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Why is football on TV and radio so patronising, ignorant and irrelevant, from the fans’ point of view?

By Tony Attwood

Of course if you enjoy football on Sky, the BBC, ITV or BT Sprout you’ll disagree with my headline, but I do find broadcast media’s commentary on football – be it live matches or in discussions or reviews of games – completely unrelated to my experience of football as an actual spectator going to games.  Indeed I could go further – it is alien to my experience – and that involves going to Arsenal, Leicester, Torquay United, Kettering Town, Corby Town, Poole Town…

So it was that while meandering around the supermarket this Sunday lunchtime trying to think of what food I actually need in the house, I began to lose focus on my shopping and think on this subject.

Of course that meant that as a result I have now come home with a whole array of food that I don’t actually need, while forgetting to buy the stuff I went out in the rain specifically to buy.  But as a bonus, I’ve found a subject that quite intrigues me.

I guess what really brought it up was the way in which it would have been quite possible to write the commentaries that all the media offered us in the wake of the troubles in Marseilles, in advance of the whole Uefa thing starting.  That led me to think, “how could that be?” and from there a thesis began to develop.

The problem with broadcast TV and radio covering football is that it is run by combination of ex-players (usually but not exclusively in subservient roles) and the dominant “expert commentators” and “expert summarisers”.  Now it doesn’t take long to find out what is missing from that list: the fans.  The people who actually pay for football by going to games.

Of course the broadcasters will say that they do allow the fans to have a say, on phone ins.  Except that the people who do phone in are then carefully selected by the media, and their input is carefully controlled by the “experts” who always have the last word.   On the few occasions that the fan can make a point that floors the “expert” the programme anchor then says, “well thank you.  A different point of view there.  Now John from Stoke.  What’s your point John?”

The “different point of view” is lost.  It doesn’t fit the agenda.  Back to the dominant vision.

So in simple terms, what happens is that the “experts” selected by the media get vast amounts of time to express their visions of what football is about, while the fans don’t.

No you could argue that this is how it should be, because the experts are either professional commentators or ex-players, and so they know what football is about.  The fans are amateurs; they are biased (in that they are supporters), incoherent, and lacking in detailed knowledge (because by and large people who are coherent and knowledgeable know that they are going to be edited out, and that any point which can’t be established in two sentences is not going to get a look in.).

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And when we have the likes of the manifestation known as “Savage” repeatedly describing callers repeated as “Pathetic” and being given the last word, anyone with an IQ of anything knows he/she isn’t going to get much of a chance to contradict the dominant view within the mainstream of commentary.

When you think about it this is actually strange.  The people who pay for football (either by going to the games or subscribing to a TV channel or by paying their licence fee) are effectively excluded from a discussion the agenda of which is utterly dominate by the media.  No wonder they are increasingly removed from the reality those of us who go to games experience.

Indeed this is the explanation as to why more of the interesting debate has moved away from the media to the blogs.

The media will not, and indeed cannot, accept that their vision of what is interesting and important in football, could ever be challenged.  They know.  They are the experts.  They act exactly like The Party in “1984”, and the churches in Mediaeval Europe; the people who decide what is knowledge and what is not.

So they become increasingly irrelevant to those of us who go to games and think about football in its broadest context.  Issues of interest to thoughtful fans are set aside and the agenda set by the ex-players and expert commentators is continued no matter what as the gibberish is maintained.

It is, in short, as if we, the people who pay for it all, don’t exist.

By way of example, let me give a few of the phrases said by commentator and co-commentator in the Turkey v Croatia game which is on ITV as I write.  Here are a few said across a couple of minutes.

  • He just about kept it in.
  • The pressure is being mounted up here
  • Very strong now Croatia
  • They’ve got Turkey penned back in now
  • Two yellow cards will mean a suspension.
  • Your arms are up of course they are there up.
  • Let’s keep an eye on things.
  • Nobody does this job if they want to do it.

One must, I suppose, say thank you to these poor saps churning out this nonsense, and indeed their producers and directors who think that somehow those of us who like football, who go to football games, feel this is adequate.

