Jamie Carragher’s suspension from Sky Sports last month for watering a fourteen-year-old girl quite rightly dominated the headlines.
Jamie Carragher’s suspension from Sky Sports last month for watering a fourteen-year-old girl quite rightly dominated the headlines. Within hours of the footage appearing online, a visibly crestfallen Carragher appeared on Sky Sports News pleading for forgiveness and claiming the incident was out of character. He clearly regretted it, but what was he regretting, exactly? The incident itself, or being caught? Or was he regretting the potential loss of a very lucrative media career, rather than his own inexplicable behaviour? What would that suggest about his real character? Whatever the degree of contrition, it is almost impossible to believe that Carragher can ever be allowed back onto our screens. The incident once again turned the spotlight back onto the people supposed to be the heartbeat of football broadcasting, and it is by no means a favourable light.
Before we pillory Carragher and pelt him with rancid Yorkshire pudding wraps, he is by no means the only pundit to have disgraced himself in the past. Glenn Hoddle lost his job as England manager in 1999 over his claims that disabled people were being punished for sins committed in a previous life. Ron Atkinson disappeared from broadcasting in 2004 after some astonishing racist remarks about Marcel Desailly. Sky Sports pioneer Andy Gray was sacked by the station in 2011 after a series of unsavoury incidents including sexist behaviour towards female presenters and inappropriate comments about ‘female linesmen’. Trevor Sinclair was convicted of criminal damage in 1998, and managed to surpass that just a few months ago with convictions for drink-driving and racially abusing a white police officer. Impressive stuff, I am sure you will agree.
But it is not just the offscreen behaviour of these so-called experts that should cause alarm amongst the viewing public. The main problem is that they speak fluent tripe. There is a language that has developed in football in recent years that is completely and utterly meaningless. Consisting of regurgitated phrases and platitudes, it is endlessly recycled by individuals with nothing intelligent to say. They have even managed to dumb down the terminology. For example, when did ‘getting a shot in‘ become ‘getting a shot away‘? That makes no sense whatsoever, yet they all repeat the phrase ad nauseam. And how many of them use the term ‘volley’ when it is no such thing? It drives anyone with a brain crazy. Footballers are not famed for intellect, but that is still a trend that takes some explaining. Perhaps received wisdom has morphed into received stupidity.
To compound matters, the sheer number of pundits working in the game has become ridiculous, particularly when the vast majority has so little insight to contribute. The list of former players and managers who have been seen talking rubbish on our screens in very recent times is a ludicrously extensive one. Instead of trying to sort them all by channel or by any sporting criteria, here are the ones I can think of in alphabetical order:
Keith Andrews, Craig Bellamy, Francis Benali, Garry Birtles, Rachel Brown-Finnis, Jimmy Bullard, Craig Burley, Jamie Carragher, Tony Cottee, Garth Crooks, Peter Crouch, Kevin Davies, Jermaine Defoe, Lee Dixon, Iain Dowie, Dion Dublin, Robbie Earle, Rio Ferdinand, Gerry Francis, Trevor Francis, Tony Gale, Steven Gerrard, Ryan Giggs, Shay Given, Don Goodman, Ruud Gullit, Chris Hargreaves, Owen Hargreaves, John Hartson, Thierry Henry, Andy Hinchcliffe, Glenn Hoddle, David James, Jermaine Jenas, Chris Kamara, Roy Keane, Martin Keown, Kevin Kilbane, Frank Lampard, Mark Lawrenson, Graeme Le Saux, Matthew Le Tissier, Gary Lineker, Gary McAllister, Neil McCann, Alan McInally, Steve McManaman, Neil Mellor, Paul Merson, Danny Mills, Scott Minto, Ronnie Moore, Clinton Morrison, Danny Murphy, Matt Murray, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Charlie Nicholas, Martin O’Neill, Michael Owen, Alan Pardew, Sam Parkin, Davie Provan, David Prutton, Niall Quinn, Harry Redknapp, Jamie Redknapp, Peter Reid, Nigel Reo-Coker, Gregor Robertson, Dean Saunders, Robbie Savage, Peter Schmeichel, Paul Scholes, Alex Scott, Alan Shearer, Trevor Sinclair, Alan Smith, Sue Smith, Graeme Souness, Gordon Strachan, Chris Sutton, Phil Thompson, Adam Virgo, Andy Walker, Paul Walsh, Neil Warnock, Ray Wilkins, Nigel Winterburn, Dennis Wise, Ian Wright, Dwight Yorke and Gianfranco Zola.
To save you the job of counting, that comes to an astonishing ninety-three, and I am sure you can name a few more without any trouble at all. Not all of them are employed on permanent contracts of course, but a lot are. Take Thierry Henry for starters: the man guilty of one of the most notorious handballs in the history of football is paid a rumoured £4 million per year to judge others. If that is representative of the going rate, the cost of employing ninety of the buggers must be astronomical.
Not all pundits are bad, of course. Charlie Nicholas on Sky is always impressive, and Frank Lampard has yet to become brainwashed by FPVD (Football Pundit Vernacular Disease). Steve McManaman is affable and inoffensive, while Jermaine Jenas has been a promising addition. Chris Kamara is always entertaining, and Gary Neville has plenty to offer despite his woeful attempt at becoming a manager.
Regrettably, the best pundit of them all – Alan Hansen – is the only one no longer on our screens. The irony of that is crushing. Perhaps he was just too balanced and intelligent.
