Familiarity Breeds Contempt

23 Jan

It was billed as an alternative to Newsnight. With much trumpeting on our airwaves, billboards and computer screens, Channel 4’s new satirical television show 10 o’clock Live made its debut last Thursday night promising much. Attempting to harness the creative and celebrated talents of presenters, comedians and cultural commentators such as The Guardian’s Charlie Brooker and Peep Show’s David Mitchell what we were infact  subjected to was a series of hackneyed one-liners, sneering asides and lazy tub-thumping aimed at utilising the partisan audience’s pre-existing disdain for authority. It all came across as an exercise in smugness by all involved. How sad.

Meanwhile, over on the BBC, political heavyweights George Galloway and Alastair Campbell locked horns yet again over the definition of New Labour and the Iraq conflict. Galloway as ever using the full arsenal of his considerable vitriolic rhetoric to liken the former spin doctor to Lord Haw-Haw and Goebbels whilst his adversary retaliated with accusations of sycophancy on Galloway’s part with his dealings with Saddam Hussein. And lo and behold, there was Tony Blair giving another unrepentant and shameful defence of his actions to the Chilcot Inquiry yet again on Friday. Oh dear. It’s like 2003 all over again.

Everywhere you looked this week, it seemed as if you were watching the same old faces doing their same old schtick on a sticky loop. And as a result, all that we were watching were bad photocopies of bad photocopies diminishing with increasing rapidity. How many more times can we see Jimmy Carr deliver one of his stilted and ‘close-to-the bone’ quips? Can you really separate Mitchell from his Peep Show alter-ego anymore? And seriously, who looks at Campbell and doesn’t think Malcolm Tucker these days?

And then a chink of light shone through the fug of hot air in the form of the Burnley central defender and chairman of the Professional Footballer’s Association, Clarke Carlisle. His appearance on Question Time was the first made by a professional footballer and while not setting the world alight, he came across as an articulate and thoughtful man who was not afraid to speak his mind and challenge the stereotypical notions that footballers are only concerned with material pursuits.

Carlisle spoke with eloquence on the subject of the war in Iraq, questioning the transparency of the attorney general’s advice to Blair in the run-up to the conflict. He astutely brought the audience with him as he told the story of his cousin who is currently serving in Afghanistan that garnered a far more considered and humane response from Campbell. He might have been prone to leaning a little too heavily upon footballing analogies and his views were not always going to carry favour with everybody who watched the show, but nevertheless, his quiet, thoughtful and refreshing presence on the panel highlighted the Punch and Judy show that Galloway, Campbell and all their contemporaries have subjected us all to for years.

The same can be said of Match of the Day; a show that is fast-becoming an anachronistic remnant of an era in which football was not as highly saturated as it is now. Everybody on the show looks either bored or tired. There was a time when Gary Lineker’s stewardship of the show was viewed as a breath of fresh air. The bad puns were amusing and his casual charm seemed to break away from the behind-desk stiffness of the Jimmy Hill/Des Lynam era. Alan Hansen, though never one of the world’s great raconteurs, provided intelligent tactical analysis and even Mark Lawrenson had something to say. Last night’s show confirmed that it either needs to be drastically re-vamped or put out of its misery once and for all. The much-maligned Alan Shearer once again spoke in nothing other than clichés and couldn’t even deliver the phrase ‘fought for one another’ with any degree of cogency. Lineker made a cringe-inducing Shakespearean link using Romeo Beckham and the word ‘hitherto’ and despite Dimitar Berbatov’s third hat-trick of the season for Manchester United, the analysis centred and obsessed once again around the apparent return to form of Wayne Rooney. Even a mainstay like Goal of the Month has lost its appeal, with no prize on offer for predicting the right order. Seems as though everybody’s going through the motions.

And then finally, the news broke today of an off-mic tirade delivered by Sky’s anchorman Richard Keys and chief pundit Andy Gray, disparaging the involvement of a female assistant referee at the televised match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Liverpool yesterday afternoon. Commenting on Sian Massey, Keys remarked: “Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her.” Added to this, the pair also went on to belittle West Ham managing director Karren Brady’s observations on sexism that she had made in a newspaper article on the same day. Keys said:

The game’s gone mad. Did you hear charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Do me a favour, love.

