Thursday 25 April 2019

Match of the Day bosses deny cutting out Shearer's words to boost ratings

A leaked BBC recommendation that Alan Shearer's Match of the Day analysis be replaced by a ten minute montage of his goals has been rubbished by the football-based programme.

The heavily saturated document appears to contain the minutes of a meeting between two BBC people apparently involved in decisions, at a time when the scheduling of domestic games on other channels and European matches has left Shearer with little to philosophise about on a Saturday evening. In last week's show, the ex strike partner of Mike Newell was critically panned for spending 27 seconds running down a Matt Doherty throw-in during footage of Wolves versus Brighton & Hove Albion.

One of the BBC bosses, whose initials could not be made out in the text, alleges that showing a sample of Shearer's Premier League goals instead of hearing him speak would "at least be interesting", while the other person, whose initials could also not be verified, almost definitely responds "I've been waiting ten years to hear someone say that. Now, he scored 260 of the buggers, that must give us at least until the end of the season. You happy to tell him?" 

When approached with the stained evidence, the clearly ruffled boss who appears to make the recommendation distanced herself from it.

"Firstly, the tea or coffee or whatever that has spilled onto this sheet of paper discredits your insinuations completely as, frankly, this "document" looks like a delivery note from an online retailer I use, and secondly there is no question of Mr Shearer being interfered with. We are blessed to have on board, not only a legend of the game, but a genius armchair dweller who has been endorsing harassment in the workplace for years without a single word of complaint from the public".

When pressed that the reason no one has complained about Shearer's views is because the moment he goes to speak is the moment the public by and large go out to put the kettle on, fast forward the tv or fall asleep (only to be woken by the intrusive yelping of Jonathan Pearce), the BBC boss deflected attention to "the challenges we face with the habits of the modern consumer", which by the way wasn't a viable excuse when large chunks of football in the 80's was lost in a Jim Rosenthal-inspired stupor.

Shearer himself was available for comment on this story, and scoffed at suggestions he was feeling the pressure of his hefty salary having been made public in 2017.

"Alan Shearer didn't set the wages, all Alan Shearer can do is perform to the best of his ability for the Match of the Day football show", he said deadpan.

Asked whether MOTD's noisy neighbours, MOTD2, were now the established force due to more exciting games being played on Sundays, Shearer admitted to some envy.

"Time and time again, Match of the Day 2 has been big and strong and direct, and to be honest, they've bullied us all decade long - I've even bullied myself on occasion - and until we sort our fixture problems out, we're miles away from being compelling viewing".

For now at least, the format seems set to continue on the ailing show, while ideas for a Dr Who style regeneration to replace Gary Lineker - the fourth incarnation of original 60's host, Kenneth Wolstenholme - remain unfounded.


Sunday 21 April 2019

The power of football is a curious thing

Tottenham Hotspur's 4-4 draw aggregate draw over Manchester City in the Champions League quarter final last Wednesday has been described by at least one person who isn't a BT Sport employee as the "best game of football ever played". And away from my office, other examples of gushing and slow head-shaking in disbelief were in some supply.

On the night in question, an online contributor to BBC Sport's live feed, no less, informed other virtual viewers and hindsight heroes that this match "reminds you why you love football". Ironically, other visitors, looking for reports rather than unwanted opinion, found that this remark actually reminded them why they hated it so often.

Contrary to assumptions, not everyone took so fondly to the celebrated events at the Etihad Stadium, and in a poll hastily arranged after the game, large swathes of the North London area in which Tottenham Hotspur reside experienced feelings of sadness and nausea, with the most strongly affected considering the possibility of withdrawing from the sport completely, particularly if the victorious side were also to be seen jumping around like squealing schoolchildren in Madrid two rounds on.

Further research in the field suggests that absolute nation happiness after a dramatic sporting event is a fallacy. Again we look to North London for a stand-out case study. Hotspur's rivals, Arsenal, clinched the First Division title in the very last minute on the very last night of the 1988-89 season by winning 2-0 at Liverpool, who would have won it had they lost only 1-0. This was thought to be regarded by everyone as the most fascinating finish to a league season, though we now understand that a substantial proportion of people in North London, or who at least support a team in North London, did not greet the sight of Tony Adams lifting the trophy with any grain of pleasure. Furthermore, 30 years on, the worth of that sporting fairytale at Anfield is dismissed by Sky Sports and BT Sport executives, seeing as it happened live on free-to-air ITV. Indeed, should anyone try to begin presenting the facts of the occasion to Sky, they are cut off mid-argument with screams of "Agueroooooo!!"

