It is with great sadness that I write to you, since the BBC has never given me reason to question either its commitment to quality broadcasting or indeed its values as an organisation. However, last night’s semi-final between Germany and Italy finally brought to a head the frustration that many football fans have felt towards your approach to how games are scrutinised and analysed by your panel of experts. I would like to voice concerns with regard to your continued employment of individuals and enquire as to how these people add any value to the prestigious competitions many look forward to every two years.
This may seem like a trivial matter and I am inclined to agree. People have more pressing issues to attend to in these harsh economic times and when there are far more important stories dominating the headlines, football does indeed seem unimportant. Regardless of this, football provides many with an escape from their daily travails. They look forward to unwinding in front of the television for a few hours and do not deserve to have their blood pressure and anger exacerbated by the standard of commentary you provide; the only thing that should do this is the narrative of the events unfolding before them. This unfortunately, has not been the case for some time now.
Your employees, Mark Lawrenson being a chief culprit, do not ingratiate themselves with their near-incessant moaning about the games which they should merely be describing. These people have the privilege of attending events such as World Cups and European Championships on a regular basis. They are occasions that many of us can only dream of going to and furthermore these people are paid a handsome amount of money to do so. If they are so disillusioned and jaded by aspects of the modern game, then I would suggest that they relinquish their positions to individuals who would actually infuse proceedings with some of the joy that millions still derive from the game.
It is also becoming increasingly embarrassing to watch such a bastion of the English language, that is the BBC, failing to correct the persistent grammatical errors made by analysts such as Alan Shearer. Mr Shearer is not used as an example to make a case for received pronunciation and his inarticulacy is not highlighted to belittle people of inferior education or speak with regional accents. He is merely used to illustrate the point that his communicative skills pale in comparison with guest analysts such as Clarence Seedorf and Jürgen Klinsmann who have routinely made perceptive points with an excellent command of a language that is not native to them.
What the aforementioned also make manifest, is the absence of both cliché and soundbite from their observations. Unlike your more established panel of former players, they do not seek refuge in phrases telling the viewer not to “write off the Germans” or that penalties are a “lottery”. There is no enforced bonhomie between them. It is uncomfortable to watch middle-aged men referring to work colleagues as “JP”; establishing as it does a clear boundary between the viewer and the broadcaster. At no point however, have I ever come across anybody who wants to be friends with Jonathan Pearce.
Mr Pearce, like so many of his contemporaries walks a fine line between hysterical hyperbole and the mute button. Viewers have become aware of a desperate cloying amongst commentators to find a line that will be fondly mimicked in years to come in the vein of such masterful and respected professionals as Kenneth Wolstenholme or Barry Davies. The telling difference between the latter two men and their modern day equivalents was that their most famous utterances were entirely spontaneous but more importantly than that, they understood the power of silence.
Television is firstly a visual medium and secondly audio. As a result, it is the pictures developing before our eyes that should tell us all we need to know. The commentator should merely interject when context is required. He is not there to fill in air-time until the next free-kick or sending off. Mr Davies was by no means perfect. He could be pompous and schoolmasterly but his knowledge and authority was never in question. When he commentated on games, the viewer was made to feel as if he/she was actually learning something. Seeing something that they hadn’t seen before. The same can be said of Alan Hansen when he first joined the BBC. But this is no longer the case. Mr Hansen has slipped into the same lethargy as his previously mentioned colleagues.
There is an argument that suggests that former professionals give laymen an insight that they were unable to see. It is as if somehow, having been privy to dressing rooms and training sessions can reveal something to us that we cannot decipher for ourselves. Barry Davies negates such a theory. As does the former AC Milan and Italian coach Arrigo Sacchi, who when critcised for his lack of experience and pedigree as a footballer responded: “A jockey doesn’t have to have been born a horse”.
It would seem that the BBC continues to disregard or worse than that, dismiss the knowledge of its own audience. An example of this being Mark Bright’s continual damning of Greece as “the worst team at this tournament” whilst users of various social media were quick to praise the side for making the most of limited resources and being highly organised in their opening match against the host nation. The BBC should not fear the critiques it receives from such platforms. On the contrary, it should monitor what is being suggested or discussed and use it as the barometer of change it needs to remain credible as a football broadcaster. Twitter could be the best focus group it has and what’s more, it’s free!
So what are the solutions? Start with a change in personnel for one thing. Or at least a panel that doesn’t get used to the cosy environs of the studio couch. Bring in journalists to offer a different view. Or maybe even football bloggers. Apparently, there are a few out there. Don’t talk down to your audience. Many of us have been watching football for most of our lives and the explosion in communications allows us to interact like never before. The BBC should be harnessing this. At the very least, have ONE commentator (not an ex-professional) commentating on a match. Trust us. We won’t switch over.
Your analysts were very quick to point out that England’s departure from Euro 2012 signaled the need for endemic and systematic change in the country’s approach to football. I would suggest the Corporation’s coverage of the tournament has very much done the same for how you continue to televise it. There are other means to watch a football match after all.
The BBC has always been my channel of choice for watching football matches. I genuinely hope this remains the case.
Further reading: The Hunger Games: European Championship Edition