Firstly, Happy New Year to one and all. You are seeing one of my resolutions in action by reading this – having not posted anything on here since mid November (and a thumping 5-2 win over Spurs) I’m starting 2013 by making an attempt to return to writing. It is, however, something of a rant-driven return. A little spleen venting never hurt anyone, right?
I have to confess to feeling extremely frustrated whenever I turn on sports channels these days. I don’t just mean Sky Sports News, but everyone. Without wishing to hark back to ‘the good old days’, I remember a time where the whole week built up to a match, you’d watch the game, and then possibly catch the highlights later, with a bit of analysis thrown in. Then, you’d flick through the papers as you built up to the next one. It was simple, it was easy, it was fun.
Maybe I had a different perspective at the time, being considerably younger, but it certainly seemed that there was less ‘fluff around the edges’ in the analysis. By that I mean that the likes of Match of the Day would show the game, chat about the incidents and move on. Interviewers would ask about the performance and perhaps the wider context of the league. Thrilling games were enjoyed.
These days, it seems no analysis is complete without sowing the seeds of a story that can be talked about for the rest of the week. It makes sense in a way – when broadcasters only had to worry about a single highlights package, they did exactly that. But with 24 hours news coverage, they need something to talk about in between, so the focus shifts to the controversial, to the debatable, and often to the banal. Witness the aftermath of the victory over Newcastle on Saturday evening. We had just been treated to a remarkable 7-3 victory, one of the ridiculous scorelines becoming associated with us these days, and despite limited time to talk about it, and ten goals to get through, the main focus was Theo Walcott’s contract.
Let me repeat – we had just witnessed a game that finished 7-3, and they were talking about (in fact, idly speculating on) a player’s potential contract decisions. Nothing had changed, no more information had been gleaned, both club and player were continuing their stance, and it wasn’t even the first hattrick he had scored this season.
There are times where such discussion is appropriate – if the player says something controversial, if the manager suggests a change in the player’s future, or perhaps simply if the match ended as a 0-0 snoozefest and there is nothing else to speak of. But surely not here.
Yet talk they do, and talk many do. It saps the life and fun out of the ninety minutes on offer to spend the rest of the week worried about the peripherals – after Saturday’s game I read plenty of fans speaking about Walcott’s hattrick without enjoyment, as if it had been scored for someone else. No, it was for us, and it won us the match. Why can’t we just find the positives in that for a change, rather than worrying about how many more times it will happen?
We are in the midst of perhaps the best fortnight of any season – the Christmas period is always packed with matches (and usually goals, for some reason), games come in a constant stream, and just as you feel January coming on and the thrill dissipating, along comes the third round of the FA Cup, which remains my favourite day of the entire campaign. It is a fabulous time to be a football fan.
But ask yourself this – what was your first football-related thought today? Was it the opening of the transfer window, or the fact we’ve got a match in a few hours against a Southampton side playing better than their results suggest? I hope the latter, but the news coverage is very much focused the other way. Sky, and their infernal ‘transfer ticker’, drive me nuts with a stream of stories that will mostly end up being agent plants, and the press write in the same way. Is this really the most important thing going on?
Who cares if we win today, when there is the much more enticing prospect of a big name signing this month? The same sort of big name signing that is often planted to raise excitement levels, only for the player to sign an improved deal days later. Or perhaps we should analyse the body language of Theo Walcott again, and how much he claps the fans, rather than sitting back and enjoying the actual game?
I don’t get it. At heart we are all football fans, and it is on the field where the best experiences are had. Every wonderful memory is driven by the men in red and white (and variety of increasingly ugly away kits) doing something special on the grass, not by the men in suits negotiating with clubs, agents, players and families. So why is the majority of our time spent speculating and worrying about that? We choose to read uninformed talk of invisible action instead of discussing what is right in front of our eyes, and the very thing that made us so passionate about the game in the first place.
(There is an exception – reading the analysis of those who bring up points you haven’t thought of based on information you don’t have is interesting – but rare. We know who those people are, and theirs are fascinating pieces to read).
I realise I sound like a grumpy old man, and I realise that there are only so many ways you can analyse a game before running out of things to say, but perhaps that is the inherent flaw in 24 hour coverage – you have to fill in the gaps with ‘our sources tell us’, ‘we understand that’ and stories that are so fanciful that they just make you laugh.
So here’s the thing. If we sign someone this month, I’ll talk about it. If we sell someone this month, I’ll analyse it. If Theo signs a new contract, it’ll get a mention. I might even throw in some transfer window thoughts when the blasted thing finally shuts and Jim White can crawl back into his hole. But until then, I’m going to enjoy the games. Fancy joining me?