ITV themselves, are not free of the charge of speaking for everybody, though. You will be familiar by now of Clive Tyldesley's 1999 mistaken belief that nobody cared where the Germans were when Manchester United sealed the treble that year. It is now recognised that as much as half the country were actually deeply concerned by the whereabouts of the Germans (other nations were available in the Bayern Munich back four)

In a non-sporting context, Tyldesley has been aped most recently by Brexit conductor, Nigel Farage, who, the morning of his June 2016 victory over his arch nemesis, the EU, observed that "even the sun's come out" to apparently symbolise nationwide delight over a 52%-48% winning vote for the Leave party.

Some are even claiming that City and Hotspur conjured up a cynical, Farage-esque ploy to distract people from yet another dismal Premier League Saturday afternoon, just as people were gathering momentum to complain about fixtures on both Friday and Monday nights and Sunday afternoons that left Gary Lineker and chums red-faced on Saturday evening when only able to offer viewers all the action from the Veterans' Subbuteo League.

So then, on Wednesday night, Lineker, in league with Raheem Sterling, Son-Heong Min and VAR, put out all the right words to stave off what could have been a rising mutiny.

"Even the Son has come out" he might as said.


Wednesday 10 April 2019

5 things I hate in football as the mark of Lawro unfolds

Coming in from a wonderful day out of the house with the good lady partner and kids, I switched on the telly for the Manchester City and Brighton & Hove Albion FA Cup semi-final at, sadly obviously, Wembley. I tuned in on the 39th minute of the first half. Before the 40th was out, Martin Keown shoehorned in a "by the way", leaving where he left off in the quarter final.

Goodness knows how many other minutes previously were molested by this phrase, one that, if we are not careful, could become the new "to be fair" in offices and pubs up an down the country. While the origins of btw lay with Mark Lawrenson, tbf's existence has a cloudier history, without anyone being credited/called into account for its infectious arrival in daily speak. While one is tempted to cite Big Ron Atkinson as the pioneer of tbf, he was always more of  an "in fairness to the lad" observer, which is similar but not the same. Nope, can't blame Big Ron for that one.  

Whoever is responsible, and thus indirectly guilty of Robbie Savage uttering tbf a record 17 times in one segment of analysis on Match of The Day 2, they can be thanked for tbh branching out into the fast food world, where a popular burger chain has used an authentic or otherwise member of the public to advertise their latest offering by way of a review rounded off with a tbf. According to one  branch manager, the burger in question has been "flying out the door" ever since the Ad hit the bus shelters.

So no wonder btw is being peddled by BBC as frenetically as The Bodyguard was last year. Keown may be an odd choice as poster boy, but in the 42nd minute Steve Wilson sold another btw, and you begin to feel concern for Lawrenson, who may feel that his gift to the world is being abused to greater acclaim by so-called colleagues.

For now, Lawro may have to settle for the compliment of imitation, particularly as another of those colleagues, Gary Lineker, unwittingly paid tribute to the once moustachioed stopper at half time, when describing an altercation between City's Kyle Walker and Brighton's Alireza Jahanbakhsh as "handbags at thirty paces". Comparing male players to girls carries all the hallmarks of Lawro in his indulged days and takes us right back to the dark days of 2014.

Yet neither of these former internationals can match up to the yardstick narcissism of pitch-side reporter, Dan Walker, who seamlessly adapted his Football Focus interview approach here by asking for the thoughts of some supporters, only to whip away the microphone to someone else while they were still speaking. The supporters in question were one of 500 teenagers given tickets by City diver, Raheem Sterling, in a move typical of his club in that everyone got to hear abut it.  

In the same way that BBC radio and tv ran extensive coverage of City being led out by two elderly women early this season, in scenes designed to ignore how women in the ruling state of Abu Dhabi are treated, all Sterling's gesture was missing was a placard with the word 'CHARIDEE' on it. 

But that's modern football, eschewing ironies by presenting false pleasantries and showcasing unnatural-sounding club DJ's, while VAR wastes it's time focussing its lens on misunderstood players.   

