|The John Ross column, Football Monthly Magazine, Volume 2 Number 1, 1975|
Watching football on the television in 2020 has become such a sophisticated process that the army of pundits and presenters, pitch-side mic-wielders, pre-match interviewers and voxpop crews needed to keep the whole thing afloat could successfully crew an aircraft carrier across the Atlantic.
The simple idea of the co-commentator first seems to have been mooted at the 1970 World Cup and, by the time the show came around again four years later, was already truly entrenched. Sir Alf Ramsey could be heard alongside ITV’s Hugh Johns chuntering things like “Tha Polish chaps really don’t seem to have the slightest idea of what they are doing” in a quavery voice pitched just south of the 1st Duke of Marlborough. The expert panel wheeled out for half time frivolity and full time analysis was also a thing of beauty, a kind of full page ad for Man at C&A and an opportunity to marvel at precisely where Derek Dougan's hair started and finished.
By the time the likes of Jack Charlton and David Pleat had joined the ranks in the 80s, as live tv football exploded onto our screens on a weekly rather than once in a lonely while basis, we had strange Geordie slang and first name cosiness to add to the growing problems. The men with voices now joined in at an alarming rate and with a grand variety of skills to bring to the job. When Andy Townsend starting personalizing everything he saw in football by commencing every comment with the honey-soaked words “For me, Clive”, football on tv had grown its first adolescent moustache. Unfortunately, the pimple went unpopped and has been allowed to grow to the size of Richard Dunne’s behind.
|Soft spot, impartiality, bias: from Football Monthly, Meet the Press, Vol 2 no.4, 1975|
With this army of ex-players, of course, comes the past lives they represent.
Ex-Liverpool, and there are admittedly one or two of those striding around in the media, means a red leaning. Ex-Newcastle would suggest a timeworn fondness for the Magpies and ex-Swansea would suggest the same for the South Wales outfit. Only there are no ex-Newcastle and ex-Swansea men on offer. They are all ex-Liverpool, ex-United or ex-Arsenal. Battalions of them, all carrying the gentle biases and partialities you’d expect from wearing those red jerseys on their shoulders for so many years
This reached an interesting peak with Manchester City’s final pre-covid game of any significance, away at Real Madrid. Expert analysis came that night from Steve McManaman, a man whose name is synonymous with Liverpool as much as it is with the idle overuse of the letter A.
Steve, of course, also turned out for Real Madrid and Manchester City, where his arm-waving became so over-indulgent as to look pathetic in the extreme.
|"Over there, Paul, ffs. Do I have to do everything myself?"|
Steve now hauls his haircut into the BT studios for our benefit and on this occasion, as both an ex-City player and an ex-Real player, BT bosses must have thought they had finally cracked the conundrum. There would finally be no reason for the great unwashed hordes of “City Twitter” to mount the keyboards and fire off expletives afterwards. That was until Steve could be heard howling the plaintive “nooooooo” in the background as Danny Carvajal brought down Raheem Sterling for a late penalty to City. In that swift unguarded moment Steve revealed his old biases and we absolutely hated him for it. Why was an Englishman who had played for City howling his barely disguised disappointment at a setback for Real Madrid? Surely, nationality would trump everything even if he couldn’t shake off a deep dislike of all things City?
Bias is an odd beast that lurks in all of us and to expect football pundits to be clear of it is plainly delusional. What might, could and surely is possible, however, is the simple solution of employing less (please, God, less) and employing objective individuals on a case by case nature. If football ever returns to our screens, then we should begin the new dawn with some stock-taking and some spring-cleaning. First to go should be 70% of the talking heads that plainly exist with the sole intention of warming up the atmosphere. If Football Magazine could get up tight about the use of an ex-Leeds manager during coverage of that club’s historical pinnacle in 1975, then I’m pretty sure being force-fed Danny Murphy and Michael Owen’s views on just how brilliant Liverpool are in the present day could qualify as a crime against humanity.
|"Definitely Klopp's fault, don't you think, Michael?"|