Inside Lines: Andy Gray in line for permanent comeback as BT give him another break

 

Expect Andy Gray's second guest appearance as a co-commentator on BT Sport – he has been invited back for today's FA Cup match between Arsenal and Liverpool – to become a more permanent fixture.

Aware that their team will need to be strengthened following their £897 million acquisition of the Champions' League and Europa Cup from next season, I understand BT executives see Gray, still regarded by many in TV as the best analyst in the business, as a key player in their future football coverage.

This despite protests by, among others, the campaign group Women in Football, who have expressed disappointment that the broadcaster has opted to employ the 58-year-old former Scotland international, who was sacked by Sky three years ago over sexist banter between himself and presenter Richard Keys, who later resigned.

Gray, who will stand in for Michael Owen, had returned to TV last month as BT co-commentator for Everton's FA Cup win over Stevenage. However, this was followed by the release of an off-air recording from the early 2000s showing him and Keys singing "Get your tits out for the lads" to Sky Sports colleague Clare Tomlinson. But this has not deterred BT, nor, I predict, will his past behaviour prevent him being offered more substantial work.

Indeed, the latest leak was seen by some at BT as an attempt by someone to sabotage Gray's TV rehabilitation.

Balding's twitter twits

BT's decision to use Andy Gray makes him a controversial bedfellow, so to speak, with their star female presenter Clare Balding, an ardent advocate of equality for women in sport. However, Balding is far too professional to make it an issue.

This professionalism has never been better demonstrated than with her BBC stint in Sochi, where she has helped restore balance and sanity to the mouth-frothing coverage of the slopestyle events. Equally admirable is her decision to ignore the outrageous Twitter trolls who slammed her for not boycotting the Games over Russia's laws against the promotion of same-sex relationships. Her partner, the former radio presenter Alice Arnold, says it is ironic that "the only gay person going" should be attacked in this way.

Ali goes sell for leather

It was 50 years ago this month that Muhammad Ali – then Cassius Clay – sensationally defeated Sonny Liston in Miami to become the heavyweight champ. Now the gloves that "shook up the world" and so abused Liston's lacerated features are up for auction and expected to fetch at least $500,000 (£300,000). The seller is not revealed, but they are from the collection of Ali's late trainer Angelo Dundee and will be sold in New York on 22 February.

"They are the very gloves Ali wore that night," Chris Ivy, director of sports collectibles at the auctioneers, assures us. Which is good news, because we have been to so many charity nights when the gloves Henry Cooper supposedly wore when he first lost to Ali at Wembley were auctioned off that there must be at least a dozen pairs in existence.

Groves hits the jackpot

While hard-sell Amir Khan now looks like losing out on a £5 million payday to fight Floyd Mayweather Jnr, fellow Brit George Groves's perseverance in pursuing a return with Carl Froch has finally paid off with a 50-50 split of a similar figure when they meet again on 31 May. By George, he's got it!

a.hubbard@independent.co.uk

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