By Tony Attwood
What should a TV station do in relation to a football match that it has the rights to?
I can think of five things: they should show the action, make matters interesting, add a good informative commentary, develop informed commentary of the wider issues which have not been aired elsewhere, and innovate.
In the era of Match of the Day v The Big Match (BBC v ITV) (somewhere south of the Dark Ages when we all thought burning coal was a nifty idea) none of this mattered much since there was so little football on TV. In those distant days of the Anglo Saxon Empire most of us would watch what we got, no matter how Liverpool-centric it was. OK, it was often helpful to one’s mental health to turn the volume off, but otherwise, none of us knew that football on TV could be better.
These days however it’s different. We’ve got BBC, ITV, Sky, the remnants of ESPN, and the memory of Satanta, that funny ITV digital station that went bust, Arsenal’s own on line station, and a whole load of foreign stations available on line. Plus BT Sport.
So, how did the newcomer do over the weekend having purchased the rights to the Ems Cup?
1. Show the game.
Yup, on this point they did do what one might expect, although every now and then about 15% of the screen vanished to be replaced by a little box bottom left. It was only 15% but it was incredibly distracting, and made it difficult to focus on the main action. But yes, let’s be fair, they showed the game.
2. Make the game interesting
And this is where it all went wrong. OK they did replays, but we’ve had replays since Harold II beat the Vikings at Stamford Bridge. BT Sport also had the aforementioned little box, but that was far from adding interest because of the aforementioned distraction. And otherwise…
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Oh it was awful. The commentators were so ill-prepared that the Canadian fellow they had on didn’t knowing anything about Arsenal’s pre-season tours (they could surely have got someone on who had done his homework), and delivered a long piece about a team he supported somewhere called the Dream Team. I am sure many people with a better knowledge of sport beyond football will have known what he was yapping about, but I had not got a clue.
We had pictures of the crowd, sudden shots of the manager, and everything we had seen before – but nothing made made the game interesting. I may have missed it but I don’t think they even had an analysis of possession, amount of time the ball was in each section of the pitch – all the stuff that I thought was now basic to the extra bits that football matches get on TV.
But given their problems with maths (see below) maybe they thought that was all too complex for us poor ignorant football fans who failed maths GCSE, and have to ask our kids what one plus one is.
3. Add good commentary
This is where having gone wrong it all fell apart. Much of the second half of the second day’s Arsenal game involved the commentators giggling about the fact that they couldn’t cope with the maths involved in the event.
It was three points for a win, one for a draw, one for a goal. Oh how they guffawed – not just once but for something like 15 minutes, endlessly failing to grasp the intricacies of such a complex formula. God, what would these cretins do if someone asked them to add three quarters to one and a half. Or worse multiply a quarter by a half. Froth at the mouth I expect.
Now I have every sympathy with people who for genetic reasons cannot do maths at all. It is called dyscalculia, and around 4% of the population suffer from it. I know about it because it was, in the past, one of my academic studies. As a result of that research I was involved in setting up the Dyscalculia Centre 12 years ago.
From that work and all the subsequent research the Centre has been involved in, I can tell you that dyscalculics do not laugh and giggle about their mathematical disability, and from that simple fact I would guess that the commentator and his aides were just plain thick. Which of course some people are – but surely they should not be commentating on a football match. I have nothing against people who are not very bright, but I don’t want them commentating on a football match I am watching. Any more than I want them dressing my wounds in hospital, sustained after I have kicked in the TV screen.
It was utterly disgraceful (the giggling, not the kicking of the flat screen TV), and in any sane company such employees would be disciplined for not doing their job. Or better still removed forthwith. Supposing you went to the dentist and he/she spent the appointment laughing about how difficult it was to count how many teeth you had. Would you enjoy that?
OK maybe you would, but even so, I thought the laughing at one’s inability to do maths of the simplest kind was not only poor TV but also disconcerting from the match, not to mention a terrible example to anyone still doing their secondary school studies.
4. Give informed comment not available elsewhere.
Another area of absolute failure. On Arsenal BT Sport just told us what all the rest of the media was saying the day before, on that day, and indeed today. It doesn’t matter whether you believe the “Arsenal must buy” frenzy or not – the fact is we have all heard it more times than the number of pounds Arsenal have supposedly offered for some Liverpool player. Saying what has been said endlessly is neither entertaining nor informative. Not one person on the show said anything that has not been said before.
Not one. There was no attempt to point an alternative point of view – even though a fair number of people who read this blog do share the view that the club is being well managed and well run. And we get over 500,000 visits a month.
Well, yes, they had a ref in the studio, and he did at one point say the ref on the pitch made a mistake. It was an utterly obvious mistake (a bit like fighting the Vikings at Stamford Bridge two days before you have an appointment on the south coast) but he said it.
And he did also talk about the issue of “getting the ball” (the eternal excuse of the player who makes a foul and doesn’t want to be punished: say “I got the ball”, move your hands in a circle to indicate “ball”, and then put both hands on forehead while leaning backwards with mouth open) pointing out that whether you get the ball or not does not affect whether you have committed a foul or not.
But I rather suspect through the season he is going to be used to do just this – talk on topics, not on the key point that has been revealed in the last two seasons – the cumulative bias that some referees show. That is presumably too hot a potato.
So what can we say? They showed the game. That’s about it. Everything else was appallingly awful.
So awful that it really is making ESPN look watchable. And to think this bunch of turnips are going to be in charge of Fulham v Arsenal. Sound off is the first imperative, and my subscription will be ending at the end of this season, even if it means I have to go to some Man U supporting pub to watch away games on TV.
At least Bloody Terrible Sport will be encouraging more people to go to games which I guess is a good thing.
Arsenal Anniversaries: 5 August
- 5 August 1946: Ian Buchanan McPherson joined from Notts County
- 5 August 1981: Last game for Sammy Nelson v AIK Storckholm
- 5 August 1983: Last game for Peter Nicholas
- 5 August 1986. David O’Leary Testimonial v Celtic
- 5 August 1998: Nelson Vivas arrives from Lugano.
- 5 August 2012: Pre-season match in Abuja, Nigeria planned then scrapped.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal FC: crowd behaviour at the early matches
- 24 players leaving Arsenal: the full updated list
- How Arteta gave us a hint of what he was about to do, but we missed it.
- What will the PGMO do about Arsenal next season?
- Players tipped to come to Arsenal reaches 66: the full list
- Arteta’s revolution: the secret behind the post-Christmas improvement at AFC