Did Graeme Souness mean what he said? Of course he did.

Published: Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Let me first declare a conflict of interest. Graeme Souness is a friend a mine. A very close friend. I’ve know him since he was 25 and in his prime as a player at Liverpool.

We’ve fallen out a few times - mainly because he didn’t like what I had to say about his management style. When he was at Liverpool we didn’t speak at all. His call - not mine.

I was instrumental in getting him the Newcastle job - and if you asked him who started his tv career he’d say ‘Richard Keys’ - without hesitation.

He was the first man I sat and drank with after my open heart surgery. The shock of him paying for the champagne nearly put me back in hospital! Graeme doesn’t like paying for anything.

We speak often - about football and a whole lot of other things. He doesn’t buy much but he’s hugely generous with his time and quietly does so much good work for others. He really is one of the good guys.

So there we are. That’s the background.

I’m sorry to see him engulfed by the current storm after his comments following the Chelsea v Spurs game - which he described as a ‘man’s game’.  

The question is - did he mean what he said at Stamford Bridge? The answer is ‘yes’.  Of course he did. Did he mean what he said to be insulting to women in any way? Absolutely not.
Is he a sexist? No. His daughter used to work in our business. He works every weekend with one of his closest friends’ daughters - Kelly Cates. He’s always promoting women’s rights. He knows how important the subject is. 

It’s great to see so many people leaping to his defence. Who would want Graeme cancelled? Who would want him to go through what I have these past few years? Trust me - if anyone wants to talk about how social media - and more particularly our national press - can affect the mental health of an individual - give me a call.

I got caught up in a row because I was from a generation that didn’t immediately understand how life was changing. That’s not an excuse for what happens - its a reason. My first blog of this season addressed that issue. Times have changed. Attitudes have rightly changed and women’s rights are a whole lot stronger and better for it. What the Lionesses did last summer was brilliant. It’s empowered women and girls alike. Why shouldn’t everyone play football? Why shouldn’t everyone have the choice to play football at school as part of the curriculum? 

If we’re to continue to make progress
on this issue we’ve got to be both honest and brave. When we hear what Graeme said at the weekend we’ve got to call it out - but we don’t need a witch-hunt. It was clumsy. It’s was a generational thing. And it was wrong. 

What we can’t have a hand-ringing group of celebrities backing people because ‘we don’t want to call out one of the good guys’. (That’s a headline I read in The Mail On-line) and looking to destroy others because we’ve taken a dislike to them  
Why would The Mail leap to Graeme’s defence so quickly? Easy. He’s just signed a three-year contract to write a column for them. Martin Samuel wrote a glowing piece yesterday (Tuesday) defending Graeme. I had to look twice to be sure it was Martin. Yep - the same Martin Samuel who answered the phones when we worked together in Fleet Street. Someone I thought was a mate - but who went after me when I got into trouble with an editorial instruction ‘bury them (Me and Andy) and make sure nothing sticks to Redknapp. He too used to write a column for them.

Graeme isn’t alone in dicing with cancellation. ‘Best bra none’ tweeted Gary Lineker when celebrating the Lionesses. How would the world have reacted if I’d done that? He knew exactly what he was doing. It was a very unfunny line that belittled the achievement. But he survived with resolute back tracking from the BBC.

My point is this. Either we want to take the subject of womens rights seriously - or we don’t. It shouldn’t matter if someone is a ‘good guy’. Who decides? Is there a list of good and bad guys somewhere in the sports editors’ desk at the Daily Mail?

It took me a long time to understand my mistake, but I’ve done a lot of hard work both on myself - and on the subject ever since. Isn’t that how things get better? We accept - learn - and move on?

Not for a minute do I want to see Graeme in trouble. But he meant what he said. I say again - he said it without malice. It was a mistake. Can’t we accept that? He’s from that generation that believed football was a ‘man’s game’. That’s how he thinks. That’s how a lot of men in football still think. That’s how I used to think. But it isn’t now. It’s simply a ‘game’ to be enjoyed by everyone. And womens rights are an issue that can’t be forwarded if we’re not honest about the subject. That’s the more important issue here.