How did it get to the point that BBC football punditry became so complacent and inexpert that Steve Bloomfield, author of Africa United: How Football Explains Africa, is hankering after the days of Jimmy Hill?
Perhaps it was the moment when Alan Hansen tipped three teams from the same group to all reach the semi-finals. Or maybe it was when Robbie Savage suggested that Robert Lewandowski, a man whose 30 goals for Borussia Dortmund led them to the Bundesliga title, was “a real find”. It could be that I still remember Alan Shearer saying “I don’t know much about Algeria” as he prepared to give us his analysis about said North African team during the 2010 World Cup.
I cannot recall precisely when I realised that the BBC’s coverage of international football is just a little bit rubbish. Nor when it became accepted among all football fans that the BBC’s coverage of international football is just a little bit rubbish. What is not in dispute – not even, one suspects among the majority of the Match of the Day team – is that the BBC’s coverage of international football is indeed just a little bit rubbish.
It’s confirmed every time we switch on the telly and watch three laidback golf buddies in shiny shirts compete to share such pearls of wisdom as “for me Gary, that’s a definite pen” or express ignorance of an international footballer who has never played in the Premier League.
Firstly, there’s the smugness. The “we’re all mates having a laugh just like you at home” forced bonhomie. Except they’re quite the opposite of us. When was the last time you heard any of the Beeb’s pundits argue? And when was the last time you and three mates talked about football without it descending into the throwing of playground insults?
Then there’s the utter uselessness of the analysis. “How he missed that I do not know, Gary”. Well, give it a bit of thought Big Al, and come up with a suggestion. Try to recall the last piece of memorable punditry from any of the Beeb’s bevvy of talking heads. I’m struggling to think of anything other than Alan Hansen’s memorable quip that “you don’t win anything with kids”, which not only proved to be utterly wrong but was also 17 (SEVENTEEN) years ago. Or put it another way: when every single England player actually was a kid. (To be fair to Littler Al, he did say something memorable this season, but his old-fashioned use of racially descriptive language is perhaps not something one would stick in the ‘for’ column.)
And finally, let us not allow the uselessness of the pundits to deflect criticism from the anchor. Gary Lineker, weak puns and all, can occasionally appear almost professional alongside Lawro and the Als. But we used to have an anchor that wasn’t just ‘almost professional’; he was the consummate professional. Des Lynam wasn’t an ex-footballer, he was an actual journalist, someone with training, skills, and experience.
Simply mocking and moaning is not enough though. It matters that the BBC’s coverage of international football is just a little bit rubbish. We pay for it. We deserve better. Granted, this isn’t one of the great injustices of the twenty-first century (“What do we want?” “More considered analysis of international football that adds some level of depth to our understanding of the game.” “When do we want it?” “Every night for three weeks every couple of years, hopefully leading to gradual improvements in weekly Match of the Day coverage”). However, a minor Twitter campaign shouldn’t be beyond us: #littlebitrubbish, perhaps.
There will be those who (rightly) point out that ITV’s coverage of international football is also just a little bit rubbish. But I don’t care if ITV’s coverage of international football is just a little bit rubbish. If Matt Smith does that squinty-eyed thing when he’s trying to be ironic; if Andy Townsend opens his mouth and says exactly what he’s just seen; if Clive Tyldsley once again mentions “that magical night in Barcelona” (I know, even pointing out Tyldsley’s tiresome catchphrase has become an over-repeated cliché).
I don’t care because I don’t expect much from ITV. And, more importantly, I don’t pay for it. I pay for the Beeb. I pay for Gary, for the Als, for Lawro, for Brighty, for Garth “far too boring to deserve a nickname” Crooks.
It’s time we sorted this out. I miss Des. I miss El Tel. Jesus, I think I might even miss Jimmy Hill. See? That’s how bad it is. Jimmy Hill was better than all of them.
Steve Bloomfield is the author of Africa United: How Football Explains Africa (Canongate), and tweets at @bloomfieldsj