Why aye, man

September 22, 2010 § 6 Comments

Righteous fury about the state of the nation’s coverage of the nation’s game is coming to the boil. At least on my tiny corner of Twitter, which – while significantly divorced from reality, a strange place where women put cats in bins – has spent the last day or so dragging Alan Shearer over the coals for his own special brand of punditry.

Alan’s offence? His comments regarding the Geordie Nation’s latest pending disappointment Hatem Ben Arfa, during his analysis (I know, I know) of the Newcastle match. When Shearer told Gary Lineker that “Nobody had really heard of him”, you could almost hear the jaw of the footballing blogosphere hit the floor. (That’s right: “blogosphere”. I’m hip.)

For me, there are two questions here, both of which concern not only Shearer himself but also our general expectations of television punditry. First of all, should he have heard of him? Secondly, if not, should he have found out about him? Both these questions come with the premise: given that his job is to talk about football on television.

So, given that his job is to talk about football on television, should we expect that he have heard of a French international who came through Clairefontaine to Lyon, made a big money move to Marseille, then moved on to the club Shearer supports, acquiring a reputation as a not-insubstantial berk on the way?

Well, I’d heard of him, but I also had to look some of that up. Besides, I generally don’t think it’s fair to criticise somebody for not knowing something on the basis that you know it. Shearer’s job is to analyse domestic (and occasionally international) football. He may not have any interest in Ligue 1, or the Champions League, or the French team when they’re not playing England; while some might find such an attitude dispiriting, it doesn’t necessarily disqualify you from the job in question.

But for me, beyond any doubt, is that given that his job is to talk about football on television, he should have looked him up. Even if Mr Shearer doesn’t Google, there’s the BBC’s own army of researchers, journalists, bloggers, and support staff. Presumably Newcastle’s own website has some details of the player. And I can’t imagine for a second that Shearer doesn’t have one or two contacts left at St James’s Park, who might be happy to provide a little information.

“Aye, Chris, why’ve you signed this lad? Nobody’s ever heard of him.”

After all, it’s not as though Shearer was caught on the hop; suddenly ambushed in the street by a roving highlights show, microphone thrust into his face. As a Newcastle fan and Match of the Day employee Shearer would have been aware of Ben Arfa’s belter in both his professional and personal capacity. But to my way of thinking, if you know that you’re going to be asked to discuss a subject, and you know that your knowledge is inadequate, and you take a decision not to find anything out about it, you have failed to do your job. I’m writing this in my lunch break at work, and I have a meeting this afternoon. If I don’t make sure I know what I need to know, I’ll make a tit out of myself, and deserve the bollocking I’ll get. If I carry on as such, I’ll get the sack.

I’ve touched on this before, but it is utterly inconceivable that a purported expert in any other field would choose to advertise his or her ignorance in this way. If you don’t know something, you either find out, or try your damnedest not to get caught not knowing. Indeed, that’s the weird part: Shearer wasn’t even being quizzed about Ben Arfa’s playing history. There was no reason to establish his ignorance. He could have restricted his comments to the usual narration-masquerading-as-analysis that he normally manages with such panache.

See the ball. See Hatem. See Hatem kick the ball. See Hatem be happy with that.

Shearer’s job is to deliver comment, yet he knows that it is acceptable to flaunt his inability to do so. He is therefore not only failing, on a personal level, to achieve a basic level of competence; he’s also demonstrating that his ignorance is mirrored and accepted throughout his profession. He is showing his audience that the bar is set as low as possible: it’s okay not to know; it’s okay not to want to know; it’s okay not to try to know. I’ll get paid whatever. (All this from a man who spent last season criticising Dimitar Berbatov for not running around enough. There’s more than one kind of effort, Alan.)

For this, the fault lies with Match of the Day itself. The BBC knows that football fans, particularly the vast majority without Sky, are effectively prisoners; a captive audience that will return regardless of the pap they’re fed. We’re there for the highlights, and they know it. And while the attempt to provide analysis and context is laudable in itself, the stultifyingly poor editorial standards gives the whole exercise the air of an abusive relationship. They know we’ll come crawling back; they have what we think, in our masochistic inescapable idiocy, that we need.

Just because they don’t need to try harder, doesn’t mean it’s okay for them not to try at all. It’s not okay to feed your audience shit, just because you know they’ll eat it.

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§ 6 Responses to Why aye, man

  • Chris Roberts says:

    Nice work Andy, I like your blog and was particularly interested in your Berbatov post. I love Berbatov, he’s brilliant and thought your analysis – yes I’m calling it analysis 🙂 – was spot on….no Man Utd fan I, but I am a fan of sublime technique, which he has in abundance. It seems to me *places amateur pundit hat on head* that most English coaches and media pundits would rather that skill, guile and artistry be excised from the game, and certainly excised from English players playing the game in favour of effort, commitment, blood and sweat. This partly explains John Terry’s lionisation and the curious bullshit assumption that “grit and determination” are uniquley English qualities – as if Dutch, Argentine, Australian, Nigerian et al players somehow don’t want to win… or don’t want it enough/as much. EBJT (if you’re a subscriber to The Fiver, you’ll know that acronym :-)) once said in a press conference – I think before Croatia game that England lost meaning no qualification for Euro 2008 – that “We need to produce a typical English performance” This was uncritically lapped up by most, though not all, football scribes and TV pundits. It makes me weep/rage every time I hear it, BUT still it continues. Which brings me – finally I hear you sigh – to this latest post.