And of course this is not just today’s game.  By chance I had on TV a discussion on yesterday and made a note of two things I  heard before I gave up and took my life into my own hands by driving through the most dangerous set of roads in the UK.  These included

  • Well I mean its a decent ball in in theory
  • Well the first tackle oh no this is the chance this is the tackle its a stupid tackle there’s no need he’s hight up the pitch you’ve got to look at the ball

My point is, TV and radio commentary and comments after a game, are now utterly and totally irrelevant to many football supporters who actually go to games.  They know that TV and radio commentary (live and in discussion) on football has nothing whatsoever to their everyday experience.

Indeed as we have shown over the years, even the editing of live matches removes the game from the reality of what actually happens in the stadium.

The mass media serves to remove us all from football, portraying their own visions of football which are utterly alien from the experience that most of us have when we go to games.  The distance between fans who go to games and the media is huge, and getting bigger by the day.

Ultimately we need to treat the broadcasters with the contempt with which they treat us.

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29 comments to Why is football on TV and radio so patronising, ignorant and irrelevant, from the fans’ point of view?

  • jake

    I concur i switched across from the footie( england vs russia) last night to watch casualty . the commentary was so far removed from what I was seeing it “insert expletive” me off.

    Tony i believe you missed out inaccurate.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    The large tv in the hall is on either the England vs Sri Lanka cricket or whatever football game is going on . With the sound off of course – no chance of me learning anything new or earth shattering ! No pre -shows for me , but maybe the highlights and goals.
    But my attention is on Game of Thrones on the computer . From episode one of Season one Am now on Season 3 . Uncensored of course ,and all free . Had missed large portions of it due to the very generous snipping off of large portions by the censor scissors . Am not going to pay them a cent for their version !Now watch their many advertisment .
    And UA of course !

  • Leon

    I’m not sure when the co-comentator crept into our sports broadcasting, It’s probably an attempt to copy the US model but doesn’t really work for British fans who don’t like the inane distracting chit chat (well I don’t), and could easily be discarded in favour of the more sensible continental one commenter style. Be cheaper too.
    My own solution (when it gets too overwhelming) is to put some music on the Hi-Fi and watch the match with no volume.
    Casualty v England? C’mon now!

  • colario

    Time was when the banal question of the interviewer was always:

    ‘What does it feel like to have won … whatever?’

    As if the winner is going to say ‘Oh it feels terrible, the worst day of my life.’

    As if we can’t have the possible idea of what it feels like.

    However someone some where has realised what stupid question that is and it has been replaced with a super duper question plucked no doubt from someone with a brain IQ one point higher than a snail.

    So we get ‘How important is it for you to have won this game?’

    I remember George Graham after the FA Cup final win being asked

    ‘How did Arsenal win the Cup?’

    George replied

    ‘Because when the final whistle went Arsenal had scored 2 goals and Sheff Weds 1 goal.’

  • bjtgooner


    The commentary on the cricket is much superior to that of the football – it is usually fairly unbiased, informative and can on occasion be quite funny!

    I agree modern football commentary including the pre match discussion and post match “analysis” is so uninformative and uninspiring it is indeed irrelevant to the match (or probably and other match) under consideration. And that is before we consider bias!!

    When describing Arsenal teams, far too many of the commentators cannot properly pronounce the player’s names – many years ago anyone working in the media needed good diction and pronunciation – those presenters were true professionals – stndards really have been allowed to slip.

  • Dazza64

    Jake@3.46 agree the commentary last night was sycophantic- Russia were no better than a league 1 team but somehow the commentators were describing England as sensational.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    @ bjtgooner -June 12, 2016 at 4:44 pm – I agree that the cricket commentary is better .
    I do enjoy the banter and humour. And also that the adverts are very short and limited at the over change !

  • Leon

    I’m about to watch Northern Ireland 0-3 Poland. With no commentary.

  • norman14

    I never have the commentary on when watching any football. Televised football gives me the opportunity to watch the game whilst listening to my favourite music.

    With the cost of watching football on Sky and BT Sprout about to go up again – I just don’t know why they can’t provide a “smart” option of listening to the crowd, without the commentary.

    I don’t need some dimwit ex footballer, who probably left school at 12 anyway, telling me what’s what when the pictures he is describing tell me otherwise.

