with tears.
In the early days, he was like an over-affectionate, slobbering puppy - blond mane cascading down his broad shoulders; tongue lolling out of his mouth. I remember the first time he rolled out the now storied aphorism “Take a booooow, Son!” Everton-Spurs, 1997. He chortled over that one in the bar afterwards and held everyone in thrall with his good-natured enthusiasm and charisma.
After the first few slips into schoolyard behaviour, I took it upon myself to educate him in more civilised discourse and professional manners. Paula and I booked a table at a decent restaurant on the Kings Road, and he rocked up late with a fiery lass from Aberdeen (who, I confess, looked a bit like Frank McAvennie from some of the less flattering angles). Andy was a hopeless cause, pinging bread rolls at the waiters and calling his paramour “Sugar Tits” at alarmingly frequent intervals. Paula’s a game woman, and she kept a watery smile on show throughout, but I knew I could never get her to see what I saw: The man beneath the boorish oaf. My colleague. My friend.
It was gone ten when I wearily pulled into the driveway. I stopped, switched off the ignition and sat in the darkness, contemplating the future. I imagined my twilight years, fading out to obscurity with capable, PC young Paduan summarisers like Smudger and Don Goodman, eager to learn at my shoulder. Nice boys, but somewhat sterile. No fire in the belly. And it made me sad.
I trudged inside and straight up to bed. Paula was waiting for me, shivering in a nightie as she brought me in a reheated Horlicks.
“I’m sorry, love,” she said, simply.
I know,” I replied. “I know”.