Cherish the game
'I'll give them six months'. That was Sir Alex Ferguson's verdict on Sky Sports chances of success after being awarded the first contract to cover 'live' Premier League football back in 1992.
Six months? We knew why he said it but we were determined to prove him wrong. I think we did that - but it wasn't without a fight - often with both hands tied behind our backs! It certainly didn't help when Fergie refused to talk to us from about the October of the first season - and then subsequently banned us from speaking to any of his players. Our crime? We pointed cameras at him as he flew into a frenzy on the touchline at QPR when a decision went against United! Whether the ban - as United went on to win their first league title in 26 years - was to help him make his case that we would fail we'll never know!
To succeed we needed to show off our national game in all its glory - and many different colours. We were also selling subscriptions - without which we couldn't afford to pay the huge amounts of money back into football that funded it. In that sense nothing has changed. We needed football. Football needed us. Our aim was the same - to make a success of it all.
I think everybody achieved that. Radio flourished - 5-live was born. TalkSPORT followed soon after. Newspapers created weekend pull outs and gave more column inches to football than ever before. Footballers started earning more money than they'd ever dreamt of. Young men became multi-millionaires in the blink of an eye. We respected what they did and they respected what we did. We all benefitted.
Andy Gray invented a new way of analysing football. He helped educate a generation. There had never been anything like Monday Night Football before. The show itself was the brainchild of our Executive Producer. Andy Melvin. Its purpose was to 'analyse' football. Simple.
We weren't into getting players banned for misdemeanours on the pitch - and my goodness there were many times we could've done - no, we wanted to give football a place to show itself off - so, we 'analysed' football. Simple.
Many times I'd ask Andy - I still do on beINSports - to explain where, let's say United, had got it wrong. He would always start his reply 'Well Richard, who am I to tell Sir Alex Ferguson what happened out there? He knows more about his team and plans today than me, but.....' You see - respect. Sadly there isn't too much of that about these days.
I've lost count of the number of times Andy has said 'look, nobody goes onto a football pitch with the intention of playing badly'. It happens. Of course it does. It happens for many different reasons - footballers are human beings, not robots. Those that have played should be more aware of that than anybody else.
That's why I find it so sad that today's young 'analysts' want to consistently criticise everything they see. It seems that tv execs these days want to encourage everybody to say something more ridiculous than the last man. Why? It doesn't put numbers on the viewing figures. UK audiences are down 19% this season. So why?
All today's young 'analysts' had bad games - some many many more than others - but they seem to have forgotten that. Analyse the game - stop name calling if someone is having a bad time on the pitch.
Which brings me to my point. I was really disappointed to see Jamie Carragher call Arsenal's players 'cowards' after the game at Palace. 'Cowards'? There was a time in British history that kind of insult would bring men to arms at dawn in a pistol fight for honour. No. I'm sorry, those players could be accused of many things on the other night - but cowardice? No. No. No.
I sometimes wonder how today's 'analysts' - few of whom have ever had the courage to coach themselves (is that cowardice?) would've reacted if we'd described their performances in the same way? Before you all start screaming again - what is cowardice in football? Is it failing to win the title year on year? Is it walking away from your country because you can't get a game? Is it messing up a penalty shoot out because you don't know the rules? No, of course not, it's none of those things, but you see how easy it is to get personal?
My advice to today's analysts - stick with talking about the football. Have an empathy with a player or players that are short on confidence and struggling to find their game. Respect our wonderful product. Remember what it was like when you played. We all still need each other. Cherish our wonderful sport. Yes, if required criticise, but make it constructive. We're turning people off with a constant string of vitriol. Love football and it will love you back - keeping some of us working and all of us fascinated.