Radio Review: The Monday Night Club
Some excuses to start with — I’m tired after the weekend, the work has piled up and I have rarely organised alternative activities. I don’t fancy embarking on the box set that has arrived from Lovefilm and I’m yet to be enticed into downloading any album so far released in 2013.
So I invariably find myself tuning in to BBC Radio Five Live and that station’s Monday Night Club — a roundtable football discussion hosted by the omnipresent Mark Chapman, varying from an hour to two and a half hours in length depending on whether there is a game on or not, the last edition of which is still available on iPlayer.
I wasn’t too keen on ‘Chappers’ to start with — the sobriquet would be enough to provoke condemnation. There was something of the eighties sports presenter about him — not quite Partridge but straying into Nick Owen or Elton Welsby territory nonetheless.
But in time, I’ve grown to grudgingly admire him — a true roustabout he has become, and his effortless knowledge of a range of sports must mark him out as a real asset for the Beeb. Peddlers, a recent analysis of the Lance Armstrong scandal was an impressive piece of radio and he has slotted into coverage of the Superbowl and Rugby League with ease.
Nor, when it comes to football, is he unduly fixated on the Premier League — the Monday Night Club does focus on that competition for sure, although last night’s vintage mainly concerned itself with the FA Cup and there are occasional appearances from Mark ‘Clem’ Clemmit to talk about the Seventy Two. Clemmit was so gloriously lampooned in a recent When Saturday Comes by Glen Wilson — but if his Football League Show appearances do induce cringes aplenty, he has a face, voice and personality for radio.
Another regular behind the headphones is Steve Claridge — as opinionated as ever and mercifully absent on this Monday’s edition. ‘Watford played well last night’ you’ll hear him say — when you know full well he was co-commentating on Arsenal v Chelsea. Chris Ledger’s legendary piece for Obscure Music and Football is a neat summary of the former Aldershot man’s contributions to our national consciousness.
Instead, John Motson, Robbie Savage and journalist Ian McGarry made up the quartet and with that dramatis personae, how could the show ever avoid lurching into tabloidese?
‘Motty’ falls into the Jimmy Hill category for me — an idiot savant who one just about roots for because he appears to have the interests of the wider game at heart — his childlike enthusiasm is undimmed. That said, the pronouncements were straying into Hill territory last night — in particular when discussing Aston Villa’s recent travails.
The failure of the Birmingham club to spend money in the transfer window was bemoaned, with veteran Villa watcher Pat Murphy enlisted to join the conversation. Sure, the multiple failures of Paul Lambert’s men provide opportunities for schadenfreude from fans of other clubs but hadn’t the panel stopped to think that Randy Lerner’s caution might be due to financial difficulties? After all, he has plunged over £200 million into the team, including £24 million for Darren Bent.
Greater digging was needed and although the likes of Newcastle and QPR have been spendthrift, Motson’s claim that ‘Reading have also spent money’ stretched the point — I doubt that Villa fans would be satisfied had they spent less than a million on Daniel Carrià§o, Hope Akpan and Stephen Kelly.
But the seasoned commentator is a positive joy to listen to in comparison to messrs Savage and McGarry even if the former’s controversial pre-season prediction that Villa would be relegated is gaining more credence by the day (to his credit, he no longer seems to be gaining pleasure from this – outwardly at least).
Savage’s excesses are well chronicled — his uncontrolled statements have the air of a nasty bout of Tourette’s syndrome but it’s McGarry who really spoils it all — named as one of the 100 worst people on twitter, his refusal to extract himself from the fundament of Chelsea Football Club and Jose Mourinho in particular as well as a comical tendency to speculate wrongly on transfers, has marked him out as a necessarily avoidable figure in the best tradition of the Wapping Jackals.
So why do I listen? Well fatigue is one excuse, but the show does have the occasionally interesting aside — last night’s was a discussion of psychometric testing and its impact on the game — a genuinely fascinating quarter of an hour in which Damien Comolli lauded these checks’ importance while resolutely avoiding any mention of Andy Carroll.
No, the Beeb does great work and Damon Threadgold’s recent piece for In Bed With Maradona highlights this fully. Nor is it yet Talksport — and we don’t have to listen to adverts for Tesco’s and Playstation thereon. Substitute Pat Nevin or Gary Neville for a couple of the jokers on this particular panel and you might just have a piece of high quality radio. For now though, my subsequent listen to Chris Nee and Steven Green’s Aston Villa Review podcast was far more edifying.