I DON’T know what Alan Hansen thinks about football. I mean, I know he’s in favour of power and pace, and most definitely against terrible defending, but I don’t know what a team that Alan Hansen can get behind looks like. I don’t know how it approaches the game, what shape it plays, what values it cherishes, what decisions it makes. This is odd. Allowing 15 minutes a week for 46 weeks a year over 17 years then I’ve heard Hansen talk football for 195.5 hours in my lifetime. And I still don’t know what he really thinks about football.
For a while now we’ve been approaching a point where the way the game is presented and discussed on television and radio, and the way in which it is discussed online, on podcasts and in other fan-produced media, couldn’t be more different.
I’m biased, obviously, but there just appears to be a great deal more reason, discussion and humour on our side of the fence than on theirs.
Euro 2012 on the BBC laid this difference bare. It was a catalogue of infuriating, pointless nonsense.
Some quick lowlights – Martin Keown saying at the start of Spain’s extra-time against Portugal that “Spain don’t seem to want it enough”; Mark Bright’s pathetic remark as Croatia throw the goalkeeper forward in their game against Spain of “It’s last minute dot com now.”
Then there was Keown’s basic dismissal of the Germans as being “arrogant” and the Italians as “passionate” after the semi-final.
Oh and everything that comes out of Lawrenson’s mouth – snide, miserable squeaks of ignorance. Murray, Savage, Shearer. Everyone’s depiction of Mario Balotelli through the tournament, especially after he’d played an important role for the side that won the league.
Homework just didn’t appear to have been done. Keown said the Portugal keeper “appears to be good” during the semi-final against Spain; Shearer tells us that “Lewandowski could be the player everyone said he was” during the first game.
Have neither of you watched them before? Why not? This is your job. You get paid to do this. You can watch football in the morning and play golf in the afternoon. You have researchers to call on, you can get DVDs of sides at the drop of a hat. It’s staggering that any driven professional would feel as though simply turning up and cracking a few basic jokes, turning out the same guff is enough.
But it is. And it has been for far too long.
This is the BBC’s problem. Institutional smugness. Everyone involved, with the honourable exception of Lee Dixon, seems far too satisfied with themselves.
It needs to be torn out root and branch. Quite possibly harsh on the talented Lineker who deserves a career presenting other sports but it should start there.
Hansen, Bright, Keown, Lawrenson, Shearer, Crookes and Murray all need to be shown the door. The belief that they are unsackable is part of the problem.
The feeling persists that this smug attitudepermeates from those who produce and oversee BBC’s football coverage – they put Chris Moyles and his sidekick on the red button to commentate on an England game despite them making clear for over ten years they most definitely have no idea when it comes to football.
The higher you go in the BBC hierarchy the more you suspect it is worse than smug. They don’t really respect the viewer, they don’t feel he/she is discerning. They will just keep giving us Hansen’s golf club bilge or Moyles’ loutish shouting rather than educate, inform or entertain.
Their Euro 2012 coverage is the culmination of what has been atrocious broadcasting on football across the BBC for some time.
Match Of The Day offers you no sense of the flow of any of the games it covers, heaping talking point atop talking point until there is nothing to say.
Their radio phone-ins are as witless as Bright and Keown. Dreadful callers are cued up to complain one after the other (Mark Pougatch had one calling for Wenger’s head after Arsenal got murdered by AC Milan. In the same call the listener also said that Mancini and Ferguson should have been sacked. He went unchallenged on all this and was praised for his tough views that were, as far as Pougatch was concerned, difficult to disagree with on the call’s conclusion).
Alan Green is the archetypal misery guts commentator who doesn’t want to be there. The Monday Night Club is the repository of the braindead with the likes of Claridge, McGarry and Motson chewing over non-existent fat and spitting it in the face of the listener. Motson has never had anything interesting to say about football and now says it more than ever.
