By Tony Attwood
If you are old enough to remember, or if you have an interest in 20th century history, you may know that televised football back in the 1950s was a very different creature from that which we have today.
It wasn’t just that there was hardly any televised matches (just the FA Cup final and a couple of England internationals, per season were shown live. Even the world cup matches were not shown until we played every game at Wembley in 1966). Nor the lack of colour even.
No, it was the whole attitude to football that TV exuded; in a word it was “patronising”.
What you got was an approach from the Oxbridge educated elite that ran the BBC, which stated that football was a game played by the unwashed for the unwashed. So, since these people were all rather bizarre and amusing, and ill-educated, one might as well show pictures of the great unwashed – the fans in their funny hats doing funny things. No one would mind because these poor saps didn’t have TVs – they spent all their cash in those awful public houses.
This was the era of the “colourful cockney characters”, where, as far as I know, anyone in the north of the country who took their image of London from TV, would have thought that half of London was Piccadilly Circus and the other half was a bunch of oddballs dressed as Pearly Queens and Kings dancing in the streets of an East End still bombed out from the second world war.
It is bizarre therefore to see ESPN propagating the old approach. It is as if the black and white images from the 1950s were a blueprint of how football on TV should be done, rather than a dire warning about the dangers of broadcasters having their own view and talking down to an audience who knows infinitely more about football, the teams, the players and the game, than they did.
So what we got for the Boca game were pictures of the crowd. Sometimes the same pictures over and over again. Fat men with no tops on, attractive ladies smiling and having fun. Yep, that will keep the viewers entertained. Oh and when we need a variation let’s put on some children who are not watching the match at all. (And at the end a fan shaking his head – always good to show one fan to summarise what they saw as the fan’s view of Arsenal).
And if Arsenal score a quick goal at the start of the second half? Well, we’ll show one replay, but no more mind. Got to get back to the crowd, because that’s what it is all about.
Oh and then some chat about how hard it is to get out of the Emirates. Actually mate, you are quite wrong. From my seat in block 99 on a day when the ground is full, I can stand at the final whistle and be on the platform at the underground station in five minutes. Try doing that at White Hart Lane or Stamford Bridge or virtually any other ground.
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In one sense it sounds slightly amusing, and yet it is not, it is grotesque, a characateur, a talking down, a dismissive approach to those of us who support a team. There was even the line from one of the “I’m superior to you” commentators about the fact that the Boca fans had yet to sample the delicacies of nightlife in Islington.
Well, chum, let me tell you, that night life in Buenos Aires is comparable to night life in the west end, if you want it to be, (although the west end is less violent and has more theatres), but if you fancy a fairly decent meal in a reasonable restaurant, with a wide choice of food styles within easy reach, Upper Street is as good a place as you find outside the centre of most cities. And if you want pubs overflowing into the street, with interesting beers, nice wine and different atmospheres depending on your disposition, the Angel is ok.
In essence, as a man born in the area, and who still identifies it as my homeland, I found that comment, and indeed the whole approach to the game insulting.
Of course we expect ESPN to be a mickymouse station – ever since they did that disasterous game a couple of years back when Arsenal hammered Everton 6-1 on the opening day, and they had a studio full of Evertonians. They spent much of the game showing pictures of old gents who had been coming to the ground for 50 years and saying “what a shame it is that they can’t see an Everton win” with the implications that the old geezers can’t get out much and won’t make it to matches when it gets a bit nifty of a late afternoon, and that Arsenal were somehow just not playing the game by hammering in six. But then we were a team of nasty foreigners who just don’t understand the rules. (Now we are nasty Londoners who will give the innocents from B.A. a shock. I wonder if the commentator had been there).
And that’s where we come back to the bias. Would these commentators ever comment on what a night in Liverpool 8 would be like for the supporters of Boca? I rather doubt it.
As for the game’s commentary (what there was of it, which wasn’t much) the notion we had was that none of us actually knew anything about Arsenal. We were there, so the producers obviously thought, as ignoramuses who had turned on to see this quaint working class game. Hence we needed Robbie Savage to sum up Arsenal for us pre-match, and a commentator (best call it ESPN-clone-1 since to give it a name would be an insult to the rest of the human race) who clearly has a predeliction for all sorts of other sports, but not football, and a producer with an interest in pictures of fat men, attractive women and little children.
And of course the mass media hype that a slip by one defender in a game in which we were not playing anything like our first team, tells us anything about Arsenal’s approach to the new season.
So here we are, 2011/12. Want to be treated like an idiot? Here’s ESPN.
Today’s possible line-up.
Sagna Vermaelen Squillaci Gibbs
Vela, Afobe, Chamakh
About goats, the rain gods, and a new Ivorian striker: Going to the 1.FC Köln