"It's a real problem, Chappers", Jermaine Jenas commented on air, before addressing him as "Mark" off-camera.        


Sunday 7 April 2019

The Football-Speak juggernaut blazes a trail once more, to be fair

Last Sunday, during Cardiff City versus Chelsea on Five Live, the honour fell to Conor McNamara to officially unveil the Business End of the Season.

Or at least, it was Norm (the nickname McNamara's golf buddy, Steve 'Claridge' Claridge gave him after a particularly heavy evening in the club bar at The John Smith Stadium) who unveiled it for me. Perhaps the ribbon had already been cut by other media stars without my knowledge, but on a personal level, I couldn't think of anyone more appropriate to deliver the last of the stock, stonewall phrases that are crucially imbedded into the British football season journey.

Norm's timing was spot on, in the right place at the right time to associate the final seven games in the Premier League with briefcases and boardrooms and contracts waiting to be finalised. The man's awareness hasn't dimmed with the passing years of anecdotal mishaps on the 14th hole and each round in the clubhouse shirked by Claridge. He may have trouble remembering Claridge's reason behind Norm as a nickname (as does Claridge, by the way), but the important stuff remains intact. Norm meanwhile, will carry on presuming that this example of Claridge's famous teasing relates to the name of the bar-stool resident of the American sitcom, Cheers! - after all, everyone knows McNamara likes a drink, even if not everyone knows his name.

The road to the Business End of the Season is a gruelling one, and Norm has in effect lit the domestic football torch with the final pronouncement (and in case anyone missed it, he said it again the next night during Arsenal versus Newcastle United). Eight months earlier, the critical label process began its journey, as usual, even before the Premier League had got underway. That August, Norm's colleagues in the media, be they commentators, voiceovers, presenters, journalists, pundits, would have been reminded of their duties to label the Community Shield as "the traditional curtain-raiser to the Premier League season". As long as one of them got it in there somewhere, everyone else could stand down and relax.

Once that traditional introduction to the Wembley friendly between the league champions and FA Cup winners is safely locked in, The Media Assembled are then armed with the tools that will ensure we are carefully guided through the rest of the campaign.

The first landmark phrase of the season comes around mid-September, five or so games in. Usually by then, at least one team will have made a strong start, undefeated and possibly a taker of maximum points, which allows broadcasters to say that this team has "made a statement". Not statements like, "you're all going to lose your jobs at the end of the month" that actually scare people, but statements made up of a short-term ability to score more goals than their possibly weak opponents. The worth of the Statement involving Manchester United in 2017-18 was confirmed by a journalist from The Telegraph, or maybe The Times, perhaps The Daily Star, who claimed that "Mourinho has got them all wanting to pay for him".

The next media statement in the domestic catalogue normally appears in November, when everyone in the industry is expected to tell the public that Manchester City might go a whole season unbeaten.

Around mid-February, all television and print artists pepper their programmes and editions with intel that Manchester City are "on the hunt for the quadruple" (just not with an unbeaten record) and explain that this is what will be in all the headlines.    

And so to early April, the Business End, when the finish line is in sight, just over a month away before we all find out what happens in the end, whether we hear the constant accompaniment or not. But let's not unfasten our seatbelts yet fellow aircraft passengers, because there's still A Lot of Football To Be Played Between Now and Then, and there's bound to be Plenty of Twists and Turns along the way, probably Right To The Wire.

That's modern football for you, a number of shadow phrases playing between the established lines.                  

Thursday 4 April 2019

Friday Night Clive

There's nothing worse - other than terminal illness, terrorism and all senseless violence, or indeed genuine disasters like tsunami's and volcanoes, and not forgetting, of course, bankruptcy and mental health problems, in fact practically everything else in the world - than the Friday night international football fixture.

Not only - if you're English -  does it mean a literally pointless friendly against an opponent bereft of their best players, or a routine qualifying win over a nation that didn't exist 25 years ago, but also a bulldozing of the domestic weekend fixtures, too.

Why must I have a double header of this tripe? Why subject me to Clive Tyldesley twice in four days? I refused to get sucked in, and it was easy not to. ITV's trailer for England's Wembley Euro 2020-qualifying game-that-isn't-the-Nations-League against Czech Republic, had the voice of Tyldesley leading us through the trenches, "Deep breath, here we go again!"