Over on ITV, however, their coverage has shown signs of something. Not of being actually good, but like it might just know what good looks like. Keane, Carragher, Martinez, Strachan, Vieira. All look capable of talking about football without being abhorrent and as though they enjoy the activity. They are up against the clock, with endless adverts and England packages but it does look enjoyable. Incredibly they are managing this with an enormous One Show dead weight on their backs.
Of course for Chiles, it’s all vaudeville. It’s end of the pier stuff. And the second things get really interesting, he stamps it down.
Keane is incensed by Ireland’s capitulation to Italy and the cultural memes that follow about the Irish. He’s furious with Keith Andrews. He is incendiary. It is glorious and unguarded. It is television. But Chiles doesn’t probe Roy’s thinking. He doesn’t challenge him or urge him to explain. He goes to others on the panel to get their view on how good Spain are (very, by the way).
The journalistic thing to do in that moment was to get Keane to speak more. It was also the most entertaining thing to do. Whether he’s right or wrong, Roy Keane needed to be given the whole time up to the break to cut loose. Instead he was shackled.
Carragher has been the most interesting on ITV. In his own way he’s been as revelatory as Gary Neville has on Sky.
What Neville has done at Sky is show what a clear thinking, hard-working one-man-band can do. While perpetually sensible, Carragher isn’t doing that.
Indeed at times he seems a little contradictory and not as clear in either his thinking or explanation as Neville. No matter for him, because what he’s done on ITV is to try to engage his fellow panellists, try to disagree with them, try to get their attention. Carragher wants a discussion. He wants an exchange of views.
This is what the future looks like. Get them in a circle, get them disagreeing and get an actual grown-up journalist to front it, to guide it. Let’s intrude on a conversation. Let’s imagine that if this lot were watching the match socially then this is what they’d say.
If Carragher wants to speak to Martinez, let him. If Keane wants to go ballistic then let him but have Vieira challenge him. The host can guide this discussion. He doesn’t have to be funny – or rather he shouldn’t try to be funny – he doesn’t have to make puns, he has to have the ability to guide the footballing egos. He has to be able to stop it from lapsing into the realm of the dreaded smugness and instead help them help us to learn a little more about the game.
Let me pitch something. BBC, 7:30pm. Television on. Intro from a host with journalistic credentials for Poland vs. Russia. Cut to three minutes with a video package narrated by Lee Dixon (or possibly even tactical guru Michael Cox) about what to expect from Poland’s approach – the sort of thing we see a thousand times in golf or cricket coverage.
Cut back to studio where engaged former players discuss what Dixon has put together. Then the same for Russia, a look at a couple of players and how they operate. Ideally some wit. Anthems and game.
No co-commentator but an analyst for the main commentator to call on when there is a break in play or when the game is flat. Let him speak for over a minute about a point rather than have to chip in immediate comments or what they believe passes for humour.
We don’t need a double act and we shouldn’t need this sort of analysis for more than three times a half. Let the game breathe. Back to half-time, further analysis, something on a home nation’s preparations for whatever game is coming next. More game, a summing up, thank you and good night.
This isn’t complicated or expensive. Good people, putting a stint in. Get the right blend and you get rid of the witless banter. Get people who work, who do a full day, who think about it and enjoy it.
And all this matters. It matters because the casual supporter does have sway and because the way a nation talks about its football, the way it perceives its football, matters in terms of the football it plays. There is a reason why the Italians, Germans, Spanish all play better football than England and one of those reasons is that Vialli, Seedorf and Klinsmann are able to drop into BBC studios and speak far more sense than Shearer, Hansen and Lineker in their second language.
They don’t need to be “right” all the time. This isn’t about “being right”. “Being right” in a discussion is one of the most overrated things to be. If “being right” is your aim then get in among it with bookmakers.
This is about discussion. An exchange of views and ideas, acknowledging there is more than one way to be right, more than one way to be wrong. What can be right today (the [in my view erroneous] argument behind Roy Hodgson’s football in Euro 2012) can simultaneously be wrong for the next 1,000 days.
