Mute point

Posted by on Aug 23, 2011 in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

So, three weeks into the new Football League season and in many ways it’s much the same as the last. The divisions might be different, but Southampton and Brighton are still dazzling on the south coast; Peterborough are still serving up improbable goalfests at London Road; Crawley are still cruising at the top of the league; and, less happily, Plymouth’s horrific decline continues seemingly unabated.

Changes have however been afoot with The Football League Show. The aircraft hangar-style setting remains, and Manish Bhasin is still the presenter, with Steve “There’s No Doubt About That” Claridge called upon to dispense pearls of wisdom before the Saturday evening post-pub viewing swine. But Mark Clemmit’s Potted History features are no more, presumably because the vast majority of Football League clubs were covered over the course of the past two seasons. And, more significantly, gone too are the segments in which supporters’ texts and emails are read out. Dear old Auntie Beeb has, it seems, packed Lizzie Greenwood-Hughes off to the Jobcentre to join the legions of out-of-contract players milling around looking for work.

As Lanterne Rouge noted in the second part of his feature on fan culture, in the 1990s “mainstream media quickly cottoned on to the fact that supporters wanted their say“, with the BBC in particular being innovators in the field, no doubt sensitive to their position as funded by the licence-payer. The advent of Web 2.0 in the noughties only accelerated the process – far from being a unidirectional channel paying only lip service to dialogue and interaction, mass media should be democratic, accessible, receptive.

So it’s interesting that the Beeb should now have decided to abandon the text and email sections on The Football League Show. Does the silencing of fans’ voices suggest they’ve given up the pretence of taking viewers’ opinions into account? Does it even signal, or is it part of, a wider retreat from democratic, dialogic media?

The BBC does appear to be starting to adopt a different attitude. Explaining the cost-cutting decision to close down the 606 website, their sport editors claimed part of the intention was to ensure comments are better integrated within the fabric of BBC Sport output, rather than segregated in their own special area. However, while The Football League Show‘s incorporation of texts and emails would seem the very embodiment of this intention, the editors added: “We also recognise that there are so many other places on the internet for fans to take part in sporting debates – this clearly isn’t a preserve of the BBC“. True enough – this ‘ere blog being just one such example.

Personally speaking, while the Beeb’s initial motives and principles may have been laudable, I was far from a fan of the segments. They were respite from Claridge, sure, but if they were a blessing then they were fiendishly well disguised. Maybe it was down to the soundbite format, but the experience was was like being subjected to an only marginally less irritating version of the radio version of 606; or the most kneejerk, ill-informed, blithely unrealistic, moronic or simply anaemic comments of a messageboard, bleached of all wit or humour and invariably ending with “Well done boys!” or “Sort it out!” I would almost always watch on iPlayer after the initial screening, so I could skip swiftly through whatever Bob from Bradford-upon-Avon thought about Bristol Rovers’ latest defeat.

And therein lies the rub – to put it bluntly, given the right to speak their mind, few fans seemed to have anything to say worth listening to. And while people are keen to have their own views aired, they’re rarely interested in hearing anyone else’s. (Yes, yes, I realise that this is akin to a blogger’s suicide note, but am now committed to my own logic…) So why not cut the slots, leaving messageboards to fulfil that function, and allow more time for highlights and (ahem) “expert analysis“? It’s hard to argue that the programme’s poorer for it.

Spare a thought, though, for Lizzie. If she hasn’t found herself a new role within the Beeb, then perhaps a job as a newsreader on Five would fit the bill – she has the requisite background in news (as a former Newsround presenter) and recent experience of both reading out biased drivel and perching on the edge of a desk…

Ben
Ben is a long-suffering Newcastle Utd supporter (is there any other kind?) who co-founded and co-wrote Black & White & Read All Over, a blog that, over the course of a decade, chronicled the ups, downs, chaos and calamity of the club he has the misfortune to follow. Since the blog hung up its boots in May 2014 (note: not as a mark of respect for Shola Ameobi leaving St James’ Park), he has contented himself with sporadic, splenetic Twitter outbursts and shamefully rare contributions to The Two Unfortunates. He is currently haunted by visions of Joe Kinnear returning to the club for a third spell and pondering whether he’ll live to see another victory over the Mackems, but at least has a cardboard coathanger with Robert Lee’s head on it for consolation.

13 Comments

  1. Matt R
    August 23, 2011

    Spot on

    Reply
  2. Matt R
    August 23, 2011

    Um. Sorry. I meant, “well done boys!”

    Reply
  3. Stanley
    August 23, 2011

    There's no doubt about that, Manish. (Oops, sorry, Ben.)

    The show is definitely the better without the brain dribblings of drunken fans, but it seems to me that the League 1 and 2 sections are shorter this year. Sort it out!

    Reply
  4. Frank Heaven
    August 23, 2011

    Nicely composed post.

    I think that fans do have something to say worth hearing, but the Beeb haven't been very good at finding the wheat amid an admittedly large amount of chaff.