But the rest?
Paul Merson struggles terribly with the English language, which is a serious handicap in a role where effective communication skills should be a prerequisite. Jamie Redknapp literally received an award literally in 2010 literally for his literally poor use of English. Glenn Hoddle appears incapable of looking at a sequence of play and analysing it correctly. Robbie Savage believes a player is fully entitled to go down if there is any contact whatsoever. Michael Owen could easily be replaced by a cardboard cutout and no one would notice. Paul Scholes sounds very like Eric Olthwaite, the character in Ripping Yarns whose main interest in life was rainfall. David Prutton stumbles over his words more than Ant McPartlin on a night out. And the less said about Chris Sutton, the better.
The bottom line is this: any commentator or pundit must be appropriate to the level of the game they are covering and be able to enhance the viewing experience. Unfortunately far too many are unable to add to our understanding or knowledge of it.
What makes it so frustrating is that the technical side of football broadcasting is superb. Never has the production and camerawork been as slick in the history of the game. But compare Sky’s coverage of cricket to its coverage of football for a moment. The gulf in class between the pundits in cricket and those in football is already massive, and appears to be widening all the time. Perhaps the reason for that is numbers. You can practically count the number of cricket experts on one hand, and they are all outstanding at what they do. They are genuine experts in their own field who have the gift of being able to communicate brilliantly. The ninety or more football pundits are a pale shadow comparatively. I am not sure how to correct that, but reducing the numbers down to just the talented few may be a good place to start.
When all is said and done, the television companies have a responsibility to get it right. The viewing public pays huge sums of money to the BBC, BT Sport and especially Sky to televise sport and football in particular. That imposes an implicit obligation to ensure that production values, technical skills and degree of presentational expertise are as good as they can be. How would the viewer feel if the director had only directed Agatha Christie’s Poirot before? Or if the cameraman only had experience of using a Sony Handycam? If anyone is incapable of enhancing the viewing experience for the people who have paid extremely good money to watch it, they should not be involved. To do so is unprofessional and inflicts serious damage on what should be a premium product.
To end with, what collective noun would be appropriate to describe the vast hordes of football pundits polluting our screens? A plethora of pundits? A panoply? A parliament? A plague? I think I have the answer. From this day forth, a gathering of these intellectual paragons shall be known as ‘a parrot’ of pundits, because they all repeat the same drivel as each other.
Who did our members consider to be March’s star players?
Player of the Month for the third month in a row is NEAL EARDLEY. Has there ever been a better free agent signing, or a player more deserving of a new contract? The player considered to be finished by a number of clubs has turned in 44 appearances to the end of March, which is his best season since 2007-08. Has he managed to overtake Sean Raggett yet in the Player of the Season race? Scroll down to find out.
Second place goes to SCOTT WHARTON, our 20-year-old loanee from Blackburn. Two important goals and some very solid defensive performances during the absence of skipper Luke Waterfall have led to fans calling for the loan to become a permanent move. Try not to hold your breath though: Wharton is highly rated by Blackburn and was given a new three-year contract only last September.
Third place goes to ELLIOTT WHITEHOUSE, who has secured a good run in the side with some tenacious performances in a new three-man midfield. With a calmer head in front of goal, the gloved one could have been challenging Eardley for the monthly top spot.
Special mention must go to super-sub Ollie Palmer, who takes fourth place despite only appearing as a substitute. Ollie broke the club record during March for appearances from the bench in a single season. But three goals and some inspiring cameos during the month have earned him rave reviews for attitude and a growing cult status at Sincil Bank. A special mention too for Matt Green, whose goal against Exeter made him the 83rd player in the club’s history to score 15 in a season.
The average team score of 6.89 is the highest since December, and the second highest of the season. Every player exceeded the par score of 6.0.
1. Neal Eardley 7.60
2. Scott Wharton 7.52
3. Elliott Whitehouse 7.47
4. Ollie Palmer 7.28
5. Alex Woodyard 6.98
6. Michael Bostwick 6.89
7. Danny Rowe 6.80
8. Matt Rhead 6.77
9. Jordan Williams 6.75
10. Sam Habergham 6.72
11. Matt Green 6.68
12. Ryan Allsop 6.62
13. Luke Waterfall 6.54
14. Harry Anderson 6.50
15. Lee Frecklington 6.15
Individual ratings by match:
Mansfield: Neal Eardley 7.68
Chesterfield: Michael Bostwick, Scott Wharton 7.92
Grimsby: Elliott Whitehouse 7.88
Morecambe: Scott Wharton 7.50
Exeter: Neal Eardley 8.22
So where does that leave us regarding the current player of the season standings?
With one month remaining, we have a new leader!
1. Neal Eardley 7.16
2. Sean Raggett 7.12
3. Michael Bostwick 6.93
(Scott Wharton currently averages 7.23 after eight appearances)
Home player of the season:
1. Neal Eardley 7.32
2. Sean Raggett 7.05
3. Luke Waterfall 6.96
(Scott Wharton currently averages 7.63 after three appearances)
Away player of the season:
1. Sean Raggett 7.26
2. Michael Bostwick 6.88
3. Alex Woodyard 6.84
(James Wilson currently averages 6.91 after two appearances)
Thank you to Graham Burrell and Lincoln City FC for the photograph.
— Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) April 4, 2018