What we see on BBC television and hear on BBC radio doesn’t get anywhere near approaching an investigative, explorative discourse – there is no exchange of ideas with warmth and enthusiasm. It is belches and groans and back-slapping. It is everything that is wrong with English football. And given the potential quality that is about the place, it is a genuine shame.
Superb article, it hits the nail firmly on the head. The only thing I think that’s missing and probably needs looking into is whether your casual Motd watcher actually wants intelligent football analysis or is happy being fed drivel dressed as football analysis. Sadly I think there is a fair few who actually enjoy watching foitbalk without having to engage their brain
Couldn’t agree more – sensational
Yep. Definitely agree with most of the points here. Especially the comparison between online and podcast discussion and what’s available on television and radio.
James Richardson’s Guardian podcasts have long been sources of more footballing knowledge and awareness than any of the pundits on the BBC could dream exists. Intelligent, articulate people actually talking about the game, and having done research into such obscure corners as Serie A, La Liga and even further afield. They know what they’re about, and there’s no shortage of them. Richardson has a revolving panel of guests, journalists from the UK and overseas.
But then on BBC1, you have Alan Shearer not knowing the first thing about a fairly high profile player, simply because he doesn’t play in the great and glorious Premier League.
But I will say that the BBC did well to draft in Jurgen Klinsmann and Gianluca Vialli, even if it was only for games involving Germany and Italy. Both of them know what they’re talking about, and have a better grasp of the English language than Hansen, Shearer or Lawrenson. Vialli, in particular, thinks about football in a way those guys never have.
ITV have been a tiny bit better, but it’s definitely not because of Adrian ‘Odious’ Chiles. Keane, Carragher and Martinez have been decent, but Chiles always seems to be like the primary school teacher when someone important is visiting. Scared to death that someone will say something embarrassing, so he hovers about, cutting people off and desperately trying to redirect conversations.
I also felt that a few of those involved in the coverage were too obviously trying to ‘do a Neville’, to come across as forthright, no nonsense, tactically aware observers. Keown definitely was, but just ended up looking a belligerent, xenophobic fool instead.
So that coverage style this article recommends? The people to present it are readily available, if any TV channels have the wherewithal to go and get them. James Richardson hosting the BBC’s football coverage would be fantastic.
For me James Richardson comes off sounding like Enfield’s character who couldn’t help being sarchastic.
Keep shouting and someone might hear Neil. The BBC can do amazing sport coverage still, check out the F1 over the last season couple of seasons (prior to the split Sky coverage anyway).
But Lawrenson in particular was so bad, so irritating, so pointless, so unfunny, if I never hear him commentate again it will be a match too soon. What ITV seem to do is get pundits that have not got on professionally and put them in a room together. This at least threatens to be engaging at times. The BBC is more like an old-boys club. Who needs old playing partners discussing old joks or old England buddies slapping each other on the back?
You could write an entire diatribe on Lawrenson’s miserable efforts whenever he is on the box.
He adds nothing of any value other than putting a nagging, miserable wife into perspective. She’s a ray of sunshine in comparison and despite hating the game, manages to make more erudite points.
So in an attempt to highlight Lawrenson’s snide, bitter awfulness you use an analogy, bitter nagging wife that knows nothing about the game, that Lawrenson would be proud of.
Great article! Something else to think about here would be a comparison of the salaries of some of these jabbering buffoons.
At a guess I’d say a journalist would earn nowhere near as much as Hansen & co. Therefore not only would your approach improve the quality Neil, it’d be a hell of a lot cheaper!!
Good piece Neil. Added marks for getting through it without mentioning the word ‘banter’. BBC having David James on alongside Murray and Savage to discuss goalkeepers making mistakes under pressure was another high point. Once again done in that in-jokey laddish way that the BBC has perfected over the years. And they really, really have to stop with the shit, two-bob, unfunny animations so beloved of MOTD2.