It seems as though it’s time that many of these ‘old’ faces were put out to pasture. There appears to be an ever-growing disconnection with the way the world works beyond the safe and innocuous cocoon of back-slapping. As a consumer, I do not have to accept willingly the diet of casual laziness and sloganeering offered up to me on a daily basis. And neither should you. There are other ways to stay informed as The Guardians Top 100 Football Blogs To Follow in 2011 proves. I am discovering more and more astute, original and thoughtful writers as my own blog has developed. It’s not too much to demand something new. After all, if we didn’t, we’d still be swinging in trees. So Ruud Gullit managing in Chechnya is a good thing. Tottenham and West Ham wanting to move to Stratford is a good thing. And who knows? Maybe even staging a World Cup in Qatar might be a good thing. Just don’t get Jimmy Carr to deliver the gag…

Further Reading: The Revolution Must Be Televised by Juliet Jacques

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

13 Responses to “Familiarity Breeds Contempt”

  1. Michael January 23, 2011 at 17:50 #

    Agreed. The standard of punditry on MOTD and Sky has become an embarrassment. Being able to play the game does not qualify you to talk about it with any degree of intelligence any more than being able to write about it makes you Maradona. Even without his array of gadgetry, Massey knows more about the rules of football than Andy Gray ever will.

    Having seen him in action, though, I don’t think Gullit managing anybody is a particularly good idea.

  2. Mark Critchley January 23, 2011 at 19:23 #

    I’d advise whoever’s been keeping Richard Keys under that rock for the last fifty years to rapidly turn it into a quarry.

    Top stuff again Greg.

  3. SpursSimon January 23, 2011 at 21:26 #

    So true on all points.
    MotD as with much on BBC Sport is just there for sentimental reasons – they need some edge in it – maybe some fan input to actually question some of the issues they can’t?
    Keys / Gray for the sack – Sky just won’t do it. What would the outcry have been had they done a “Ron Atkinson”
    As for the C4 show, as one person said “This is like watching twitter 3 days ago” I think satire (especially when so heavily scripted) needs to have look at itself.

    One final point, as when I start I find it hard to stop… You neglected to mention everyones favourite comedy team of Lucas and Walliams – currently serving up the racist “blacked up” fare we got rid of in the 70s.

  4. Kevin Coleman January 23, 2011 at 22:20 #

    Great read Greg, top work.

    The quality of football coverage in England is atrocious, and an overhaul or if a broadcaster is willing to, a new devised show is badly needed.

  5. joel priest January 24, 2011 at 20:22 #

    i agree about motd…i dont even rush home to watch it now and i would rather wake up on sunday morning and fast forward through the sky + and cut out all the circles, lines and predictable comments.

    re keys and gray unfortunately this is the view of most football fans whether we like it or not. Simon Barnes had the following to say:

    Football is a shed. It’s not very nice, but then it’s not supposed to be. It’s reason for existing is that there aren’t any women in it. For an awful lot of men, one of the highest pleasures in life is to be where women aren’t. Sheds and football can both provide that pleasure.

    it was a foolish thing to do but sky will give them a slap on the wrist and we will be back to normality (boredom) before you know it!

  6. Steve Hughes January 24, 2011 at 21:56 #

    Great post. I’m going to struggle to keep this condensed. I think Andy Gray and Richard Keys ought to be sacked, and this is the perfect time to get rid of them. For years this smug and arrogant duo have paraded around our screens believing they are untouchable and assuming their views are ‘in touch’ with the feelings of all fans. The witch-hunt culture of our modern media maybe not to everyone’s tastes, but it can serve well here. I reckon they’ll get the boot. It’s all very well saying football is a “shed” but that’s a ludicrous excuse. Would they be taking the pi** if the linesman was black? Or gay? This woman would have come against untold struggles in getting to where she is now. She has every right to not be sneered at by these two so-called pillars of the English game. There’s a big difference between banter and bigotry and it’s quite obvious which one is on display here.

    As for the state of the game’s presenters as a whole, I have to agree it’s a sorry one. Match of the Day is badly in need of a revamp. I only watch it these days for the actual footage. You can do something else while they’re talking. Lineker has gone from Mr-nice-guy-boyhood-hero to perma tanned smarmy git who is only in it for the money. I too used to like Hansen for his analytical knowledge of the game. However 15 years down the line he’s just rehashing the same old phrases. You can deal with the dour when it’s intelligent and original. It’s a tough watch when it’s not. I cannot agree that Lawrenson ever had anything to say. From his very first episode he’s acted like he’s been on community service rather than being a pundit on an English football institution. As if rather than being paid to do a dream job he’s serving some kind of punishment. I’ve never encountered anyone more negative. Does the guy even like football? Shearer is wooden and cliché-addled, but he is at least honest and he played the game this century. Likewise Lee Dixon who (against my better judgement) I’ve found quite good on Football Focus.

