Silent treatment

It's the same old story, and we're getting tired of hearing it

Technology is moving on apace in all directions but not fast enough. Through the summer we scanned the science pages in the hope that during the six-week break between seasons someone might have invented a device that would be of immense value to football supporters everywhere. What is urgently required is a filter for TV sets that could be set up to give the sensitive viewer the option of bleeping out certain phrases when they crop up in a football broadcasts. (Of course there is always the option of watching TV with the sound off and the radio on, but that risks exposure to Alan Green.)

How pleasant it would be, for example, to know you’ll never once have to hear the phrase “mind games”. It’s bad enough to know that it will be rolled out at every opportunity during the forthcoming matches between Chelsea, Arsenal and Man Utd – imagine Richard Keys’s face furrowed with anxiety as he asks Andy Gray whether the two unmentionable words will have any bearing on the forthcoming match – even worse is that it has crept in during the build-up to the season as the energy-sapping promotional roar of the Premiership gets ever louder.

To this end, League chief executive Richard Scudamore reacted in a surprisingly nonchalant way to José Mourinho’s recent complaints, backed up by Sir Alex, about the fixture list being supposedly designed to benefit dastardly Arsenal who are given more home games than their rivals directly after European ties. “It is debate, a bit of controversy and most of this whole issue is good for us,” said Scudamore. “We like it that José Mourinho is so animated.”

It doesn’t matter how teeth-grindingly asinine the debate, then, as long as it keeps football on the back pages and fills up the hours on Sky’s rolling news. (Mourinho’s moan was, of course, blustering nonsense: he blamed David Dein’s influence at the FA, but the fixtures are set by the Premier League. Last season, United and Chelsea were at home after four of their Champions League group games, away after only two; Arsenal were home and away three times each and the away games included Manchester United and Liverpool.)

At the end of July the widely respected Peter Kenyon decided to weigh in further, suggesting that jealousy is the root of Arsenal and Man Utd’s criticisms of Chelsea. “There have been two kids on the block for 12 years. Now suddenly a third kid is threatening to be more successful than the other two and they don’t like it.” The next round will involve rebuttals of the smug new boy from the classroom veterans and on it will go, the soundbite equivalent of the brass band who blight England matches with their parping tedium.

Having dealt with “mind games”, next up for removal would be the rhetorical “Can it live up to the hype?” as though the questioners didn’t bear responsibility for the blather surrounding a game, and are merely reporting the existence of some sort of nationwide mania.

Then there are a couple of questions usually lobbed at the guest pundit to build his confidence before kick-off: “Is it fair to call this game a relegation six-pointer this early in the season?” when the person involved in any unfairness is the one speaking; and “Is this a title decider?” any time before Easter. We’ve also had enough of “the one we’ve all been waiting for”; “grudge match” and its close relatives, “battle of” and “judgment day”. Plus there is no justification for constantly reminding us that coverage is “live and exclusive” as if we didn’t know who owns the Premiership rights, or cared in any positive way that they do.

Also set to be zapped are a pair of declamations that tend to be yelled above the booming PA when the teams are coming out of the tunnel: “It doesn’t get any bigger any this!” and “This is the where the talking stops!” – if only the latter was a promise. It almost goes without saying that the banned list will also include any mention of the “best/most exciting league in the world”.

Technology has of course improved football coverage immensely in recent times, from computer graphics to action replays from every conceivable angle, but matchday presentation has demonstrably failed to keep pace. A shut up button is long overdue – get to it, boffins.

From WSC 223 September 2005. What was happening this month