Update: A recording of the interview is available ‘here’ from 6:00.
I had quite a Kafkaesque transformation tonight. Having returned from a beautiful week in the Scottish Highlands and a day at George Square protesting the Westminster bedroom tax, I became English footballer Michael Gray for the evening. He has 363 appearances for Sunderland and 3 England caps. I’ve only a few appearances for Castlehill Primary School in 2001, so it was quite a good promotion.
To explain how this metamorphosis occurred, a few months ago I organised a referendum on Scottish Independence at Glasgow University. I was dragged into some interesting and some tedious dealings with the Scottish and UK media. So tonight, when Martin O’Neil was sacked as boss of English Premiership side Sunderland, one media editor has a confusing phone book call to make: Michael Gray (1) or Michael Gray (2) that is the question?
As a result at 9.45 pm this innocent student was the recipient of a rather confusing phone conversation. This is a verbatim account:
Editor: “Hello, is that Michael Gray?”
Me: “Yes it is.”
Editor: “Are you aware that Martin O’Neil has just been sacked as manager of Sunderland?”
Me: “I am now.”
Editor: “What would your reaction to that be?”
Me: “(hesitantly) I’m quite surprised. He had quite a good record, especially with Celtic.”
Editor: “Okay. We’ll phone you back in ten minutes and see if we can get you on the radio.”
As he hung up, this sporting small talk left me confused. Did he like phoning strangers to talk about the Black Cats or did he think I was the footballer Michael Gray, a namesake who alongside the DJ who wrote The Weekend haunted banter with childhood friends? Assuming the later, my suburban Glasgow accent had, for the first time in my life, failed in its role as personal sat-nav. Meanwhile my minor grasp of current sporting affairs had clearly passed whatever the current knowledge burden is for England internationals. That was worrying on both fronts. However, my footballing grandfather – who took me to Scottish Football League games when I was younger – would certainly be proud.
Radio 5live – the station concerned – called me back to confirm that I would be on the radio in five minutes. I was unsure about going ahead. The feedback from friends on facebook included helpful advice such as: ‘This is hilarious’, ‘Surely they’ll cut you off’ & ‘Do it in a Sunderland accent!’. My main consideration came from a months previous when the same station sent me on a wild goose chase to arrange multiple speakers for a piece on Scottish politics. This was a few days before the deadline for my undergraduate dissertation and it caused a bit of hassle. They then cut the item at the last moment. In that context having a bit of fun at the media’s expense – which so often pokes fun at others or at worst abuses its position of power – felt justified. I was like a civic McLeveson gone rogue.
So I was put through to the show. I can’t remember most of what I said. It wasn’t very interesting. Most sporting speculation isn’t. My intention was to keep my comments realistic so they didn’t chuck me off the line! I slipped a few clichés in: ‘relegation dog fight’, ‘it’s time to regroup’, ‘I wouldn’t want to pre-empt the Board’s response’, ‘We should thank Martin for the good work he has done at the club’. I doubt the other Michael Gray would have said anything that different. Martin O’Neil – from my distant amateur prospective – has always seemed like a dignified and compassionate character. Plus he has a good laugh in him, so I’m sure he wouldn’t mind!
I got a call shortly afterwards from the BBC Editor concerned. I apologised for a “student prank” and hoped it wouldn’t cause too much hassle. I sent the real Michael Gray a tweet apologising as well. (at point of writing he hasn’t replied) I’ve previously found the exploits of Guy Goma, ‘The Yes Men’ or this amazing media-prank call by Chris Morris to be hilarious. Satire is great and this was my wee experience of it.
As I said, to an awkward and confused sports’ media desk tonight:
Football: “At the end of the day, it’s just a game.”
30th March 2013