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 clichés 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.