The BBC did redeem themselves slightly when they listed all the things Balotelli had won at the age of 21 to Shearer, after Shearer had proclaimed that “he’s done nothing”. It was instantly highlighted on Twitter and the far from all knowing Shearer was slaughtered, I wasn’t expecting Lineker to list all of his achievements, however, then turn to Shearer and say (words along to the affect of) “not bad for a player who’s done nothing, at 21”. Not so sure Shearer was ready for it either, although he quickly jumped behind that he was meaning internationally. Sound, because you did loads, didn’t you?
The only thing that saddens me about all of this is that we can slate them as much as we want, but nothing will change. Nothing, not one bit. ‘Lawro’, Hansen, Shearer…none of them are going anywhere, and we pay around £12 a month for the privilege. That seems fair.
I rarely watch football shows like MOTD anymore and prefer to get my football info from Podcasts (The Game and Football Weekly, TAW). I’m really bored of seeing a succession of ex pros talking about the matches and want to hear high quality discussion of the matches. The ex pro gravy train should not be the default model for football on TV. As Rory states above, James Richardson would be ideal as host of TV coverage. Put him in a room with Marcotti, Jonathan Wilson et al and people would actually learn something about the game.
Incidentally, anyone interested in grown up writing about football should have a look at The Blizzard magazine.
A terrific article – have now read through it twice, and will do so again.
Quite readily, I have been describing the so-called panel members, commentators, and “analysts” as asinine dullards with pertinent views that total zero. I’m glad you agree that the likes of Vialli, Klingsman and Vieira engage in discussions that are meaningful and insightful. The loathsome Lawrenson and the sloppy Shearer don’t know the meaning of those words.
And, you are right, of course, that the welcome belligerence of Keane, bursting to pick a metaphorical fight, has been must-watch telly.
I could hit the mute button but then I’d not be able to rant. Thanks again for an excellent read.
Good read Neil, thoroughly enjoyed it.
This sums up a lot of what I was thinking watching the euros, and basically what we’ve been watching for as long as can remember. There are very few British pundits that speak any sense out ther, and again there are an awful lot who don’t, won’t, or are not allowed to challenge someone’s thoughts. It’s wrong, and it needs to be changed.
Great piece but does it have to change? Don’t you think it has the feel of the high street record shops on their last legs ignoring the rise of downloading?
We consume differently now with multiple channels of analysis – the next level is to have “The Anfield Wrap” style live online actually before, at half time and after the game. Like the conversation in the pub that can now happen online.
Just think there is no need to change the old style – just let it die on the vine and be replaced by better and more crowd sourced, innovative dialog.
Brilliant article as always.
I do agree with the first comment though that your average MOTD viewer is quite happy to sit on the couch in their underwear with a beer and not have to engage their brain with intellectual discussions on football and tactics etc.
Personally I love to sit and listen to someone like Rafa Benitez or even Gary Neville rather than the smug idiocy we are fed by the BBC these days. Even watching on Canal+ with Spanish commentary is preferable. At least they’re enthusiastic.
I will say one thing about BBC/ITV match commentators though. As horrendous as they are, none could ever possibly be worse then Tommy Smyth on ESPN. Wish you’d have given him a mention. He makes Keown sound like a footballing Einstein.
Your piece contains a lot of truth, but sadly overlooks one thing. You sat and watched it all because you like football. You watched it, you moaned about the quality of the coverage but you clicked up a notch on the viewing figures.
That means you can quite safely be taken for granted. TV football coverage is not about YOU. It’s about trying to attract the more casual viewer to justify the money being spent or attract advertisers. And this is currently done through attempts to generate “banter”. explain things to the non specialist or merely assume that names they will have heard of, eg Alan Shearer, will be comforting and have knowledge.
As a tennis fan, cuddly ex-GMTV host Andrew Castle does this right now at Wimbledon, with inane commentary that annoys anyone who actually likes the sport (there are a few of us 12 month a year fans out there, really…)
This isn’t changing while you watch, so you’ve done the best alternative and set up your own entertainment instead, answering your own questions, writing/reading blogs, conducting your own analysis.