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    I think you’ve hit the head of the nail correctly as you’ve rightly observed in your comment which implies that good and professional football commentaries are now being compromised in this modern era of the game due to the influx of the ex-footballers into the profession who are not professionally trained for the job.

    Here in Nigeria my country, We still have one radio & tv football commentator who in by own estimation is a very good football commentator that runs football commentaries especially when the Super Eagles are playing a match. I think his name is, Emeka Ejikpo. And we used to have people like, the great Ishola Folorunsho(RIP), Earnest Okwonko(RIP), Adamu Augie(RIP) who were all good football commentators in their own class. We also have the Late Yinka Creek who mostly ran commentaries on the NTA in any important football match that involved the Super Eagles, the Flying Eagles and the Golden Eaglets. Mainasara Ilu who is also a good football commentator is still around but doesn’t run football commentaries anymore. I think he’s got promoted in his live.

    A good and professional football commentator should not be limited to running only football commentaries but should be able to run other commentaries efficiently at any important occasions and functions which those I’ve mentioned above were and was.

    Football commentary running is an art for the trained and not just a profession for the untrained because he was once a top professional footballer.

  • Ajay

    The pre match and post match analysis shows are hosted by ex footballer who did not take up the job for the passion of dispensing information but to ensure a big fat post retirement bonus and their presence on tv in a non playing role ensures other invites as well. The only commentators I have enjoyed listening to are John Champion and another bloke whose name I can not recall. They both call it as is during the match and facts as well. You can hear the excitement in their voice, which fuels ur spirit as well. I thought that’s what their job was in the first place. I personally dislike cricket ever since Azharuddin decided to get rich real quick but the commentary has always been a class act. Football pundits should take a class or two to learn how to do their job.

  • Leon

    If you want to hear a commentary that will really send you crazy, watch a baseball game. They obsess over stats.

  • Gord

    Baseball is not a sport, it is a past-time. The professional thing, is played by athletic people. But that still doesn’t make it a sport.

    Which is why the only thing important is stats.

  • Leon

    OT (sorry)
    UEFA has given England & Russia a yellow card for the violent conduct by “fans” with the threat of being thrown out of the tournament if it’s repeated.
    What’s the chances?

  • Leon

    Whatever baseball is called it’s mind numbing watching grown men continuously missing the ball with the bat, and listening to other grown men discussing it.

  • Leon

    Got my earlier prediction wrong. Am now going to watch Germany4-1 Ukraine

  • Gunz

    If watching GERvUKR game on BBC, press RED button for audio options and select ‘no commentary’.
    Sooo much better!!

  • Oh for the days of Brian Moore, now he was a great commentator. I enjoyed him and there is not one today who comes even close to this man.

  • Pat

    You are so right, Tony. Fans are treated like an irrelevance. Or like mugs to be fed a repeated line until they swallow it, and sadly, sometimes they do.

    I feel so lucky to be able to go to some Arsenal matches because it is the only time I can actually enjoy watching them playing for all the reasons you mention about TV coverage like commentary, selection of shots and replays. But more than anything else, missing are the fans that make attending the match so enjoyable.

    But don’t you find it’s like that with everything? When it comes to housing, for example, the last thing they do is ask the tenants.

    It seems the recipient of the service is regarded as an inconvenience instead of as a source of experience and knowledge.

  • Al

    Thanks for that tip, Gunz. Unfortunately saw it after having a dreary 45 minutes of listening to lawrensen and whoever is with him.

    Ozil had both legs swiped right under twatkinson’s nose but no foul called. This guy must truly hate Arsenal, to continue to punish Arsenal players even on international duty.

  • Al

    Well well well, that cross from Ozil…. if there’s such a thing as a perfect cross then that was it!

  • Ben

    The worst commentary was from ITV during the England v Russia match so much crap.
    When Dier scored the guy said finally justice for the 11!!

  • thierryhenry22

    Murphy and the other guy were ripping Ozil the whole game today against Ukraine- until he got that assist of course (something that they could tangibly see and understand). They then spent the last few minutes purring over Ozil and finally acknowledging his assist record in the prem this year.

    Way too reactionary for me. I just got back from the US and the way they tactically break down almost every small play is just streets ahead of the UK approach to commentating on games- not a lot goes missed. Oh, and there is A LOT more character too.

