Ian Plenderleith ploughs through the ruminations of Setanta's pundits
I once worked for a website that took contributions from professional footballers, but the only player who regularly sent us copy was so inane that the impossibility of turning his column into something interesting or readable caused you to take the only option available – to bury your head in your hands and weep. Another player we approached who had written some sensible blog entries on his own personal site turned us down politely on the grounds that writing a blog had been fun for the first few weeks, but then it had started to seem more “like homework”.
So, most players are not suited to journalism, but the names of many still appear above work they have apparently authored. The thought of ex-pros hunched over keyboards like the rest of us can be hard to imagine, in the same way that you can’t picture them shopping for groceries or ironing their shirts. If you can get someone else to do the hard work, then you will. Which is why their blogs often read like they were dictated down the phone to a sub-editor who was too lazy, or disillusioned, to bother with any sub-editing.
Take Les Ferdinand at the Setanta Sports website. “Usually,” he muses after Arsenal’s defeat at Fulham, “you say that Arsenal try to walk the ball into the back of the net, they have loads of chances and the goalie has a blinder, but they have loads of chances. Today we hardly saw any.” Another famous name on Setanta’s blogroll, Steve Claridge, says Sunderland are “literally trying to pitch themselves as high as they possibly can and assessing where they are as a club”. So, the Stadium of Light has become the Stadium of Levitation. Ray Parlour hasn’t posted since April, perhaps too gutted at the disappointment of Arsenal’s Champions League quarter-final first-leg performance against Liverpool, upon which he managed just 91 words. Six of them formed the treasured insight: “It’s going to be tough now.”
Almost as entertaining as the blog content is the way that Setanta tries to sell the people who write them. Tim Sherwood is “the only captain from outside of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea to lift the coveted Premiership trophy”, so he must be worth reading. Carlos Tevez is a winner, and new Pompey signing Younes Kaboul “needs to be able to defend as that’s what Portsmouth need at the moment”. Steve McManaman “has the medals to back up his opinions” and he certainly puts his neck on the block by stating that England against the Czech Republic were “very poor”. After briefly threatening to surprise us with a couple of well constructed sentences, he suddenly blurts: “We gave the ball away for the first goal and we were all over the place, Wes Brown should stand up.” That the sentence itself is also all over the place cleverly reflects England’s disarray.
John Hartson, meanwhile, is “emerging as an honest and engaging pundit after hanging up his boots”, but has so far managed just one commentary following Celtic’s pre-season friendly against Manchester City. “It was a bit of a non-entity really,” he writes, certainly honest, though arguably lacking in that engagement thing.
Setanta may be banking on the fact that the comments made in response will illuminate the big-name bloggers as comparatively sage observers. When Craig Burley ponders Sunderland’s search for a new striker (“it’s not easy”), a reader called Toon4ever responds by asking: “Who cares who they sign. their still gonna go down cos the mackem scums are like their stadium shite.” According to the laws of dialectics the synthesis of Craig’s opinion with Toon4ever’s opinion should lead us to a new theory with which we can progress to the next level of debate. It’s why the internet is ultimately going to help us save the planet.
Site of the Month – Tony Kempster
If you’re a fan of Borrowash Victoria of the East Midlands Counties Premier, how far must you travel for the game at Hinckley Downes? Tony Kempster’s astonishingly complete guide to the non-League game will tell you the answer (39 miles) with just one glance at the appropriate mileage table for that league, complete with a map showing the location of every team in the division. It’s one of 57 sections – including fixtures, tables, results and crowds, too – that cover the non-League pyramid for England, Scotland and Wales.
We’ve mentioned his website before, but as Kempster won the 2008 “Services to Supporters” award from the Football Supporters’ Federation, we though it was time to remind you again of his devotion to the game’s uncelebrated depths. There are maybe not many who would be prepared to take the trouble to note for history’s sake that on August 23, 2008, Harpenden Town went down 4-2 at home to Cranfield United in a Spartan South Midlands Division One fixture played in front of a crowd of 15. Archives go back to 1997, and there is a section for all FA cup competitions (including round-by-round prize-money figures), as well as a helpful primer on how relegation and promotion work in non-League football. An indispensable internet masterpiece.
From WSC 260 October 2008