Saturday 23 May ~
When Diomansy Kamara scored what would become Fulham’s winning goal at Newcastle last Saturday, Setanta Ireland’s co-commentator Brian Little immediately pointed out how controversial this goal was going to be, because it looked like it might have been offside. The very first slow motion replay, which was stopped at the crucial moment, instantly proved that the goal was fine – Erik Nevland was clearly level with the last Newcastle defender when Danny Murphy played him through to set up Kamara’s goal. End of discussion.
Not for Brian Little, though, who talked all the way through to half-time about how aggrieved Newcastle might be about the possibly offside goal. This is why we have co-commentators. Long gone are the days when there was just a lonely man in a booth to tell us who had the ball and who scored the goal. Now we have teams in the stadium and teams in the studio to create talking points. Everything has to be controversial, even when it’s not. If the first eight camera angles don’t prove that the ball might possibly just have crossed the line, then the ninth almost certainly will.
The print media have happily jumped on board. Don’t expect to read a description of Fulham’s goal in Louise Taylor’s Guardian match report from St James’ Park. But you will read “many thought Diomansy Kamara’s winner should have been ruled out for offside”. How many, and who were they? The many clueless journalists next to Taylor in the press box? The many people too stupid to know the offside law?
Taylor could learn from the man she went on to quote, Alan Shearer, who refused to slate referee Howard Webb for disallowing Mark Viduka’s second half header, because Kevin Nolan had clearly fouled Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer seconds before. “What's the point, nothing can be done about it now,” Shearer said. And not only that, it was the correct decision, as even Brian Little was able to see, though he insisted on mentioning it several times over. You have to feel sorry for referee Howard Webb, who would have been the centre of the talking point even if he’d allowed the goal, for failing to spot the foul on Schwarzer.
Reporters, commentators and analysts set the talking point agenda, and it almost always misses the point. It can be the goal of the season, but hardly has a ball hit the back of the net before some halfwit starts bleating about a possible touch of offside, or was there a foul that should have been given 60 seconds earlier. Failing that, let’s second-guess the thoughts of Sir Alex. Or observe that: “The focus will be on referee Howard Webb after that controversial decision.” But it’s not a future event – the commentator is already kicking it off before the bile-breathed hack pack rushes to follow.
The Guardian chalkboards showing the respective passing patterns of Murphy and Nolan over 90 minutes tell you much more about the Newcastle v Fulham than the match description above that revolved around “two controversial refereeing decisions” (both of which were correct). But a disallowed goal easily overshadows any review of the game that puts it in the wider context of Newcastle’s season, their formation, their tactics, and why they failed to score. Given the chance, most football reporters now abjure substance and genuine analysis in favour of personalities, flare-ups and pointless stats, such as exciting new Premier League records that ignore a century of football history. But perhaps that’s appropriate. The abysmal overall standard of football coverage has come to reflect the razzmatazz image that the top flight’s marketing campaign has always aimed to cultivate. Until the craze subsides and the money runs out, Armchair Man will get what he wants. Ian Plenderleith