    There are two reasons for this:

    1. Editing that leans towards the safe and anodyne.

    2. A tone of debate set by the 'experts' that is similarly safe and anodyne. Those who remember the halycon, early, Danny Baker days of 606, will recall topics like 'teams you have an irrational hatred for' and 'crap away ends'. Fans loved it. But the Beeb have moved away from Baker's 'shock jock' approach, a long way away. Nowadays, 606 callers tend to be Steve from Berkshire who thinks this could be Liverpool's year. It's about as controversial as a Coldplay B side.

    Sort it out Beeb!

    Reply
  5. Mike SFC
    August 23, 2011

    I'd go further by saying that the programme would lose nothing – indeed, would be *improved* by scrapping Claridge and all 'expert' analysis altogether. Claridge, and most other pundits really, provide NO further insight than could be given by the average fan who reads the sport sections and slouches in front of Sky Sports News while his girlfriend moans at him because she wants to watch Corrie.

    If asked a question about a certain club, Claridge simply regurgitates all his nebulous knowledge about them (Manish: “What about Southampton's prospects this season?”… Clarige: “Well, they're a decent sized club for that division, Ricky Lambert will always get you goals, they've got a young manager and a bit of money. They should do ok.”… Manish: “OK, thanks, Steve.”

    Frankly, I'm in my mid-30s now with two young kids. When I do manage not to fall asleep midway through Match of the Day, I just want to watch the goals fly in, not have slumber forced upon me by the platitudes of a cretin.

    Reply
  6. Ben
    August 23, 2011

    Cheers chaps. And I'm with you, Mike. Good punditry can actually be illuminating – currently Lee Dixon is easily the best, though I am also a fan of Pat Nevin. But getting rid of Claridge (and Rosenior – not much better) would be an improvement, to my mind. Why is it that Claridge, like Robbie Savage, can't talk about a player or club without mentioning that he remembers playing with/against them? (Apart from him being the archetypal journeyman, that is.)

    Reply
  7. Mike Smog
    August 24, 2011

    Personally, I'll miss Lizzie…

    Apart from the aforementioned and the fact any Football League coverage on the main channel is great, albeit tucked away after MotD, the show has always made me a bit uncomfortable. Whether it's the massive, empty studio set, which reminds me of being at the Riverside or bloody Claridge, I'm not sure, but I think you might have hit it on the head with the supporter comments.

    I've never texted/e-mailed the show, even after an evening on the Lessthanafiverinos from Asda, because I guess I've always known that any substance or detail would be removed from my comments and just the lead/end point would remain. It's all so knee-jerk, with the intelligence carefully excised, and I could make them up for myself if I so chose.

    Reply
  8. Lanterne Rouge
    August 24, 2011

    Great comments folks – especially Mike SFC's reproduced Manish-Claridge dialogue.

    The problem is that 606 and Lizzie's emails have started to give all fan involvement a bad reputation when the blogosphere in particular has a plethora of intelligent comment from supporters. Hopefully the drawbridge won't be pulled up completely and I agree with Mike that any football league coverage on TV is good.

    Reply
  9. Chris P
    August 24, 2011

    What the show really needs is to have a panel section, where they can discuss an issue in between each league segment. Have Claridge or some other “expert”, a football journalist (local or national), and a fan (eg. blog authors would be a good shout). Change the journo and the fan each week (and Claridge if possible!) and I think they'd be on to a winning formula. But its far too imaginative for the BBC!

    Reply
  10. Lloyd
    August 24, 2011

    Back in the day, I always used to set the video for ITV's Football League round-up, which used to air at some ridiculous early morning time. As I remember it, other than the odd manager / player interview from Gabriel Clarke, there was no studio anchor. It wasn't until Matt 'pause for effect' Smith and The Championship that the studio / pitch side host became the norm.

    I'm in two minds; I enjoy the magaziney element where someone like Clem takes a step back, but the match-by-match analysis is just tiresome and the little round-up at the end of each league's coverage is simply a token for the, to quote a certain Watford supporter, Blind, Desperate or Stupid.

    In any case, the show seems to be on its last legs. According to this article, the Beeb won't be covering the Football League from next season onwards. So long, Steve!

    Reply
  11. Stanley
    August 24, 2011

    Mike SFC absolutely hits the nail on the head regarding the `expert' analysis. Different show but same principle: Alan Shearer's contribution to the coverage of England vs Slovenia in last year's World Cup exposed the truth. His opening line was `we don't much about Slovenia'. Do some research then, you cretin! But, no, that would involve hard work. Awful shirts and a bit of banter with Gary and the gang are clearly what the viewer wants.

    Reply
  12. Lanterne Rouge
    August 24, 2011

    The sheer lateness of the show on the first days of the season and its scheduling after the umpteenth showing of Con Air was telling. Still an essential watch for anyone interested in the Football League but as Lloyd says, it will be a huge surprise if it's around beyond this season.

    Reply
  13. Ben
    August 25, 2011

    Must say I watch it religiously even as someone who no longer has a vested interest in Football League matters – but that's largely for the action and in spite of the format. Still, would be sorry to see it go.

    Like the idea of a panel, Chris.

    Reply

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