Maintain Radio Silence

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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!



Categories: Opinion

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12 replies

  1. Great article but we all have access to the ‘off’ button and I think you have to give credit where it is due to Sky and BBC for some of their Football League programmes. Soccer AM and The Football League show give fantastic coverage to teams outside the Premiership. Whilst Soccer AM includes the Premiership, it has very fair balance. It might not be very insightful but it is entertaining. The BBC programme is on late but many have Sky Plus and I think both are excellent viewing for those who prefer their fare outside of the big 6/7 Premiership clubs. I think City were on TV only once or twice ever in the 60’s and 70’s. Times have moved on and we are very fortunate to get the media coverage we do … and that’s before WOAP and the internet! One complaint is that the BBC do a very good job of hiding Leroy Rosenior whilst giving Prime Time to the clown Garth ‘if I speak very slowly perhaps you will listen even though I have nothing interesting to say’ Crooks.

    • It is a case of being selective as to what you listen to, and we do have more choice than in years past

  2. Very good piece, particularly the first half of it. I agree about the blandness and repetitive focus on PL and CL games and teams. It caters for their market however, the armchair fan who may go to a game every other year. Phone ins used to be good, when they first started with Tom Watt and Danny Baker, both proper Londoners but who ensured they found an angle to talk about Hartlepool and Carlisle as well as Arsenal and Millwall respectively. These days sports coverage in general in about getting in ex pro’s on the basis that they must know a thing or two. Well to be honest, if they knew that much, they’d probably be coaching. The days of real journalism seem to be dead. Not just in sport either. Even David Mellor was better than some of the rot you have to listen to on TalkSport.

    But the second half of the article does almost sound a “bit woe is me”. Yes, the headline was “coop man scores vs villa”. And “Arsenal miss a penalty”. But think about every time England have failed in tournaments, is the headline about the opposition? No, it’s about the referee or an England player screwing up, or England missing penalties. So it’s hardly surprising that when the team and players the media know intimately lose unexpectedly, this becomes the headline. We did get some good press, on all types of media. And I actually thought we got treated pretty gently after the hammering by Swansea.

    I do think there is a massive gap in the market for a real sport orientated debate radio station and web based paper/magazine. However, with blogs as good as Width of a Post what else do you need?

    • True, it was a bit of a moan, I guess a lot of the media game is around ratings, and trying new things may not pay off financially to take the gamble

  3. Jason Roberts. Totally clueless. I`m embarassed for the lad when he opens his mouth.

  4. I`ve just realised that my comment is not very constructive. It is however, true.

  5. Totally agee with Philip here. I’d been sat watching a Monday night game between ‘Boro and Fulham (I think!), which reached a drab 1-1 conclusion, and then happened upon the following sketch shortly afterwards:

    I cancelled my subscription the next day.

  6. I cancelled my Sky subscription years ago and have never liked the ‘national’ sports coverage either in papers, radio or on TV as, like you, I have found it very bland and repetitive. I used to put up with the likes of the football league show as I could record it and fast forward through the 75 minute show to the 10 seconds of highlights on City, or perhaps watch one of Clem’s potted histories. I’ve even stopped doing that since they don’t even show all of the goals if there is a 2-2 draw for example and in a game against Gillingham a while ago when we had two, nearly three goals disallowed, there was not even a mention of it in the commentary, never mind the opportunity to watch the disallowed goals. This made it totally pointless for me. I now just have to put up with watching the action once live – and I tend to pay a bit more attention these days as a result!

  7. Like most of the above I agree with much of whats written in the article – especially on the same old talking points surrounding the Premier clubs. However, I do enjoy listening to Alan Green – I honestly do think that he has a soft spot for City, a closet bantam.

    I remember his commentary on the Liverpool game all those years ago…..

    “I’ve commentated on the biggest games all over the world, world cups, European championships, champion’s league – we arrive, do our job and leave. It never affects us. But let me tell you now, driving through the City of Bradford this morning the tension was palpable – god knows what its like for the fans out there….”

    or

    “Mccall, Saunders, Beagrie – the old timers were magnificent”

    Or after the Swansea game.

    “Of all the games I’ve seen this season, premiership, champions league…. my favorite is Bradford City against Arsenal in the cup at Valley parade”

    or

    “I’d finished my commentary stint and had to leave to answer a call of nature. I heard a roar from the Bradford end and rushed back. “Surely Bradford haven’t scored”, I asked. “No” came the reply – “they’ve won a corner” I had a tear in my eye!”

    In the printed press there was also a beautiful phrase after the Arsenal game. “unconfined joy was dripping from the stands at Valley parade”

    I agree with Onedaywewillreise in that we were treated quite well by the press in the Swansea aftermath. The big reason in my view for this was the behavior of the fans in the final quarter. It gave media outlets another angle with which to cover the game and they could break out from the usual stereotypical nonsense.

    At the end of the day with the modern world there’s just far more media attention on football. That means more good stuff, (IMO WOAP, Alan Green, football league show), but equally more bad stuff….

  8. Terrific piece. 20 years ago the BBC got it so right by hiring Danny Baker for 6-0-6, and then got it totally wrong (time after time) by hiring DJ Spoony, Tim Lovejoy, and worst of all, David Mellor. Talksport is largely repetitive garbage aside from Danny Kelly and Hawksbee and Jacobs.

    The Premier League is unbelivably overrated yet the media lead us to believe that is the best in the world. Yes, some of the attacking play takes your breath away but no consideration is given to “the art of defending”. How can it be the best league in the world when the 8th placed team lost more games than it won?

  9. Mark Pougatch’s quote after the Villa away leg still sticks with me now: “I’ve been doing this job for 20 years. I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”

    Unfortunately we couldn’t tune into Five Live on the way back from Villa so we had to settle for Talksport instead. They were reporting on one of the great moments in English football history but unfortunately all they focused on was how long it would be until Paul Lambert was sacked. A disservice to City’s achievement – we listened in vain for some appropriate coverage of the historic event but, finding none, we switched the radio off.

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