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Whipping up unnecessary tension

Cameron Carter examines the dramatic effects of a draw away to Blackburn and more reshuffling on the Match of the Day sofa

It is one thing for the tabloids to whip up a bit of national tension – the diagrams of tarsals and metatarsals were being searched out again as soon as Wayne Rooney hit the ground against Bayern Munich – but when the BBC start creating drama from the raw material of Nothing Much it edges beyond a joke. When Chelsea drew at Blackburn on March 21, journalists and football pundits took this as a cue for a Chelsea-disintegrate-under-pressure story. On Easter Saturday’s Match of the Day, as Chelsea scored their second against Man Utd, Jonathan Pearce piped: “It looked like their title hopes had disappeared two weeks ago at Blackburn... but now!...”

It would take a cutting-edge pessimist to describe the Premier League leaders’ loss of two points away to Blackburn in March as the end of the road, especially as they were back at the top of the table six days later, having put seven past Aston Villa. But Match of the Day must now also believe that it is more exciting for the public to be fed weekly stories of triumph alternating with despair than a placid stream of lily-livered appraisals of “minor setbacks”, so Jonathan was journalistically on-task in his analysis. One wonders if a power cut would be greeted at the Pearce household with apocalyptic wailing and cannibalism, followed by the whole family converting to Christianity when the lights came back on five minutes later.

Chelsea finally won the “title no one wanted to win”, so called because none of the commentators could quite believe a team might win a couple of games and then drop points. With some confidence, one could take Pearce or Alan Hansen by the arm and have them quickly grasp the principles behind parallel universes, Chaos Theory, Neptune’s effect on our weather, all of these things, but to try to instil in them the possibility that Chelsea could drop two points to Blackburn in March and still win the title – they would burn you for a witch.

Adrian Chiles has flounced off to ITV after joining the ranks of those media people whose steady career progress has been upset by Chris Evans wanting to work part-time. On April 25, Jake Humphrey took over on MOTD2 as a chirpy supply teacher figure. Tony Pulis, to give himself time to heal after Stoke’s thrashing by Chelsea, had pulled out of the guest pundit role, which meant that Humphrey’s only companion, in a studio that suggested a poorly-attended neighbourhood watch meeting, was a frightened-looking Lee Dixon.

On the following Sunday’s show, Gary Lineker sat in for Chiles, like the head teacher covering the class of a popular English master who has been dismissed for making Proust too accessible. Now we learn that Colin Murray, another chap who appears to want to inject humour rather than banter – mark the difference Lineker, Lawrenson, Lovejoy – into the conversation, has been given the presenter’s job for next season, so perhaps the more lovable offspring of Match of the Day will emerge from its upheaval unharmed.

Humphrey found himself in the front line on Match of the Day Live as Sheffield Wednesday took on Crystal Palace in the Championship relegation decider. Like a green subaltern approaching the Somme, he watched the Wednesday fans spill onto the pitch at the final whistle and advance towards the celebrating Palace fans with steely intent. His wet young eyes saw the players rounded up and herded off of the pitch by stewards, and Palace’s Shaun Derry, only halfway into his pitchside interview, bundled away towards the dressing rooms by someone who may or may not have had his safety in mind. Eyeing the thickness of the studio window, Jake informed us bravely that the stewards and the police looked to have everything under control.

He proceeded with the standard post-match questioning and persevered gamely as fans began banging vigorously on the glass divide, drowning out his guests’ answers. The camera gradually narrowed its view from a wide shot of the whole panel to a close shot of Jake, to protect the viewer from the sight and sound of the raw male emotion at the heart of this event. Presumably, if the mob had broken through into the studio and started to kill and dismember the panel, the camera shot would have closed tighter and tighter into the last part of our presenter’s body to be wrenched from his trunk.

 It is one thing to bring us the atmosphere of an occasion, but we are to be protected from the creators of that atmosphere showing us how they really feel.

From WSC 280 June 2010

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