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…