    Football punditry, particulalry on TV is appalling, ITV, BBC, Sky, populate the studios with ex professional players many of whom have nothing of value to say. Shearer is perhaps the worst culprit of all and for that, as you point out, we should blame whoever employed and continues to employ him (Roger Mosey originally appointed him I think). Comment, analysis and opinion requires insight and articulacy, neither of which Shearer possesses. Just having “Played the game at the highest level” (repeat ad infitum by all useless pundits as a means of deflecting attention away) is evidently simply not enough. Playing the game as a professional *might* provide certain insights but 1) There’s fu#kin hundreds of ex players lining up to churn out their platitudes, how many do we need; 2) If you cannot articulate that *insight* (I’m using the word with caution) … then shut the fuck up please. I really don’t mind one or two churning out the same mealy mouthed, ill thought through, banal, under-researched shit, but there’s so little to distinguish them from one another. I don’t care if ex-footballers are not that bright, why should they be, but once called upon to comment, put a bit of effort in!!! It’s your fu#kin job; 3) How about some other approaches and insights? During the World Cup, Lee Dixon had clearly gone to the effort of learning how to pronounce a few of the “foreign” names. During one half-time round of turgid shit, he pronounced a name correctly, and he was then laughed at by Shearer and Hansen (a man so in love with his own punditry) as some sort of swot. They both said, whilst sniggering “Someone’s done his homework”. Yes I thought, someone has. It’s not just that they know so little; or that theyt can’t articulate beyond the most banal bollocks; it’s that they’re un-embarrassed about it, or worse, somehow proud.

    Anyway, I’m done but as you can see it does bug me. Perhaps it’s not that important but comment and analysis can help shape and frame the action, good analysis and punditry can enlighten the viewer and provide different ways of looking, even reveal things previously not seen/considered. Football clearly matters to many and it does leave a sort of footprint on popular culture. Shearer, Hansen, Lawrenson, Jamie “top top players” Redknapp (stop repeating the phrase “top top”) Townsend et al add almost nothing to the experience.

  • RobDP says:

    The French World Cup coverage I saw had no ‘studio,’ started 2 minutes before kick-off with a little bit of light chitter-chatter from the commentators into their big mics in the stands, disappeared for a long ad break at half-time, and finished at 91 minutes with the players walking off. It was bloody refreshing.

  • twistedblood says:

    Rob, surely the entire French footballing establishment spent the whole World Cup in a slough of unbearable despond? “Merde. Now, we return to ze studio, where Monsieur Deschamps has just committed ‘ari-kiri. Didier?”

    Chris, the English preference for the artisan over over the artist is endemic, poisonous, and (from the point of view of a gleeful Welsh fan) utterly hilarious. Glenn Hoddle has fewer international caps than Emile Heskey. I’m gonna go for a lol.

    It’s probably important to note that there are some interesting pundits around. Gavin Peacock was one, before he found God; Lee Dixon, as you say; Martin Keown, oddly, given his cro-magnon forehead. But the thing that really surprises me about MotD is that there are three people on a couch, talking about football, and they never disagree with each other. Not once. How is that possible?

    Basically, I think the MotD sofa is a job with little or no assessment, little or no requirement to achieve a certain level of quality, and little or no scrutiny from the producers. The BBC has some wonderful football journalists working and writing for it. It’s just a shame that it’s flagship is crewed by plonkers.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by jamie rooney, 11tegen11, Charlie Anderson, DAN!, Andrew Thomas and others. Andrew Thomas said: New on Twisted Blood: "Why Aye, Man": that Alan Shearer's a bit of a fool. If you like, please RT! http://bit.ly/cAWCVJ […]

  • craig says:

    The MOTD crew are given a framework to use and are basically told not to say anything too inflammatory, which is why we inevitably end up with the same old one dimensional nonsense every week.
    For my license fee Id give them carte blanche to say what they really think – unfortunately it doesnt turn out that way.
    At least Andy Townsend hasn’t made the transfer to BBC 1 yet…..

  • I woke up this morning cross at Clive Tyldesley so I thought I’d tell you about it. Specifically I was remembering that time halfway through last years’ Champions League when he said something like, “this young Lúcio shows promise, he could go far”. Maybe Clive.

    Then I remembered “he is the man who has been brought on to replace the irreplaceable Pavel Nedved” and “he’s not George Best, but then again, no-one is.” And when I say remembered I mean I remembered he said something like that so I googled the names of the players.

    Ever since the Japan Korea world cup I refuse to eat breakfast on a point of principle.

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