  • Bob

    I started turning sound off on Arsenal matches on TV when “commentators” started saying things like ” Of course Arsenal have not won anything in 3,4,5,6,7etc years” within 3 mins of the start of the match! This would then be followed by reading out a list of their “failures” over the years.
    So much more rewarding watching without sound and enjoying OUR football!

  • Gooner S

    I don’t like the tv commentary either but not everyone who watches football on the tV goes to games. My dear old Arsenal supporting Grandmother, now no longer with us, loved watching football right up until she was too ill to watch and she’d never been to a game in her life. There are also children as well. So I’m sure they try and aim at the median but I do agree they are falling short. It’s more the co-commentary I have issues with. Glen Hoddle was a prime example of being dull and stating the obvious.

    I prefer the radio commentary as a general rule and listened to the Wales game on BBC 5 live Sport. It was a good commentary.

  • Andy Mack

    The problem with most commentators is that they got into the football journalism because they couldn’t play the game.
    Whilst the ones that played spent all their time being with a bunch of ‘lads’ trying to be ‘one of the gang’, so very few of them have enough intelligence to understand the game beyond the little ‘specialist’ part they spent their time actually doing. A former winger may understand how and why he played but can’t grasp that there’s more than one way to play that position.
    Add to this that both groups have allegiances which they gained through supporting a team or the passion of playing for a team, so they’re bound to have certain views on the game. Especially the older ones who mainly played for ‘kick and chase’ teams.
    As has been mentioned above, the days of Brian Moore desperately trying to be even handed (and usually managing it) are long gone.
    Gary Neville is the prime example of what’s wrong with the present system of pundits.
    He was pretty decent when he started (still with a strong leaning, but not to the exclusion of common sense) but as soon as Jamie ‘trigger’ Carragher turned up and started making idiotic comments (with a clear Liverpoo? leaning) which gained more air time and newspaper inches, Gary changed and started coming out with equally one-eyed dumb comments.
    I’ve friends that support many teams from State Aid through Chavski and Dis-Utd, and they all say that MOTD highlights are never ever a reflection of the game they watched in the stadium. A game their team dominated can end up looking like they were lucky to scrape a draw from, and pundits that couldn’t possibly have actually seen the game beyond the highlights they show.
    I always turn the sound off when I’m watching a UK TV or ‘stream’ but usually give overseas streams at least 5 minutes of the game before deciding if they’re talking similar drivel to the UK commentators…

  • Ben

    I also would like to add that those in the UK should count themselves lucky you have not heard Chinese commentary it is the absolute worst!

    They try to make it to sound like they know what is happening but they do not have a clue, just say something. A bit like Michael Owen.

  • para

    “run by combination of ex-players (usually but not exclusively in subservient roles) and the dominant “expert commentators” and “expert summarisers”.”

    This is oh so true! I recently saw when an “expert summariser”, the sour faced one, barked at Henry live and Henry just swallowed it. I wonder how many people saw it? It was so quick.
    I was so ashamed for Henry.

    Yes the TV presentation of football is so dross that many have volume on 0 and listen to radio commentary, which has now become also just as bad.

    I do try to find a foreign stream when i can. Even though i cant understand any of them (except German) the excitement of the game sometimes comes through.

    I know that in the next years i will probably stop watching football, as the presentation of it is becoming increasingly boring to me.

  • ob1977

    Great article, and agree completely.

    I would like to add that a couple of years ago before I found your website, and was desperate to find an online paper that reflected what I was seeing, I went through a phase of reading 3 or 4 match reviews in a few papers hoping to find one that read true rather than left me wanting to write in questioning if these people had actually watched the game.

    I came to realise that these “reporters” weren’t watching the matches, or at least weren’t writing the match reports, as word for word these articles in different news papers copied each other, admittedly changing maybe 1 or 2 words here or there, but whole paragraphs word for word was clear evidence that either they didn’t all watch the matches, or they simply took it in turns to write the match reports giving each other weeks off at a time.

    Maybe the papers should look into this…

    Oh but the happy ending, then I found the holy grail that is Untold and never looked back, I thank you again.