Thursday, March 24, 2011

Get rid of Match Of The Day!

I’m at a stage in life where watching football on Saturday nights is something that generally happens to other people. It’s one of the reasons why I never took to Spanish football and is why I don’t watch the BBC’s weekly Premier League highlights package, Match Of The Day.

That’s not to say that I don’t watch it at all. In fact I usually sit down on a Sunday morning with tea, crumpets and eggs and watch it on delay thanks to my PVR. The best part of this, aside from experiencing the joy of an over-easy egg yolk dripping down the side of a hot buttered crumpet while watching football, is I get to fast wind through the boring bits, and before you say it, I’m not talking about Stoke City. I am of course talking about the bits in between the games where those funny-looking blokes talk on those uncomfortable looking sofas.

This is not a personal attack. I have no particular beef with Messrs Lineker, Shearer, Dixon, Lawrenson and Hansen. This is mainly because I’ve never met them and have always believed that you should never make personal remarks about people you’ve never been in the same room with, Graeme Souness being the exception to the rule.

I’m also not going to sit here and rant about the various broadcasting crimes they may or may not have committed. The reason for this is because I’ve already done it, recorded it and published it in a podcast. Suffice to say I don’t find the current crop of BBC pundits terribly interesting and am quite prepared to accept that the reason for this may be because I’m sick to death of staring at their ugly faces and I’m bored rigid of the same old format.

Every week it’s the same. 'Welcome to the show: Here’s the match we think you want to see the most; here are the players; here’s Mike Phelan; here’s the lightweight punditry mixed with a stubborn refusal to understand the latest interpretation of the offside rule or what sort of foul constitutes a yellow and red card (at least one person is contractually obliged to point out that “he clearly got the ball”); here’s the next game we think you want to watch after the first game' and off we go again until the show’s over or you’ve been carted off to hospital after consuming too many undercooked fried eggs, whichever comes first. To mis-quote Simon Rattle, I am cast adrift on a sea of infinite pundality.

The narrative to football coverage is tedious, circular, predictable and boring. We live in a world of interaction and engagement where people can create their own media and express their passions, where we can watch football in crystal clear high definition and in some cases 3D. Technology is re-presenting the beautiful game but mainstream broadcasters are still stuck in the same old rutt churning out a presentation format that has barely changed since the 1960’s. Man sits in studio trying to look excited while talking to other men about football. It’s a scene repeated in the few remaining pubs left up and down the country that haven’t been converted into hideous night clubs, embarrassing karaoke bars and over-priced eateries, which isn’t many.

So this is what I propose: By the end of 2012, the whole of the United Kingdom will have switched over to digital TV. Even with the basic digital solution there are opportunities to produce interactive content. Give us all football highlights via the Red Button (a free optional service which allows viewers to access additional content). Add punditry if people want it, let people choose which game they want to watch first themselves and ultimately, GET RID OF MATCH OF THE DAY. It’s archaic and Stalinist!

There are, of course two major flaws in my deranged plan. The first is that Sky own all the interactive rights to Premier League coverage so the BBC are unable to provide additional content. The second is that it would be an incredibly unpopular idea.

The first point is easy to address if incredibly difficult to achieve. The broadcasting contracts for the Premier League are renewed every three years. On the next renewal, the BBC should compete for the interactive rights, either to hold them exclusively or even better, share them with a satellite broadcaster (Sky/ESPN). They could even sacrifice the weekly terrestrial highlights package (which allows them to produce MOTD) and allow another channel to show their own version and take weekly highlights football shows to strange new places (although this is an extremely unlikely outcome, in my opinion).

The second point is harder to address. Match Of The Day is a very popular. It gets millions of viewers (but not as many as you may think). It’s a broadcasting institution. The theme tune is part of the very fabric of the game. Not everyone is like me and wants to choose their own running order, they prefer the BBC to set the agenda for them because, let's face it, they have more important things to do. All of this is true.

But it’s for their own good!

Sometimes these things just have to be done, arbitrarily. Football fans need to be set free from the banal consensus driven by a broadcast media who find it much easier to trawl out hackneyed cliches on a weekly basis. Fans deserve the chance to apply their own narrative, to set their own agenda.

The tools exist, in football, for fans to find out about that new French striker themselves without waiting for a highly paid pundit to tell them that he’s never heard of them. They need to be encouraged and enfranchised, not spoon-fed cliches like 'it was a game of two halves' and 'they had the lion's share of the possession' and 'he got the ball, I don’t see what the problem is'.

And moving everything to the Red Button will clear BBC1’s Saturday night TV schedule for the benefit of all people in the UK who only take an interest in football every other Summer which, it must be said, is the majority.

Of course it will be tough at first but in time no-one will miss it. In fact, I’d give it about three weeks before the first nostalgia websites for MOTD crop up on the Internets. After six months we’ll look back on the days of Match Of The Day and laugh at our naivety.

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