We won’t know who the World Cup winners are until Sunday night, but this World Cup’s losers are far easier to identify. They’ll be in the Match of the Day studio passing comment. Alan Hansen, Alan Shearer and Mark Lawrenson, take a bow. Your unrivalled incompetence has brought about a situation that few could ever have thought possible. The BBC’s football coverage is now as risible as the putrid effluence spewed out by ITV.
When it comes to global football, this motley collection of has-beens and shouldn’t have-beens simply don’t know, don’t care and don’t even realise that with every passing second of air-time they are insulting your intelligence. You, the people of Britain, are paying for their extended all-expenses trip to South Africa and they can’t even reward you by spending five minutes on the loo with a copy of World Soccer.
If ever there was a case for examining the role of a publicly funded broadcaster, it’s when Shearer admits that his knowledge of the team he is being paid to comment upon is ‘limited’, or when Hansen growls rebelliously at the thought of having to watch the second half of Algeria against Slovenia because it’s his birthday. When the one pundit who seems to actually do some research, Lee Dixon, pointed out that Marek Hamsik was one to watch, Hansen sneered at him and suggested that someone must have given him that tip. Hamsik is one of the most sought-after players in Europe!
Mind you, for real incompetence, there’s only one place to go. My neighbours still recall the piercing howl of rage when the perennially ill-informed Lawrenson was forced to ask his co-commentator whether or not Kaka had ‘played much last season’. Here’s us, the licence payers, clubbing together to send ‘Lawro’ on the trip of a lifetime and he doesn’t even know whether one of the top five footballers on the planet has been getting much of a game at his new club.
You expect this kind of thing from ITV. They’ve always been useless at football, but it doesn’t matter. Their coverage is self-funded, propelled by the adverts that they occasionally smear across the most important part of a match like a toddler’s snot. You don’t get mad with ITV for being rubbish because it’s like getting mad with a puppy for pissing on the carpet. It’s what they do and, in a way, it’s your fault for letting them in the house in the first place. But the BBC is supposed to be a bastion of quality, a stronghold against the forces of commercialism. They’re supposed to be good at this, for pity’s sake.
Football fans, despite what the producers of Match of the Day apparently believe, are not idiots. Granted, anyone who has ever listened to a radio phone-in will know that there is an anti-Darwinism at the heart of every broadcast, a survival of the thickest as sensible voices are drowned out by braying morons. And yet football fans have never been so knowledgeable. The regular coverage of European leagues on satellite television has allowed us to gaze upon a world outside the bloated hyperbole of the Premier League. The internet has put the planet’s media at our fingertips. With every click of a mouse, it’s possible to find a new blog, tapped out for free by an enthusiast who has forgotten more about world football than ‘Lawro’ will ever remember.
Germany, according to Hansen, are an average team, but if they’re average, what on earth does that make England and Argentina? Robert Vittek was described as ‘an unknown’ by Shearer. That might have been true at the start of the tournament, assuming you could ignore seven years in the Bundesliga and La Ligue, but it certainly wasn’t the case four games in when he was the tournament’s joint leading scorer. Time and time again, pundits were asked to pick out ‘dangermen’ and all they could do was identify a player who had once played in England. Just ten minutes on the internet would have saved them their public humiliation. Shearer was so bad that the joke Twitter account @shearers_a2z , where a fake Alan Shearer makes ludicrous assertions about world football, received a number of messages from angry readers who thought it was real.
It doesn’t have to be like this. The BBC’s commentators, for example, were excellent. Jacqui Oatley coped admirably with an unfamiliar, borderline unpronounceable Greek team despite the fact that David Pleat, a man who has 17 different ways of saying Julian Joachim, was sat next to her. Steve Wilson, Simon Brotherton and Guy Mowbray all put the hours in, piling up the facts and the stats on even the most unfamiliar of nations. It can be done.
For the love of God, everyone in the media makes mistakes, me more than anyone, but the rubbish that the BBC have churned out isn’t an accident. It’s the result of a complete lack of effort from people in an incredibly fortunate situation. My newspaper could only send one member of staff to South Africa. The BBC sent 295.
We paid for all of that and I can’t be the only viewer who wants his money back.