This is exactly how I feel about any game that Tyldesley is commentating on. For instance, England v France, Euro 2004, when just prior to kick off he tell us "You can hold hands if you like".

If there is any consolation for Pay TV-avoiders losing their right to watch any European action, then it is not having to listen to C to the T, as he probably introduces himself. The highlights of  the Czech Republic game is there on the ITV Hub, sponsored by pizza, waiting for me to watch, but even if I am intrigued to hear who Tyldesley's new (or latest) co-commentator is in the absence of Glenn Hoddle, who I hope is recovering well from his heart attack, I would be more interested in watching The Real Housewives of Cheshire, and I'm never watching that.

Turning the sound off is an option, yes, which offers too, an authentic taste of the real live atmosphere as well as not having to hear the tedious Three Lions band competing with Tyldesley for most persistently inane backing vocals throughout the night (although the sugar-addled freak behind the Wembley public address system would trump both in the event of a basketball-type score). But then you're essentially watching Raheem Sterling and Harry Palmer, sorry Michael Kane, no Harry Kane, celebrating in silence, and I for one, don't want that.

But unlike Tyldesley, I don't want to be accused of talking on behalf of people ("Where were the Germans...frankly who cares? Nou Camp, 1999), and there will be those who appreciate both his patronising schtick, and the chance to watch their national team humiliate an underdog. It's just that, in the words of Barry Davies, as Great Britain's Hockey team beat West Germany in the 1988 Olympics Final, frankly who cares? Not me.

While these days a weekend without any of the sides in my team's division playing is just really annoying, I don't know  how I would have coped with this as a primary school age child. In those times, I was dependant on the hit of a score flash during the Saturday afternoon rugby league match on Grandstand. While Dad, a sports journalist, was out to work covering one of those those 3 o'clock's, I was prepared to put up with Mum's accusations that I was like an old man, rooted to the sofa watching, in the main, something I had little interest in, as she hoovered around me and fed me lunch, ideally sliding it into my mouth as if I was brain dead.

The point was I had chosen this lifestyle. Every seven days came freedom and indulgence, in between the anxiety of school and the pressure-cooker of the Sunday League match. Whether Dad had fed me my addiction by taking me to my first game at five and introducing me to Sunday league football at seven, or it was just in the blood, I couldn't think of any better way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The anticipation of the score flash was spine-tingling as I knew when one was coming. The clarity of the screen would suddenly dip, going darker, as if a cloud was hovering over the set. Then the rugby action would be minimised to make way for a square box containing silent news of the goal that had just been scored.

With live games a rarity in those days, there was a special, unique feel to Saturday football. If Arsenal were losing, which seemed to happen often, I would retain hope all the way up to the vidi-printer, which reeled off the full times against the sounds of a type writer. If the Arsenal defeat hadn't been confirmed yet, there was still a chance that it had been rescued, like the Missing in Action notice that hadn't yet become a fatality confirmation. I lived this week in, week out, and looking back, I'm not sure how I survived when the season was over. There was barely any football news in the cricket season, not like now when you don't get the chance to miss it and crave it.  

These Saturdays, though I don't feel the outright euphoria of old - the clenched, shaking fists, the barely repressed yells, the (probably) wild eyes and the gritted teeth - and that, in it's place, there is the urgency to get daughter to ballet and then after that, when all three kids are in one place again, the desperation to get us all as far away as from the house as possible, the 'football day' still arrives with a tingle of promise as I wake to a boot in the head from my youngest.

In truth, Sunday is now the big football day, with crucial live drama promised, often accompanied by Europe-instigated fixtures on the schedule.  The Yoof don't get my lament. They've grown up with scattered fixtures and ask me what my problem is with the FA Cup Final kicking off at 5.30. 

Since starting this post, I have caught up with relatives, and learned that two of my cousins took their sons and nephews to the England-Czech game, with one of the sons loving the occasion so much he wants to go back for one of the September fixtures for his birthday. One of those games is on a Saturday, ideal for the family with no school next day, and will provide the son with much excitement and enjoyment. 

And that is essentially what I'm railing against.


End of season Premier League review club by club Part 2: 11-20

11th: Brighton & Hove Albion (48 points) Finishing one point behind your made up rivals must sting. A bit. It’s Millwall who hate Crysta...