WHERE’S THE BALL? | The Anfield Wrap

by Karl Coppack

I can remember a golden age. An age when a press report of a match described the conditions, the goals, the teams and then the attendance and the half time score. Then technology moved on apace and pundits were introduced onto footy programmes to add insight and thought into the game (Brian Clough describing African nations as ‘a load of spear carriers who still eat each other’, for example).

A few years later and people like me, as partisan as you like, were publishing blogs and fanzine articles as everyone has a voice when it comes to a subjective issue. Journalists, however, are supposedly objective while columnists, pundits and experts can celebrate or criticise with abandon.

 The Guardian’s minute by minute report, written by a journalist as he’s reporting an event rather than commenting on one, for this week’s City game opened up two not exactly subtle attacks at Kenny Dalglish. The comments concerned two myths – that Kenny would have long gone had his name been ‘Hodgson’ and that the T-shirts were a ‘disgrace’.

Naturally both topics are open to debate rather than reported as fact and it’s pointless to refute them to people who don’t want to listen but that’s not my point. My point is this – just tell me who’s playing. That’s not much to ask. Leave the incendiary stuff for your column, not on the news pages.

At least this public declaration wasn’t a misguided attempt to be comical or banterish. What is it about journalists who feel that they and their colleagues are a cross between Bill Hicks and Bob Monkhouse?

Every sniffy grunt accompanied with a point to their chests shouting ‘I came up with that one’? They’re all at it these days. Gary Lineker is clearly convinced that his sotto voce links are Wildean in their wit and tone. I don’t want to feel embarrassed by your cheeky smile to Camera 2, Lineker. I just want to know if we’re on next.

The Guardian podcast is even worse. Who the merry fuck told James Richardson that he’s funny? Come on, who was it? Who told him that saying ‘woof’ like Tim Nice-But-Dim’s younger, stupider brother to express excitement is a good idea?

I want a presenter to present. We all think we’re humorous to some extent but if I was still making Gerrard/nightclub jokes six months after the incident (and then explain the reference in case anyone mistook it) I’d expect my mates to take me to one side and point out that the world has moved on.

Why not leave the funny stuff to funny people? Why not concentrate on telling us about Serie A instead as, it being his speciality; he knows more about that than most.

Podcasts are different, of course, as they’re more about views rather than news and I could listen to Sid Lowe all day but let’s get to the issues and not the knockabout tedious ‘banter’ that relegates the game to a secondary concern.

The Times podcast is a million times better as it’s amusing when it chooses to be and, like any good pub debate, it’s heated at times. I don’t always see eye to eye with Patrick Barclay but I’d rather listen to him than a jumped up journo who wants to end his days in a tuxedo resting his arm on a mike stand telling us about his mother-in-law.

Put the game or debate first, not your hastily arranged puns and dogma. It’s not difficult.

If there’s a television equivalent it’s Lawrenson. Each time I hear a painful ‘How many points is that worth in Scrabble, John?’ during an England v Eastern European team I have to forcibly remind myself that he is one the greatest Liverpool centre backs of all time.

Younger fans would be hard pushed to think that this man once commanded the respect of the whole ground during his playing days. Had he been mute he would have stayed in the memory as nothing else but again some anus has told him that his wacky sense of humour is just what we need to brighten up the game.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for a stern Victorian Dad telling me who the subs are or who is and who isn’t having a bad game, just the sense that I’m watching a game of football for my own pleasure rather than the sideshow of a shit comedy double act.

Of course, the argument against all this is a simple one. The game is meant to be fun. True, although injury time in the City game wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs, but why not let it be fun rather adding to it with televisual dressing room japery?

‘Goals on Sunday’ where Kamara and the other lad touch each other’s knees a lot would a great programme if they showed the goals with links back to the studio rather than interviews with a tiresome ex-manager or ex-player guests talking about their golf handicap/grey hair/no hair/’putting on a bit of timber’/’moths fly out of your wallet’ etc.

The game’s the thing. Keep it in the dressing room and show me the goals, not Neil Warnock giggling at decades old footage of him shouting in a dressing room. ‘Triffic, Kammy’.

Journalism has taken on a whole new slant since the advent of Sky and social media. Whereas old school journalists would report the game and their admiration of it we now have reporters taking fans on, berating them, retweeting them if they’re idiots and, significantly, winding them up on blogs and Twitter.

We fall for it all the time too. Did Paul Doyle open his Minute by Minute report to make two valid points about the state of LFC? Course not.

He did it so he could interact with those he’s pissed off and Liverpool fans are always good value and fair game. Add a shock jock to the mix and you’ve got a show.

Barry Glendenning, a man who I’ve had more than the odd run-in with much to my shame, provides the perfect bête-noir thanks to an ‘I say it as I see it’ approach.

I have a sneaky regard for ‘Baz’ as I’d like to think he’s alright under that public guise but it was interesting when we had a tweet exchange about the Oldham incident and I went from being an ‘idiot’ when he thought I was going to slate him, to silence when I didn’t. There’s no fun in agreement, only conflict.

There’s nothing wrong with columnists as you’ve got a rough idea what you’re going to get. A glance at Martin Samuel’s picture and outraged or outrageous headline makes his actual piece virtually redundant and that’s fine.

He’s not going to tell me what happened in a game I couldn’t be arsed to watch. It’s columnists masquerading as journalists that irk.

I don’t want Paul Doyle telling me his views on Dalglish, I want to know the teams.

Let’s face it, you’re not reading this because you want to know how long Spearing’s out and the reverse is also the case. There are two different roles but the lines have become blurred and news is now also entertainment and/or comment.

Ah, well. There’s always Alan Green. One day he’ll tell us where the ball is.

One day.

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