Keeping some of footie’s dirty talk would be a good save

With the demise of Sky's Andy Gray and Richard Keys and the end of prehistoric sexism - some chance - will another form of outdated, ancient language disappear when more presentable presenters take over? Oh, I hope not.

Keys seemed a harmless, smarmy, fluent creep, but I don't think I ever listened to him, for I always leave the room when the studio discussion starts. I watch football for the football, not the inane chat. I can get that at home.

Gray was harder to avoid, as he commentated on the actual match, but he did seem full of himself, a big swinging dick - God, is that sexist language, I'll be for it - but I thought he was observant, even if most of his earnest, pseudo-technical wizardry was laughable.

What I couldn't understand was why his fellow commentator Martin Tyler, who is sensible, knowledgeable and calm, was so deferential, referring to "Mr Gray" - and not ironically - bowing to his superior status, just because he had once been a bullet-headed footballer.

The language I worry about disappearing from football is industrial. I don't mean swearing, as obviously that will not go, no more than it will go from the mouths of cabinet ministers speaking to each other, barristers together in their chambers, or well-bred girls out on the piss. If anything, we are in the heyday of bad language. Everyone is at it. As a lad, I remember sitting on a train and a man letting slip a "bloody" in front of a woman. He was chucked out of the compartment.

The root of industrial language in football is industrial. Players doing their job are giving a "workman-like performance". Coming off the pitch, they have "put in a good shift". The notion of a shift suggests they really have been down the pit.

If a player stays with the same team for more than a season, or even just half an hour, he is said to have been "a loyal servant to the club". This always makes me laugh - as if top players were not multimillionaires, among the richest young men on the planet, with total freedom to go where and when they like and say up your bum to anyone.

When a player defends well, he "is doing the business". When he clumsily goes over the top, it is an " industrial tackle". When the team mounts a series of good attacks, they are "building up a head of steam".

Back to mine

I like to think the use of these phrases and images - and they are peculiar to football - go back to our industrial past, when football began, and when players did work down the mines for a few years till they got signed. The language lived on, handed down through the generations, and was used in street football, which the young Andy Gray would have played.

Another leftover from this industrial past is that you still see the players' wages referred to in weekly terms, not as annual salaries, as with most other jobs today.

So John Terry will be said to have negotiated a wage packet of £200,000 a week - as if that is what he gets in his horny hand, with a neat wage slip, after having queued up meekly on a Friday evening. In real life, he never sees it, as it disappears into some distant financial labyrinth.

Football commentators and fans, also using language passed down, still refer to players “on the park" when of course players have played on proper pitches, not parks, for over 100 years - unless they are in the lower divisions and have to practise on municipal playing fields.

I have heard Andy Gray compliment some striker for "turning on a sixpence", a coin that has not existed since Britain turned decimal in 1971. Older fans in Scotland still talk about a "tanner ba' player" - a tanner being a traditional term for a sixpence.

When the new, young Sky presenters take over, fresh from fee-paying schools, football's industrial language will disappear for ever. Which will be a shame. I have been sweating down the football mine, doing endless shifts for so long, I quite like the history.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 07 February 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The New Arab Revolt