MARK Lawrenson is SAD. Not elaborate train set in the cellar, meals for one, live with your mother until she dies and then refuse to move her body from the chair she loved so much, Alan Partridge sad. He’s not saaaaad. He’s SAD. Not grieving for a lost relative, troubled by the plight of the Sudan, lost your job and your house sad. He’s SAD. He has Seasonal Affective Disorder. What? No, it’s definitely a real disease. No, it is. And he’s got it. He’s got it BAD.
There’s been a lot of hate for Lawrenson – no, not for Lawrenson; I think we all know there is Lawrenson and then there is ‘Lawro’, the sour-faced, down-at-the-mouth, grumbling, growling, punning incubus of misery that occasionally darkens our television screens or enters our ears, at that precise pitch, like the crying of an infant, that our brains are programmed to heed – on here in the last 24 hours. There has been a lot of hate for him in homes up and down the country in recent years. But I do not hate Lawrenson. I definitely don’t hate Lawrenson. I don’t even hate Lawro. I’m worried about him.
I’m worried that nothing appears to bring him out of his funk. I’m worried because there is no trace of joy in his voice. I’m worried that Gary Lineker should be looking at Alan Hansen, pointing to Lawro and mouthing: “Have a word with him.” I’m worried he might, you know, do something. I’m worried because Lawro’s world seems to be so monochrome, so bleak. I’m worried because he seems destined to wander through a lonely, desolate, post-Apocalyptic wasteland until his end days, unable to escape the prison of his own mind.
I know we all hate the jokes. I hate the jokes. God, the jokes. But they’re not for us. They were never for us. They’re for him. You know you always turn a light on and off a few times after it fails to ignite, even though you know it won’t help and that either the bulb or – worse – the fuse has gone? That’s what they are. They’re his attempts, his last, desperate attempts, to illuminate his dark world. They’re his pleas from the plain. They’re the sounds of his own private Apocalypse.
The clues were there. Why didn’t we pay attention? Why didn’t we notice? We all know that the scale of a man’s despair is in inverse proportion to the garishness of his shirts. We should have done something when the paisley came into play, when the shimmer became too bright. We should have said something. We stayed silent. We silently fumed. And then it was too late. Then he was wearing silver-and-white striped numbers, with mismatching maroon collars, and a flower pattern embroidered into the cuffs. Then it was far too late.
The BBC, of course, must shoulder some of the blame. It is hardly revelatory to suggest that their television coverage of football is antediluvian. Literally. Well, almost literally.
The last four or five years has brought a flood of intelligent, considered football coverage, through blogs, through Twitter, through the democratisation of the commentariat. The country’s appetite for informative, educational coverage of the game is growing; at the same time, the scale of our ignorance is diminishing. We want to learn as we have less to learn. On the radio, the BBC have noticed; there are attempts being made to wash away the cloying, nauseating 19th-hole chumminess that still infests 5 Live at times, to book guests with some connection to the modern game, not decaying national institutions pickled and rusted with age; if not to intellectualise their content, then certainly to refresh it.
On the television, though, we remain firmly locked in the dark ages of the banal and, worse, the banter. God, the banter. It is a world where the deathly silence between halves or highlights of matches is filled by statements of the blindingly obvious, expressed in syntax so basic – noun, noun, noun – as to be the verbal equivalent of the football perpetrated by those teams commanded by Sam Allardyce, or the empty, vapid laughter of hollow men laughing at how they keep us in ignorance. Match of the Day: it’s like the Bosman ruling, Gazzetta Football Italia and tactics never happened.
The only attempt made in this world to add something to the sum total of human knowledge is in the Dedicoatisation of statistics – “this is the SEVENTH time West Brom have visited Everton in the last 10 years, and only the FOURTH time they’ve been the bonus ball” – an approach which confuses useful data for historical trivia, and understanding of the game with questions in a particularly obscure pub quiz, attended by the sort of men with vast and expensively assembled train sets which run around the rotting feet of desiccated parents.
This is the world which produced Lawro, or helped morph Lawrenson into this faded, embittered replica of himself. It is a world which is inherently meaningless, in which facts are learned by rote, but not understood, where the braying chorus of sycophants praise your every word and where the ability to speak in brief sentences is mistaken for wit. It is a bleak world, and a lonely one. That’s why Lawrenson is SAD. The season has started, and he’s been affected by it. Nine more months of this, this nothingness. That’s all there is to look forward to, on this endless dark march to death by infectious thickness. That’s why he sounds so miserable. Because he has been locked into a world of misery. He is not to be hated, he is to be pitied. He is a victim. He will not be the last.