Saturday, November 29, 2008

Leeroycal's BB5 piece

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say. This truism is at its truest when it comes to television programmes. UKTV Gold and its constantly multiplying off-shoots are testament to just how lucrative the fuzzy memory of the viewers can be. (It is a little known fact that by 2015, 85% of digital TV output will be repeats of Howard's Way and Turnabout). But, if you actually take the time to watch any of it, the overriding feeling is not of fondness, more the dull yearning of disappointment. An emotion all too familiar for viewers of Match of the Day.

The BBC lost Match of the Day to ITV between 2001 and 2004. MotD was and is the fulcrum of the average football fan's Saturday night - or Sunday morning if you have small children and it's your turn to get up - and this loss in itself was difficult enough for the average football fan to bear. This was before the full horror of ITV's The Premiership was unleashed.

The list of problems with the ITV offering was fulsome. It was on at the wrong time; U2 theme tune; only 28 minutes of actual football in a 70-minute show; punditry featuring Andy Townsend in a trailer; and there was an inexplicable "Premiership Parliament" section featuring invariably fat fans yapping pub level analysis and rants. Even the presence of Des Lynam, who jumped from the BBC and over the shark simultaneously, could not save it from losing a ratings war with The Weakest Link. The whole debacle was overseen by the then ITV Head of Sport, Brian Barwick, who so impressed the FA a few years later they put him in charge of the English game.

By week three of the 2001-02 season fans were screaming for Match of the Day to return.

On its reappearance in 2004 very little had changed, but who cared? It was the BBC; it was Gary, Alan and Lawro; no adverts; not a single faux-Irishman in a trailer; no U2: the world was back on its axis. However, like having your hand trapped in a car door is preferable to having it hacked off with a rusty machete but still not exactly a pleasurable experience, the return of the BBC flagship may have been preferable to the dreck served up by ITV, but this did not mean it was a great programme.

Michael Robinson, former Liverpool striker and the writer, director, presenter, doyen and darling of Spanish TV's La Liga highlights show El Dia Despues is withering of the great BBC beast. "It's been hijacked by ex-footballers." he said "There is a screaming necessity for a journalist to challenge them." How right he is. Like so much other sports coverage, Match of the Day has fallen into the trap of exclusively hiring armies of former pros, and this increase has unfortunately coincided with an exponential decrease in the quality control of the personnel they hire. Alan Hansen was a true maverick when he appeared in the early 90's: articulate, insightful and brave - can any of these adjectives apply to latest recruit Alan Shearer?

"There's no recognition of culture." Robinson continued, highlighting another issue. "Just get Lineker, because he was football's Julie Andrews. Sling him on with Hansen. The others are cheap ex-players throwing three dodgy verbs around. They don't feel football". .

So where do the BBC go with their coverage? The answer may in fact lie within their own network. Match of the Day 2 is a lighter mix of quirky analysis, press reviews, and a little bit of fan culture that is less reverential and certainly a lot braver. Adrian Chiles is not to everyone's tastes, but you can at least feel the love of football in his work, and he is prepared to challenge the accepted clich├ęs of punditry as opposed to using his presenter's chair as a platform to launch sub-Lynam, teeth-scrapingly awful one-liners. It could be time for the corporation to bring another good show over from the second station to BBC One.

Another truism that the ubiquitous 'they' offer up is "be careful what you wish for". In the case of the return of Match of the Day, four years on, they are probably right.


Anonymous said...

How I hated "The Premiership". I watched some episodes in a hospital as my father was recovering from his stroke (or not, but we didn't know that really for another five years) and it was utterly depressing. It will be forever associated with that awful time for me.

Lineker and co are annoying, but we forget that the BBC's advantages means that thye get some things right - no adverts, relatively relaxed pace, decentish coverage of all Prem clubs. But it wouldn't take much for it to be so much better. Jeff and co on Sky Soccer Saturday show what can be done.

MotM said...

Not anonymous - me!

mountainstriker said...

I think I was the only person who ever had (has)anything nice to say about The Premiership! Yes, lots of it was rubbish - the 'Tactics Truck' in particular was a nightmare of epic proportions. It was initially on at the wrong time and Des was clearly too busy counting the cash - but, it was a definite attempt to do football differently - some of which worked.

Personally I liked the U2 theme - amazing given that U2 normally induces involuntary heaving – and without question the ITV commentary team was (is) better than the BBC - no Motson, no Pearce. Result.

I'm not going to the wall over this - as I said, large parts of the show sucked. But, its messy demise has allowed MOTD to rest on its own smug laurels for way too long. It is desperately in need of an overhaul - a new presenter with views of his/her own, new commentators, analysts and dare I say it - theme tune.

Too much? I'll get my coat...

mountainstriker said...

Arse! - hit submit by accident...

So, basically, nice piece Leeroycal - and not just because I agree wholeheartedly!

Ebren said...

Nice piece, there needs to be a purge of MOTD. I'd love to see more journos and managers on board. People who think about the game rather than play it (although some players do both).

Allout said...

Interesting piece which I think should make for good discussion below the line - a quality which has been lacking in too many of the finalists over at GU throughout the competition.

I left the UK during the dark days of "The Premiership" (surely just a coincidence) so I can't comment on MOTD at the moment.

Is Lawrenson still employed by the Beeb? He was loathed six years ago and from what I read on the blogs he hasn't improved! Do the Beeb not run focus groups? Or is part of the fall out with Labour over the Iraq War that they refuse to use these?

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