You might expect Sky to offer more specialist coverage, but they have the crushing commercial imperative of not overly undermining the League that is central to their entire financial model.
Great article which deserves a much wider circulation. A pal of mine has already shared it on FB and I hope lots of football fans read it and spread the story far & wide. Keep up the good work.
Ps – Lawrenson especially gets on my nerves. I mute the sound when he’s doing his snidey co-commentating.
Great article,great points.Neil I would love if you could get a look at the Irish RTE coverage,it covers off nearly all your points,lots of discussions and probing from the anchor.disagreements and also quite funny without ever going after comedy moments.didi slotted in nicely for the German games and seemed to enjoy the forthright exchange of views!itv and BBC just frustrate the shit out of me!
Great article I would add a few points. Although I find Chiles annoying too, he used to be a good presenter on 5 live before his popularity (and years of hard work at the BBC) earned him a contract with ITV and the inevitable dumbing down followed. Secondly pundits are often there to offer something that no amount of research can ever give, the experience of playing the game itself at the highest level, so to compare them to journalists is in some cases unfair.
Finally for anyone wanting to experience what intelligent, insightful and humorous sports radio sounds like tune in to the Off the Ball football show with Eoin McDevitt and Ken Early monday to thursday on newstalk.ie . Its brilliant and covers other sports as well.
I work for an Irish newspaper and following WC2006 our main football writer revealed that on entering the hospitality area at one of the stadiums post match Mark Bright said to Motson: fancy a biccie Motty? To which Motson replied: I’d love one Brighty. Little wonder the coverage is in such rag order.
People across the water are probably fed up with Irish people banging on about the RTE coverage but, even if it’s gone a little stale (debatable) it’s still essential viewing. The Beeb hasn’t been any cop since Des Lynham stepped down. Lineker is a grown up kids telly presenter and the decline of Hansen’s contributions has been shocking
Sounds like the BBC football coverage is about on par with American Football coverage here in the US on ESPN, FOX, and CBS.
Just found this article, after someone put it on Twitter. Personally I tend to watch very little football on the box, as I like to watch my games LIVE, by being there. But reading through your post has reminded me that when I do watch a game on the telly I always have the sound off.
Brilliant article Neil. Spot on my friend. I would love these shows to be hosted by people like Gab Marcotti – people who actually know football tactics and do their research thoroughly, rather than the usual suspects with their version of in depth analysis – ‘Yeah, he’s got up well at the back stick’ type comments!
And with regards to MOTD…I hardly watched it last year – apart from going to the game, I would always watch the full match later on LFC TV. For me MOTD analysis is what Sky+ was made for…when the action stops, just keep hitting that fast forward button…x2, x6, x12, x30
James Richardson and the (decent) C4 coverage of Serie A was brilliant. Learnt so much about other tactical approaches (Saacchi era), and the whole Italian football culture. It really turned me off English football. He also gave it the right amount of humour too – you wouldn’t get a Bauhaus reference on MOTD would you?
i rarely listen to the pundits these days. i tape motd and skip the talking. you are correct though neil in you comment that motd has lost something since it started showing highlights from every premier league game played that day. much better the old format were it showed extended highlights of the days big game and then a more truncated showing of a back up game. then just the goals from the other games. too many games shown and no feel for what has actually happened in the game.
Excellent article. The disastrous coverage on the BBC was summed up Martin Keown when he said during the Spain v Portugal semi-final:
“there are too many passers in the Spanish team”
Spot on, Neil. Echoes my thoughts perfectly and far more eloquently, you bastard.
It’s actually worse than you describe. If Shearer, say, was to suddenly come up with something along the lines of “I saw a fair bit or Lewandowski in the Bundesliga last year and while he is quick and an excellent finisher he is a little lightweight and prone to lapses in concentration”, you’d get raised eyebrows and nudges from Lineker and Hansen like two witless schoolboys. They encourage each other to remain uninformed – if one of them did their homework they’d all have to. The whole thing has completely stagnated and now exists like a dead whale kept afloat simply by virtue of its enormous size.
