Wake up Gary, or Match of the Day's old boys' club may close for good
23:00 GMT, 9 December 2012
The BBC website features a page called ‘How to watch Match of the Day’. Increasingly, however, the answer is quite simple.
Record it and fast-forward past the ‘analysis’ between games or risk water intoxication (or a nasty hangover) by putting the kettle on or topping up your wine glass every time the Three Wise Men come on to your screen in their smart-casual, open-necked shirts.
On Saturday night, for example, Alan Hansen delivered the following gems during the 15 minutes we were not watching match action or plugs for Sports Personality of the Year.
Old boys club: (from left-right) Alan Shearer, Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson
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Sunderland ‘have got to stop leaking bad goals early’, three defeats in a row for West Brom is ‘enough’ and, my personal favourite, QPR ‘have got to get victories’. Funny that, as they are bottom of the table having just set a record for the longest winless Premier League start.
Hansen, though, delivers these insightful nuggets with the explicit authority of a father talking down to his eight-year-old son. ‘How are babies made, dad’ ‘They just are.’ End of conversation.
On the rare occasions host Gary Lineker deigns to probe his pal a little further, Hansen frowns and squirms in his seat, visibly affronted. There was a similar, almost embarrassed, reaction from Lineker after reporter Damian Johnson asked Martin O’Neill about self-doubt after Sunderland had slipped into the bottom three.
Ah, those pesky journalists asking former footballers questions. How dare they
Match of the Day too often seems like the comfy old boys’ club we should be honoured to visit for 80 minutes every Saturday night. Relaxed and matey is fine, but it is not conducive to forthright opinions or illuminating punditry.
Dan Walker, who will present next week’s show in Lineker’s absence, may help here. The programme has also tried, to its credit, to shake things up by including current players such as Vincent Kompany and Phil Neville in recent weeks.
It is a very difficult ask, however, for an active footballer to be anything other than diplomatic — particularly when three ex-pros are fawning over your every word.
The programme misses Lee Dixon, while Mark Lawrenson is infinitely better on the radio. Alan Shearer was perfectly fine on Saturday, although he got himself in a twist trying to explain how Chelsea are playing more to Fernando Torres’s strengths.
Effort: Vincent Kompany (right) appeared on the show – but there was only so much he could say
Missed: Lee Dixon (right) added something to the show when he was there
But at least Shearer had a go; at least he was enthusiastic and animated. Hansen was also right to highlight Jack Wilshere’s display for Arsenal against West Brom but he simply talked us through what happened and not how or why.
What did Arsene Wenger’s side do differently to their 2-0 defeat by Swansea City And what about Santi Cazorla’s blatant dive to win Arsenal’s first penalty
Little evolution: Lineker (centre) with Hansen and Lawrenson in 2001 and below in 2006
Familiar faces: Lawrenson, Lineker and Hansen
Oh, they all had a good laugh about that one, while singularly failing to discuss or expand on one of the main talking points. Are foreign players more culpable than home-grown ones How do we stamp it out Alan, did you ever dive to win a penalty
This is the main problem with the modern Match of the Day. There were highlights of six matches delivered from the shiny new set in Salford on Saturday, not one definitive game.
But then Match of the Day is not definitive any more. That happens on a Monday night on Sky with Gary Neville and his interactive white board. MotD is now occupying a beige middle ground of irrelevancy.
Is it a light entertainment show or a sports programme
It needs to make up its mind before a much-loved television institution is fast-forwarded out of existence.
Blast from the past: Lineker took over hosting duties of the show in 1999
What they said
Harry Redknapp teed up his first meeting with QPR chairman Tony Fernandes by announcing: ‘I’ve said it a million times that they’re nice people. I’m not saying that because I need the job. If I thought they were tossers I would say so.’
I wonder if January transfer targets will be on the agenda
Not tossers: Harry Redknapp defended his new bosses
…And this is what I've been doing this week
In Athens with Arsenal on Monday, Arsene Wenger was noticeably disdainful of any suggestion his club are experiencing a crisis. The admirable belief in his principles is nothing new, but the scornful tone felt different and unnecessary from a manager who has achieved as much as Wenger.
Arsenal are not a club in meltdown — they are still fighting in all competitions, after all — but they are certainly not one in ‘fantastic shape’, whatever the Frenchman may say.
Balance: Arsenal are not falling to pieces, but nor are they in fantastic shape
Meeting new UK Athletics coaches Rana Reider and Terrence Mahon at Loughborough University, both of whom are American. We Brits have a tendency to self-deprecate, but the way the pair talked up our funding system, personnel and facilities suggested we are doing something right. It also means, of course, there are no excuses for athletes who fail to deliver.
Impressed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s easy, eloquent manner at the Sports Journalists’ Association British Sports Awards on Thursday. The Arsenal midfielder picked up the Best International Newcomer award and quipped: ‘Thank you, it’s nice to win something.’