By Philip Jackson
I began this season in a familiar and comfortable football rut. I refer to the general world of football consumption, the things I listened to, the things I watched and the people and outlets I got it all from.
Flicking on BB 5Live, Sky Sports News, Talksport, football podcasts on the iPod, whichever. The recognisable voices always there: different pundits depending on what match it was, but all the same none the less.
Now without realising the fact, I wasn’t really listening, and to be honest I didn’t actually care, I had been coming to this conclusion for some time. You are boring me, and by listening to it all the time it was probably annoying the hell out of people around me.
I had finally woken up to the reality that the ‘hot soccer chat’ delivered with the inspiration and verve of a long punt up-field was as dull as six years in League Two.
The conversations and analysis were all the same. Try and spice it up all you want, but when the topics of conversation always centre around 4, 5, 6, maybe 7 Premier League teams, you’ll just fill endless hours of airtime with more or less the same material:
- Arsenal: Not winning a trophy in ages, Wenger not developing players to replace ‘The Invincibles’.
- Manchester United: Fergie, Rooney
- Manchester City: What has gone wrong all that money, Mancini.
- Liverpool: Not won a title since 1990, Suarez, is Rodgers any good?
- Everton: Beating Liverpool.
- Chelsea: Benitez, Is Mourinho coming back? Terry and Lampard.
- Spurs: Gareth Bale.
Now, call me weird but I’ve heard enough about this lot, you are boring me. Dull programmes listened to by dull people, I guess I’m dull then. I don’t want to be dull.
Then there are the commentaries; no matter which way you spin it, there is nothing special or unique about a match between any combination of the teams above when they play each other over and over again. No match is ever the final match; there will be more games, more competitions and more seasons.
But they cannot help but overuse the superlative: this is the greatest team ever, this is the biggest game ever, this the worst thing ever to happen. You know it probably isn’t, it is just the easy way to try and generate interest.
Some of the worst culprits are the ‘general conversation’ programmes. There isn’t any action on, so we have the same pundits or journalists and we go over and over games just gone or games coming up, and invariably end up with the same problems or subjects every time. You cannot say anything new or insightful about the subject, move on to something else.
Then of course we have the ‘phone-ins’. Who’s idea was that? I suppose it is public-service broadcasting. I did listen to ‘606’ on the way up to Leeds after the play off final. We got about two City calls in, but still Jason Roberts was more keen on saying how badly we’d been beaten by Swansea and that Phil Parkinson was probably going to leave, he clearly hadn’t watched the play off final and had done little research on Parkinson’s contract situation. I am not wasting my time listening to that stuff any more.
Change the channel, turn off the radio, go and have a chat with someone.
Being a Bradford City supporter, what does get to me is the constant attention on the Premier League, the Champions League (it never used to be that big a deal, there is now far more attention given over to teams abroad than those in this country), a bit on the Championship and that is about your lot. They never go beyond these borders really and it hadn’t really struck me as to why, until this season.
This season was our season, we got coverage and this was where it showed – glaringly how bland the media coverage is. The experts knew very little about us, and as such their lack of research and concern for life in the lower leagues shone through. The people who are paid very well to inform and educate about football have little depth to their knowledge. Most stories told about City during the cup round featured the same few facts or assumptions about the club, with little attempt to scratch below the surface.
I lost count of how many times I was told that the squad was assembled for only £7,500 or that James Hanson used to work in a shop (big deal, young man works in shop, most of us at some time or other have worked stacking shelves, or in a bar or waiting tables). I wanted these people to tell the nation interesting things about our club (we have got a few stories to tell) but they never really came.
More often than not the focus of the cup match reports was on the defeated ‘big’ team. How bad they were, and then some more about how bad they were. Bradford City were forgotten. We get non-stop talk throughout the season about these Premier League teams anyway; instead of focusing on us, the attention is still kept on the fallen Premier League side.
I found this true in the newspapers I bought after our cup exploits, articles were focussed on the losers and how badly they played, without much detailed breakdown of what we did and how we played.
Radio commentators expressed great surprise at how we played; revealing how little they know about lower league football. The Guardian’s football weekly podcast’s general analysis of our performances were basically that Bradford were surprisingly good but will get thrashed in the next round, (a 10 year old could tell me that). Now let’s talk about the other team, before we can move on to talk at length about Chelsea.
I don’t think our cause was helped by Bradford being in the North, most of the media outlets and journalists are London based and therefore London centric. We are in the unenviable position of being in a lower division and residing nowhere near London – so almost invisible in media terms.
I turned off 5Live around the turn of the years and unsubscribed from the podcasts; with the opinion that they know less than me about much of football, so I am not going to waste my time listening to you anymore.
I haven’t actually paid attention to the Premier League. Who’s doing what, it doesn’t interest me anymore. What has gone on within my club is far more real and means far more. I’ve listened back to cup commentaries and watched highlights on the iPlayer,(I even complained to the BBC about putting the highlights of our victory against Wigan on last on the cup highlights show, and received the expected bland response) and consumed what I want rather than just accepting everything they offer.
After our terrific season, and all that the team has done, they have done well in fielding the same questions over and over again with a smile right up to the end. On the pitch after the play off final the first words to James Hanson from ‘voice of the Football League’ Mark Clemmitt were that it’s a long way from working at the Co-op. Really Mark, I never knew that he used to work there!