I lived over in Dublin between ’98 and ’05. The RTE footy programme on a Saturday night was called “The Premiership”; it was usually presented by Bill O’Herlihy, with Eamon Dunphy, and Johnny Giles as the regular pundits. Believe me the tactical analysis might not have been great, but those boys didn’t hold back and I remember at the time thinking I’d love to see these boys doing MOTD, they’d have kicked an absolute storm up the BBC’s arse. Of course it was mandatory that Dunphy was half pissed for each show, but it was a kaleidoscope of colours, compared with the single shade of grey we get offered now.
A fantastic article that gets to the heart of a problem that has plagued the majority of football coverage in this country for far too long. It needs a massive shake up and maybe i’m too negative but I think there is little to no chance of that occurring.
“they put Chris Moyles and his sidekick on the red button to commentate on an England game despite them making clear for over ten years they most definitely have no idea when it comes to football”
They have no idea when it comes to broadcasting…
Football’s totally dumbed down and tabloidised in the UK, I’m afraid. Soccer AM is symptomatic of what the people running football TV think is their audience. Like you say, it’s coverage for people who are anti-intellectual, and despise knowledge and analysis.
This is genuinely brilliant. The argument needs to be heard. It’s genuinely scandalous that Lawrenson continues to spout his complete and utter drivel over mainstream sports coverage. He’s an embarrassment and it’s unfortunate that, whether we like it or not, he continues to be associated with LFC.
This is another brilliant article from TAW, which I think shows what the cutting-edge of journalism should really be.
So much so, in fact, that when similar ‘articles’ appear on a subscription-only site, The Tomkins Times, I find myself somewhat irritated…
I’m not making any accusations, but just what is TAW’s view of plagiarism?
Agree with all of that. There were two telling moments in the ITV coverage which spoke volumes and both involved Carra. On one occasion he was discussing how difficult it is to pick up a Number 10 or ‘hole’ player if you’re playing at the heart of a diamond formation. He explained to Chiles that you’ve got to worry about him as well as wingers and full/wingbacks running across you. He stopped half way through, realised that Chiles had no idea what was going on and slapped Keane on the arm and said ‘You know what I’m talking about’. ‘It’s a bloody nightmare’, replied Keane. I loved that. A rare moment of inside information from people who play the game. Chiles went straight to the adverts or babbled on about some juggler in the town square.
The second occasion was after the England/Italy game where Carra talked about how the FA was failing and undoing all of its good work by teaching one style and employing a manager who completely ignores it and sticks with 4-4-2. He turned to Southgate and said ‘You’re involved at the FA, why does that happen?’. An excellent point and not a cruel one. he waited for Southgate to answer the question. Chiles gave him ten seconds before going elsewhere.
It’s a moot point but I love listening to commentators from other sports as I don’t know that much about them. Why does a ball swing in mid-air? Why does that golfer want to land the ball there etc? Inform me. Don’t tell me that Scott Parker’s great. Tell me what he’s doing and what he should be doing.
Ok girls, what do we reckon to Matin Keown as a pundit….judge out of 10, with comment if inclined, on 3 subjects:-
* Articulate delivery of sensible comments
* On-screen charisma
* General appearance vs werewolf.
Don’t you just hate it when someone articulates perfectly what you’ve been thinking for a while but verbalise it far more eloquently than your primitive brain could event begin to.
Well done Neil –
Suggest it’s sent as an open letter to the Director General of the BBC
There was a moment in the RTE coverage of the world cup 2006, when after an England match where they were total rubbish, they cut to the BBC feed of a post match interview between Crooks and Sven where Crooks proceeded to rub Svens belly . It then cut back to the studio packed with pundits including Giles, Dunphy and Souness. Dunphy then laid it all out for everyone to hear of what he thought of the interview, ” That Bill, was the first time we’ve ever seen 2 men have sex live on TV”. ( I shit you not!) ( on YouTube for any nonbelievers out there )
Now that that was entertainment!