Whose media is it anyway?

During the middle of last month BT Sport, in all its wisdom, decided that the European Football Show (EFS) presented by James Richardson was to be no more. Obviously we’re all NUFC fans and by extension we’re primarily interested in and dedicated to English football, and many of us will undoubtedly have only a passing interest in European and/or world football. I consider myself to have a slightly above passing interest in what goes on in the other ‘big’ European leagues and the EFS has been a fantastic way to not only see some brilliant goals and watch different styles of football but it also has some of the best football analysis out there. The panel of football journalists/writers anchored by James Richardson is erudite, witty and utterly devoid of the hyperbolic and balls-out, dick-swinging machismo that seems to be the hallmark of the Soccer Saturday, Super Sunday, 606 and Talk Sport punditry that is rammed down our eyeballs and earholes.

So, what marks out the level-headed analysis of football by people like Richardson, Sid Lowe and Rafa Honigstein with the sensationalist, attention-seeking punditry of the aforementioned outlets? It’s the employment of ex-footballers/managers as experts, analysers and co-commentators – the assumption being that as an ex-pro, having spent time in the dressing room, your opinion must be more valid than that of someone who ultimately is only basing observations from a fan’s point of view.

This theory does carry some weight if we consider the well-thought out tactical analysis and opinions given by ex-pros such as Rio Ferdinand (believe me), Jermaine Jenas, Martin O’Neill and Danny Higginbotham (again, please believe me). However, in my opinion, the amount of half-decent ex-pros employed by our main media outlets to provide punditry is significantly out-weighed by the number of absolute shouty-men given money and air-time to ‘educate’ us fans with their ‘expertise’. We only have to take a quick look through the Twitter feed of Ian Wright, listen to 10 minutes of Robbie Savage on 606 or Stan Collymore on a Talk Sport phone-in or watch even a single minute of Dean Saunders on BT Sport on a Saturday afternoon to get a feel for what the majority of English football punditry consists of. Do the people who employ this cabal of ex-pros believe that they’re giving the football-fan exactly what they want, or are they catering to what the majority of your 21st century global football fans are? People interested enough to watch highlights or the occasional live match on TV, support a team with which there is no particular identity (through region or family history) and people who like to use football as a conduit to rant on Twitter and Facebook or call up 606 and shout something along the lines of ‘Noocarsel fans should be grateful for Pardew’ after the club has suffered 6 consecutive defeats without scoring a goal – the kind of opinions expressed by someone with no connection whatsoever to the club?

So, what feeds what? Is it the mouthy, ill-informed punditry contributing to the dumbing down of football analysis and encouraging ‘Dave from Plymouth’ to call up and tell Stan Collymore why he thinks ‘Wenger must go’ despite never having been to an Arsenal match in his life? Is it the utterly abysmal and completely groundless opinions of drowning in their own testosterone and bitterness experts like Bellamy and Souness stating that NUFC fans are unrealistic and ‘have an idea they should be as big as Liverpool and Man U’ that have engendered this woefully inaccurate impression of all Geordies being delusional? Are football fans driving the media to give them what they want or are the media steering the fans to a place in which they can be spoken to as if they’ve had a frontal lobotomy?

I like to think that there are a significant number of fans out there who do not want to be exposed to Paul ‘The Merse’ Merson and Phil Thompson, to the verbal diarrhoea of Robbie Savage and the utter drivel that spouts from David Prutton’s mouth (we’ve all had the pleasure of him predicting our collapse on at least 10 occasions throughout the season). However, media outlets, be it print, social, radio or TV, need to make money to continue existing. They make money based on the amount of people engaged with what they produce and therefore

When a programme like the EFS is cancelled it indicates that not enough people are watching it, this in turn suggesting that there are more football fans who want to watch Sky Sports News, want to listen to short and ‘controversial’ soundbites and want to exist in a world of ‘bantz’ and eschew any realistic and rational debate about what happens on the pitch than there are fans who want to enjoy their football and listen to experts, whether they be ex-pros or journalists, and maintain a rational outlook on the game. If that’s the case then it’s a real shame as one of the beautiful things about the game is dissecting it with fellow fans, debating with one another and giving opinions that have a rational logic to them. Do any of us really want someone explaining how Paul Dummett is ‘shite’ in 140 characters, someone like Richard Keys telling us Rafa is only interested in his CV (based on what exactly, Richard?) or an expert ex-pro like Wright stating that the club needs to spend £150 million quid this summer (again, what the F is this based on)? We don’t, of course, but that’s not going to stop it happening!


Norman Riley


Follow Norman here on twitter @likethegoat