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The Midweek Moan: How banter has ruined Match of the Day

Gary Neville's analysis of Jonathan Walters' goal against West Ham was on a different level to Match of the Day. Photo: Sean Dempsey/PA Wire Gary Neville's analysis of Jonathan Walters' goal against West Ham was on a different level to Match of the Day. Photo: Sean Dempsey/PA Wire

Thursday, November 22, 2012
12:10 PM

There are only three top football pundits who regularly feature on English TV.

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Sky’s Gary Neville is so good it’s got him a job with Roy Hodgson’s England. It’s also catapulted him from arguably one of most hated men in British football to one of its most admired. Impressive going, but then anyone who saw him meticulously dissect Jonathan Walters’ opening goal for Stoke against West Ham on Monday night would understand.

Graeme Souness, also with Sky, is another excellent analyst. And then there’s Lee Dixon, who jumped ship from the BBC during the summer for a place on the sofa at ITV. Neville, Souness and Dixon tell us things we don’t already know and leave the ‘say what you see’ banality to the commentary team. Far more importantly, however, they do not resort to chummy banter with their colleagues.

Banter is the true downfall of Match of the Day. After Neville and Dixon took up their new posts, the BBC hired Harry Redknapp, a man who, during his trial for tax evasion earlier this year, claimed to struggle with reading and writing. That says it all. Redknapp is good at many things, but punditry is emphatically not one of them.

Match of the Day is getting left behind, stuck in a time lapse where the only thing that appears to change every year is the size of Mark Lawrenson’s waist line.

But in the past I have been a defender of the programme. I used to moan at the weekly deluge of Match of the Day-hate which drowns my Twitter feed every Saturday night. After all, it is ultimately just a way for us to watch goals and highlights that we would otherwise miss. The bland punditry is bearable, I used to say. Remember, this is a football show for a mass-audience and not everyone wants the same degree of tactical insight, I used to say.

Now I’ve lost the faith. Insipid analysis is one thing, but the banter has become overpowering, and you’re lucky if you receive even a shred of insight from Gary Lineker’s guffawing sofa buddies.

Last Saturday was particularly bad, with articulate Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany lost for words in between the chuntering duo of Alan Hansen - who is capable of better - and Redknapp.

But in the face of widespread criticism, the programme’s anchor Lineker took to Twitter to say that Saturday’s show was watched by a record-high 4.4million viewers. It begs the question, why should Match of the Day change? Why should the BBC change a show that’s pulling in more viewers than ever?

The truth is that football fans will want to watch those highlights regardless, and it appears the BBC are well aware of that. I’ll keep watching, and so will you. Because otherwise how ever will we see what happens in Everton v Norwich this Saturday?

It’s just I wish they’d make it a little bit easier to like it. They’ve got lazy and the panel’s passion for the job, and even for football itself, seems to have ebbed away. I’d ask where it all went wrong, but then, you know the viewing figures paint a very different picture.

I mean, what else are you going to watch at 10.30pm on a Saturday night?

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