The BBC is routinely accused of a wide variety of mad things. Sure, they’ve harboured the odd paedophile and been biased towards and against every single minority group out there, but by and large, the BBC is a Pretty Good Thing.
One thing that should be almost impossible for them to make a mess of is football. Take some cameras to the ground, point them at the goal and show a slo-mo replay of the racist one getting a kick in the face. Easy, right? Especially since they’ve been broadcasting for decades now.
With live football all but a thing of the past on the BBC now, their coverage is largely limited to the weekly post-pub treat of Match of the Day. How hard can it be to make a mess of that? Show the goals, have a bit of chat, and then everyone can switch off before the lower league highlights.
The actual coverage of the match is reasonable, despite some obvious quirks: A player shown getting an innocuous yellow card is always a precursor to them being sent off. John Motson went senile 15 years ago, and has a basic inability to see what is happening in front of him (“Oh, I say, was that a hand?” YES JOHN, THAT’S WHY HE’S TAKING A PENALTY.) But really, it’s fine.
Everything goes to pot in the post-match analysis. A dazzling array of smug ex-pros, usually Hansen, Shearer, and if you’re particularly unlucky, Lawrenson, will offer their insight on the match. That’s the theory, anyway. What they actually impart is so facile, cliché-ridden and childish that the producers could literally hire a child to perform the task, which would at least have the effect of reducing the awful stench of smugness.
Their contributions amount to little more than dutifully describing what has just been on screen, with a slightly withering tone if someone has made a mess of things, or a staccato enthusiasm in the case of a particular piece of brilliance. That’s what you get from Alan Hansen, who earns over £1m a year for his insight.
Former England striker Alan Shearer probably loves his MOTD appearances, but you wouldn’t know it: He musters all the enthusiasm of a university pothead deciding whether to go to a lecture. When he does open his mouth, it’s like English is his fourth or fifth language, and he’s not sure of the right words. “He’s done a good run there” or “the defender should head it” are the depths of his analytical mind.
We appreciate that Match of the Day is a relatively mainstream BBC1 show, and that the level of discussion isn’t going to break down into a chat about wing-backs vs. full-backs every week, but to call what Shearer, Lawrenson and Hansen offer up “analysis” is actually fucking insulting.
It’s easier for them to make a smug joke about Shearer’s hair or Lineker’s lazy approach to goal-scoring than to discuss exactly why a player has made a poor decision. Castigate him with a laugh, and move on. Robbie Savage is the worst for this; a sly reference to the fact that he was a knob as a player, and a cheeky laugh.
Remember, this is a program where Shearer notoriously offered up “No one really knows a great deal of him,” when Newcastle signed French international Hatem Ben Arfa. Ten minutes on YouTube, or a Schofieldesque search of the Internet would have provided just a nugget of information. Alan Shearer is a Newcastle hero and supporter, so presumably having a hint of interest in the player would be fairly natural to him. But no, he couldn’t be seen to be taking his football too seriously, lest Lawrenson were to call him a geek.
It’s a smug old-boys club, where the thought of being knowledgeable about football or taking the slightest pride in your job is to be mocked and avoided. Where an afternoon of watching matches and coming up with opinions is an arduous effort.
The trend towards describing a game in terms of “incidents” makes this job particularly easy. So easy to show a contentious penalty decision from seven different angles in ultra slow motion and then castigate the hapless referee. What’s a little tougher – and therefore ignored – is discussing why a player was caught so badly out of position that he was forced to make the foul.
The show is dead on its arse; the advent of the iPlayer and Sky+ mean that it’s no longer necessary to subject yourself to the inane ramblings of morons on a Saturday night. However, I want to hear intelligent opinions on the matches: Goals on Sunday on Sky Sports can manage it, the Football Weekly podcast is thoroughly enjoyable. It’s not difficult, particularly for an ex-pro, to understand what’s happening on the pitch. Communicating that idea may be a little more difficult, but there are plenty of ex-pros out there (as well as current pros; managers; referees; chairmen; journalists and – if they must – celebrity fans) who are at least worth a punt.
Hansen has been on MOTD for nearly twenty years now, and his feet are comfortably under the table. We’ve seen what happens when the status quo is threatened: An upstart like Colin Murray is packed out on his backside, rather than challenging the notion that bland pseudo-analysis is acceptable for the BBC’s flagship sporting program. Lee Dixon, a breath of fresh air, (seen here rolling his eyes in exasperation at Shearer’s interruptions), decided to brave ITV’s notoriously shaky output, rather than waste his Saturday nights in the company of the Alans.
To be honest though, little is likely to change. This discussion comes around every couple of years, and the same faces still crop up week after week. Match of the Day will still pop big ratings, because people are tuning in for the football, so there’s little reason to bother updating the stale format. The last big change we can remember (other than Goal of the Month becoming “a bit of fun”, rather than a competition) is that Manchester United no longer feature as the main game by default – a staple of dour 90s MOTD, where a routine 1-0 win at Sheffield Wednesday was given more time than a six goal thriller between two unfashionable clubs.
They’ll be pleased with that.