TV and Football – The Ugly Couple

Written by Andy Wood

‘The Magic of the Cup’ once again became a familiar phrase recently with the 5th round (proper) of FA Cup fixtures throwing up exciting ties between National League sides and Premier League sides- exemplified by the stunning achievement of minnows Lincoln City knocking out Burnley, the 11th best team in the country by the current tables.

Within the next week, a club stalwart had been forced to hand in his resignation and the manager of one of football’s greatest achievements has been ousted from his job, less than a year after said achievement. If the Cup does indeed have a magic quality it’s not extending into the wider game right now.

In it’s own funny, indirect sort of way the influence of television cannot be understated in either of the events that have cost Wayne Shaw and Claudio Ranieri their respective jobs. When Sutton goalkeeper Shaw got caught out on the cameras munching into a well deserved pasty towards the end of his club’s most famous fixture in three decades, the viewing population collectively laughed along with the relatively harmless and self-aware banter. The man himself then casually mentioned his acknowledgement of a fairly ludicrous bet that had been made available at the bookies prior to the fixture, simply that he would be caught on camera doing exactly what he did. Cue an outcry of faux controversy from the fake side of the football community- I.E. the part that serves to impose its own interpretation of how the game should be over its grassroots supporters. See how media outlets grabbed a few days worth of headlines by the scruff of the neck and a particularly jobsworth lawyer ludicrously suggested that Shaw’s actions should be treated as match fixing would be.

For Sutton, the home fixture against one of the country’s biggest sides should have been a memorable occasion, and in many ways it was, allowing a proud performance, a healthy financial boost and the chance for individuals like Roarie Deacon to show off what they can do to a wider audience. However this increased exposure and accessibility has a dark side to it, and when you open a platform for many to witness events, you have to accept that many will have a view to take on it. This is where the TV revolution isn’t directly the problem but is rather a main accomplice to it- this issue that I certainly find in the staleness that has engulfed high profile football. I’m not necessarily talking about the actual football being played, which will be hit or miss wherever you go in all honesty, but rather the blandness of the people involved in it. Sure the TV and media outlets are quick to praise a passionate manager like Antonio Conte or Jurgen Klopp, or fawn over the charming nature of Claudio Ranieri, but at the same time it’s telling how much these individuals are given attention as exceptions to the norm and are described in ways such as ‘a breath of fresh air’. With the cameras always watching and reporters constantly on the button to interpret their words and actions, managers and players alike have seen how it is safer to, well, play it safe- getting the weekly run-out, listing off the various acceptable middle-ground cliches in interviews and then heading off to their closely monitored personal lives, being sure not to put to genuine a thought on social media for fear of upsetting the neutral balance.

As for the TV companies themselves, they lead the way in style by providing a selection of ex-players to ‘inform’ us of how the major events of a day’s action came to be. Today’s pundits, bar a certain few, have become experts in stating the obvious, using the impressive technology and writing staff at their disposal to offer surprisingly little insight into the action (goodness forbid the ‘keeper could have done better). This sterilisation of views, this pandering to passion as an eccentricity, it all creates an environment where we can access more football, more easily, but it’s just somehow not as fun.

But if there’s one crime that TV companies are most fallible for, it’s the astronomical bidding wars for viewers that has led to the horrific commercial and monetary takeover of the beautiful game. It’s Sky’s money that has led to the sacking of Claudio Ranieri, now a permanent fixture in the history books of football, yet ironically they’re falling over themselves to praise his every contribution to this country, right down to the catchphrases. How can the soul and personality be maintained when this is a commonplace procedure by the people who’ve basically bought the sport?

Honestly, I continuously find top flight football less and less interesting, save for the fact that the technical talent on the pitch is actually not that bad sometimes. For me, it feels like a branded product where the sales comes above the integrity and the personality, but in a world where we’d rather talk about the legal consequences of a joke rather than actually jest about it, that’s hardly a surprise.

Are the likes of Sky Sports ruining football? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!