    The problems on the radio are even worse. I find it hard to believe I ever enjoyed listening to Alan Green’s commentary. While he used to be enthusiastic, these days he’s the dictionary definition of a curmudgeon. We’ve all got issues and opinions about football, but he seems to downright hate the game. He always tries to justify his comments by saying he “calls it as he sees it”. Who the hell does he think he is? It’s not his game. It’s ours. The people. He is our eyes and ears at the grounds but he makes the game sound utterly awful. Anyone alien to football who tuned into an Alan Green commentary would turn it off for ever after 15 minutes. Motty may be a bit annoying with his anorak knowledge etc etc, but at least he conveys the suggestion he enjoys what he is watching and keeps us entertained as we listen or watch.

    I think this is the point I’m trying to make. Fans want pundits/presenters/commentators to be a mixture of enthusiastic, intelligent and informative. As has been said, you don’t have to have been a former player to achieve this, but if you are a former player with a talent then you’re welcome too. Many of the Soccer Saturday team impress me. You’re effectively watching other men watch a screen you can’t see, yet it still keeps you interested. Jeff Stelling runs the ship as tightly as any and Matt Le Tissier, Paul Merson et al deserve their chance. The problem has been – as Greg says – familiarity breeds contempt. Let’s see it mixed up a bit…..

    • joel priest January 25, 2011 at 20:12 #

      I agree with most of those points however and this is not a sexist comment just an observation. If Fifa/The FA are allowing women to officiate the game then how can they argue against them playing for a professional “mens” club?

      Surely this is sexism itself. Yes you can make crucial decisions in game but no you are not allowed to play in it yourself…erm sorry thems the rules.

      Not my opinion I will once again reiterate but if they want to break the boundaries then the FA need to go all out to promote female officials in ALL sports not just football. Currently i can only think of one or two major sports where both sexes can officiate a game, snooker and tennis.

      re MOTD here is my preferred line up: Russell Brand to host, Gordon Strachan, Ian Holloway, Paul Gascoigne, Ozzie Ardilles and Me after a few pints.

  7. Steve HUghes January 26, 2011 at 11:28 #

    You’d fall asleep after a few pints.

    • joel priest January 26, 2011 at 16:08 #


      reading more articles at lunchtime today and my views aside of keys and gray as pundits i do feel some sympathy for them.

      Lets be honest for a second, who of us has not made a sexist/innuendo comment at some point? A lot of people might not admit it but it happens frequently. I reckon most of the men and women in my department would be sacked if we used the sky sports guidelines.

      And as for Rio Ferdinand airing his views on twitter…lets remind ourselves of the example he has set over the years. Famously banned for missing a drugs test, convicted of drink driving and to top it all off he has filmed himself having group sex in Cyprus not to mention various accusations of affairs…respect to the ladies Ferdi.

  8. Steve HUghes January 27, 2011 at 17:22 #

    I think if you read between the lines there is more to this than those few youtube videos where they have been caught out. Lots of current and former Sky workers are coming out of the woodwork to say they were both utterly horrible people who spent their whole time at Sky bullying both men and women. The fact that people at Sky are celebrating the departure of their so-called “top men” goes some way into showing how deeply unpleasant they both were. I take on board what you’re saying about everyone making comments/jokes from time to time and refer back to my first comment on here that there is a big difference between banter and bigotry. In other words, there is saying things for a laugh and then there is institutionalised prejudice where you actually believe the stuff you’re saying. They weren’t joking about that lineswoman. There was not a hint of laughter between them.

    As I said though, the video evidence alone is not enough to get rid of them, and that’s why it seems so unfair for people not in the know. I reckon there’s a dossier of information on the pair of them going back years.

    • joel priest January 28, 2011 at 17:06 #

      Fair point Steve i see what you are saying and to be honest i dont really care whether keys and gray were sacked or just ticked off.

      Its just the principal of the matter that everyone jumps on the band wagon.

      I cannot wait until Bruce Forsyth stops working and then finally people can open up about how much of a complete arsehole he is.

      Come on Greg next one please…and let it be about the premier league fining Ian Holloway…i am chomping at the bit!

  9. Allan January 27, 2011 at 20:16 #

    Great post.

    I think that the BBC’s coverage of sport full stop has had the air of resting on it’s laurels for some time now. You would have thought that the critisism of their coverage of the World Cup would have alerted them to a problem.


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