It was right at the end of last night’s Match of the Day that I felt the compelling urge to throw the remote control through the back of the Bravia.
The final game on the running order was Swansea vs Newcastle. Following the highlights, Gary Lineker asked Alan Shearer (who now resembles Ross Kemp to such an alarming degree that one expects him to pop up in Afghanistan at any moment), “No concerns about your team, Alan?” Shearer replied, “No… their next three home games are against Stoke, Fulham and Sunderland, so they should be fine.”
Leave aside the fact that Newcastle’s home form has been erratic at best and that that particular run of games offers no guarantee of safety, it was in itself a lazy, throw-away opinion. What made it worse was that half an hour earlier, Shearer had turned to his trusty ‘next three games’ statistic during the analysis of Everton vs Reading.
This time Shearer went first, offering the earth-shattering insight that Reading “are really struggling” and would need to win against Aston Villa because their next two games would be against Manchester United and Arsenal, both away from home. Lineker followed up with a casual shrug, adding “Mmm. They’ve got a lot to do” before sitting up a little straighter and moving on to the next game.
This is an example of how the Match of the Day panel has become far too comfortable for its own good, relying on lazy or non-existent statistical evidence, sweeping generalisations and an astonishing ignorance of how the game actually works to present a football highlights programme.
During my year of studying Radio Journalism at Nottingham Trent, we were treated to a fantastic question and answer session with former England manager and now Radio 5 Live pundit Graham Taylor. Taylor was entertaining, honest and open throughout, and questioned on his thoughts on Match of the Day replied that it had become “tired” and was a “boy’s club.” And this was from a BBC employee.
One problem the BBC faces is the extent to which rival channels have upped their game. Up against the well-prepared, thorough and engaging Gary Neville at Sky, Hansen, Shearer and company look lazy, smug and far too comfortable in their seats. Witness Neville’s expert analysis of diving several months ago, and ask yourself: broadcast time constraints not withstanding, could you see anyone on the Match of the Day panel producing anything so thoughtful?
Adding insult to injury was the news last month that Colin Murray was being axed from Match of the Day 2, reportedly because Shearer himself was outraged that an experienced sports journalist would dare to offer his own opinions on the game. Murray might well have been just the refreshing change that Match of the Day needed.
Instead, the serviceable but ultimately forgettable Mark ‘Chappers’ Chapman will take over from Murray and Lineker, Hansen, Lawrenson and Ross Kemp will continue to slouch and breeze their way through the rest of the season and beyond.
Alan Hansen, for his part, earns £40,000 per show. The people who pay their licence fee to watch him earn it because they can’t afford to fork out for better coverage from Sky deserve a little better.