Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Media coverage of football

I've been thinking about blogging about the media coverage of football for some time, but it's such a vast topic, I needed a focus. Listening to Five Live's 'Monday Night Club' while I did the washing up last night gave me the impetus! The panel, including host Mark 'Chappers' Chapman, ex-pro Steve Claridge, journalist Jason Burt and  commentator Guy Mowbray, were discussing the Sol Campbell interview broadcast on sunday and the Alan Pardew 'headbutt' incident from Saturday.

You can hear the podcast of the show here for the next few days.

Sol Campbell's interview can be seen here on the BBC and here on youtube. The Pardew incident and his post-match interview is here.

Campbell's forthcoming book, 'Sol Campbell- the authorised biography', is described on Amazon:

"First ever authorised biography of Sol Campbell. The family life of one of Britain s most celebrated football stars: detailing Campbell s complicated relationship with his father, youngest of 12 siblings, part of a British-Jamaican immigrant household. The love of the game what it was like to play for some of the world s greatest football teams, living a dream; the struggles and highlights. Racism and immigration: how Campbell's ethnicity has affected his career, and what he believes needs to change to make the UK more equal, in football and in society. Sexuality and homophobia: the truth behind the prejudice and rumours . How Campbell dealt with pressures and internal issues at a time when psychological support was lacking in football, with few provisions or assistance."

The interview extract concentrates particularly on his claim that he could have been England captain for ten years but was passed over because he is black, and this made headlines over the weekend, with lots of people coming out quickly and rather defensively to dismiss his claim. On Monday Night Club, several extracts were played and ex-FA boss Mark Palios was interviewed by phone about the idea that the FA is institutionally racist. 

Alan Pardew's loss of temper over an apparently trivial incident when a  player appeared to push him to get the ball for a throw-in, when his team were winning at Hull has had a lot of coverage. From Jeff Stelling's hilarious reaction on Soccer Saturday on Sky Sports through Robbie Savage on 6.06 and Match of The Day, not to mention newspaper headlines. Pardew has a bit of a history of 'losing it' on the touchline- pushing a linesman, swearing at Man City manager Pellegrini and others, but the reaction to him going in on the Hull player headfirst appeared more suited to the outbreak of the apocalypse.   

What struck me in the coverage of both the Campbell interview and the Pardew incident was how much it epitomised the kneejerk style of BBC football coverage in recent times, much of which comes from the choice of format and presenters. On Monday Night Club, the 'voice of reason' was the print journalist, Jason Burt, who tried to put things in perspective with Campbell by suggesting that the important thing was not whether he had actually failed to get the captaincy because he was black, but that Campbell and other black players felt that way and that was how institutional racism worked. He was shouted down by Steve Claridge who clearly had no understanding of the notion of institutional or unconscious racism. Not for the first time, it struck me that Claridge's role for the BBC is to represent the 'ordinary (white) fan', who has an opinion on everything but knows nothing. As a 'journeyman' ex-pro who has played for lots of clubs, mainly in the lower divisions, he is used as a voice of "down to earth common sense". The trouble is that common sense isn't always good sense. Chapman, as the host, tries at a couple of points to get Claridge to see that there is more to it than just his opinion, but quickly gives up and falls back on a pally laddishness about who's paying for the meal after. Campbell's views are ultimately put aside as somehow due to his own personal arrogance- a familiar strategy when dealing with issues around race and inequality. Maybe he is arrogant, maybe he's wrong- he probably wasn't the best choice for England captain, but it becomes an easy way to dismiss more obvious inequalities in football, like the near total absence of British asian players and the lack of opportunities for black players to go into coaching and management. 

The Pardew incident illustrates the same tendency to go for hyperbole and headlines. Robbie Savage's responses in this case (and many others) illustrate the way he too is used by the BBC. He often shouts down callers to 6.06 who question anything he says, with the air of the man who has had too much to drink in a pub and won't listen to anyone. Frequently he uses the line 'have you ever played professional football?' as a way of winning arguments, claiming that the caller couldn't possibly understand unless they had. His analysis on Match of the Day tends to 'state the obvious' and his calls for punishment for Pardew reminded me of people arguing  to bring back hanging. Only briefly at the end of Monday Night Club did a suggestion arise (again from the only proper journalist present) that the particular circumstances at Newcastle United, where the best players keep getting sold without the manager's involvement, might be the cause of his short temper at odd moments where the rest of the time he keeps a lid on it. Of course, it might all come to a head in the summer, when Pardew is apparently going to be part of the BBC team at the World Cup. Imagine him on a panel with Shearer and Savage, who called for his sacking!

So what's my point? Well, given the sheer amount of football on TV and radio,  I am disheartened by the simplistic coverage which the BBC promotes. Of course, there are excruciating pundits and co-commentators on every channel- Andy Townsend on ITV, Michael Owen on BT Sport for starters- but I don't think the BBC should keep going down this road. BBC pundits and reporters should be knowledgeable about their topic and thinking through the wider implications. It is a sad state of affairs when callers ring in to 6.06 to talk about the financial scandals at Glasgow Rangers and the host, Darren Fletcher, says he doesn't know much about it. (On the same programme, he had to be corrected by a listener after he said that Suarez and Henderson were signed for Liverpool by Brendan Rogers).

Football is not a matter of life and death, but it is too important to be left to reporters and presenters who don't do their homework and seem to be chosen just because they are full of banter. And the issues around it are certainly too important to be left to the opinions of buffoons like Savage and Claridge.

For serious, wide-ranging and in-depth coverage of football culture (with an intelligent sense of humour) read When Saturday Comes magazine and visit their website.

And having just written all this, I was looking for the pictures to put at the top and found someone else had said much the same over three years ago! Clearly nothing will change!


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