How does anyone get the impression they have been banned from a football stadium when they haven’t? Monsieur Salut remembers being told he was banned from a folk club in Newton Aycliffe, after comments in his folk column for the now-defunct Evening Despatch, and having to attend a hearing by the club’s committee to get the ban lifted.
With Micky Gray and Sunderland AFC, it’s a little more mystifying.
First we’re told by his employers, and it is repeated in other media, that he has been banned for accusing the club’s owner Ellis Short of lying to supporters about investment.
Then he withdraws the “lying” claim, admitting it was a rash allegation but standing by the milder assertion that Short has “broken promises”.
And just when we thought we had the makings of a slice of Newcastle-style stupidity on our hands, Gray says he wasn’t banned at all.
He tells the Sunderland Echo: “Anyone who knows me knows that I’m very passionate about my hometown club.
“However, in this instance that passion got the better of me. It was wrong of me to say that the fans had been lied to by the chairman and I will tell Ellis that when I speak with him.”
H said he and the club were both keen to “draw a line under this”. “I spoke to them and they reiterated to me that I haven’t been banned from the stadium, so there’s just been a misunderstanding there …”
Even in a field of human endeavor that has probably lost its capacity to surprise, there is something bizarre about the row. I am pleased Gray was never banished from the ground. He played 410 times for the club, is a fan and has a right to be as critical as he wishes – within the bounds of decency and legality. To call someone a liar can be seen as straying beyond the limits of both and, in law, leads the accuser into dangerous territory.
Whatever Short’s mistakes or, well, shortcomings as owner, he had every right to be cross. In the Swansea matchday programme, he wrote: “Michael Gray made quite a serious accusation claiming that I have lied to supporters. I have not. Michael Gray should admit that he was wrong.”
Dick Advocaat weighed in with the old Ferrari story “I heard a story about Michael Gray. Let’s say first I have respect for all the club’s legends, but when Sunderland were relegated and 90 people in the office heard they had been fired Mr Gray arrived in a new Ferrari, I don’t know where it was, but that shows. If I knew that 90 people had to go because we are going down, then I would go on my bike and not in a Ferrari.
“That says enough about the mentality of that man. So I’m not a friend of his now.”
Storm in a teacup? Yet another example of football being unable to stomach criticism? Or righteous indignation at a below-the-belt attack?
Probably a bit of all three.
Perhaps someone needs one of those £60,000-a-year PAs being sought by Jermain Defoe. They can be quite good at keeping their bosses out of harm’s way.