Well, it’s a new season and that means Match of the Day is back on TV. Usually this is good news, especially now that Sky+ means every goal, dive, refereeing blunder, and Lineker witticism really is “unmissable”. But we’re only two weeks in and already I’ve noticed a certain lethargy sneaking into proceedings.
Gary, Alan and Alan, and even Adrian Chiles over on Match of the Day lite, are getting a little too comfortable in their set-up. It’s as if they’ve been around so long they feel they no longer have anything to prove. As if, by virtue of being TV presenters, everything they say is both accurate and important. The trouble is, without the effort, they’re beginning to seem a bit dull.
It happened in Top Gear. These days, Clarkson will still be casually offensive, he’ll still use over-elaborate similes and annoying pauses, and above he’ll still shake his fat puby head around in a poorly scripted and even more poorly acted faux-repartee with his circus mirror companions, but just like the pubes on the top of his fat head, it’s all beginning to wear a bit thin. The format is looking tired.
Now the infection it seems has spread to MotD. A smugness has crept in, the sort of smugness you get from political journalists who spend so long pointing out the mistakes of politicians that they honestly begin to believe they could do better. Alan Shearer’s stint as Newcastle manager brought five points from a possible twenty four and saw them relegate, so you have to wonder where he still gets the confidence to generate such smugness.
Well, I have wondered, and accordingly I have an ill-prepared theory as to the origins of this smugness. It involves the increasing use of the ‘Andy Grey tense’, that gentle manipulation of the English language which only exists in football post-match commentary, and which consists of talking in the present tense when meaning the past. So for example, instead of saying “he found himself in space and he didn’t miss” the analyst might say “he’s finding himself in space, the ball’s coming in, and he’s not missing from there.” or, “he can’t be fowling like that or he’ll find himself picking up a red card. Which he does.” or even “when you’re playing up the field like that, you’re getting caught on the back foot all day long, as we’ll see in a moment.”
When a speaker means the past tense but uses the present continuous, it lends them the air of a soothsayer. He’s watching it now, he’s talking about it now, and yet somehow he knows what’s going to happen next. And if anyone’s entitled to a little smugness, surely it’s a soothsayer.
Of course, if you then give them little buttons which circle players, point arrows this way and that, and create imaginary yellow no-stopping grids on the pitch, they start to think they’re city planners; Gods on high, peering down at the feeble humans who must dance for their pleasure.
Personally, I think it’s about time they spiced things up a bit. MotD2 was created as much as a practice zone for new ideas as it was to review the Sunday game, and yet all we’ve got is a cheaper set, cheaper ex-footballers and Adrian Chiles, who, to his credit, tries to be consistent with the cheapness by pushing through as many weak puns as he can muster.
Last week, there was a whole segment tying Ancelotti’s diamond formation with the Bond Street burglary, and finishing with Drogba being likened to the Star of Africa. Frankly, when you ignore the delicate subject of colonial plunderings for the sake of a good pun you’re on the right track.
And of course there’s the ‘2 good 2 bad’ segment, with all the laboured humour of a radio advert. You can hear the nervous laughter from Lee Dixon in the background: He laughs out of fear; fear that they’re about to show video footage of him picking his nose, or worse still pisa-ing out a silent one on the MotD2 sofa.
But it’s ok, just to show all is not lost, I have a couple of suggestions that could just save the format:
1. Hot fan of the week: This is a segment where MotD identifies literally the hottest fan, as measured by the number of clothes they’ve removed. This might start with some bikini clad pom pom girls, but will quickly end up being a montage of fat men with their shirts off jumping up and down, which has its own zen-like calming effect and should encourage more nudity at games, which is funny.
2. Get a better host than Shearer, because he’s too BORING. I don’t care who it is, as long as they recognise that being on MotD is supposed to be fun. Better still, get a different celebrity every week. Someone like Tony Jarrett or Lady Gaga. See what they think of Carlton Cole’s crazy back pass, get them asking Alan Hanson about his BBQs with Nick Hancock. It’s all become too much of a love-in at the moment, someone needs to shake things up.
3. Get more stats in there. We all know footballers watch this stuff and we all know they’re easily influenced. By creating league tables for things such as the hardest shot, the most painful tackle or the most understated goal celebrations, MotD could have a positive influence on the way the game is played.
If they played it right they could have Helen Mirren contemplating a topless Geordie’s jiggling rolls, while Ricky Carvalho leads the table for ‘most powerful header of the season so far’. Instead we’ve got two Alans, the occasional Lawrenson and an overly tanned Gary chewing the cud, and Sky+ is getting more of a workout than it should.