Survival Sunday

Cameron Carter on Sky's relentless plugging of "Survival Sunday" and Gabby Logan's knees

Victor Lewis-Smith’s assertion that “alliteration is the leper’s bell of the idiot” came to mind in the last week of May as the newspapers and television collaborated to promote “Survival Sunday” (to go with “Super Sunday”, “Straightforward Saturday” and “Misplaced Monday”). Sky were so keen they had a countdown on Sky Sports News the day before: “Survival Sunday… 1 day, 3 hours, 25 minutes…”, just to remind you what an important day it was and also to be sure to refer to it as “Survival Sunday” when with your friends.

Keeping in tune with the channel’s agenda, the Soccer Saturday team really put the work in at the monitors. As the final whistle drew nearer, Jeff Stelling began barking the result and league-standing permutations in the manner of a cattle market auctioneer, while Phil Thompson almost shed tears of frustration over Newcastle’s inability to mount a meaningful attack. Charlie Nicholas squirmed in his seat a bit while reporting back on Hull v Man Utd but could not quite muster the vocal energy of the more experienced artistes. On BBC1 the world was restored to its pre-Spice Girls calm as Garth Crooks and Martin Keown soberly discussed Hull’s chances of nicking an equaliser, speaking when they were spoken to by Ray Stubbs and certainly not squawking in a heart-stopping manner at every goal attempt.

Soccer Saturday’s producer picked out one weeping male fan for the money shot after Newcastle’s fate had been confirmed, but then, following a quick return to the studio, only managed to pick the same fan out again. With more time for editing, Match of the Day carefully framed five different weeping males a few hours later, a richer variety for Sunderland fans to laugh at. Although earlier on the same channel, having seen many of the latter brandishing “Let’s All Laugh at Newcastle” signs, Ray Stubbs had stuffily editorialised that “we all have our opinions on how we should celebrate others’ misfortune”. Two things, Ray: firstly, do we really want to stamp out cruel laughter from our experience of the game? We will be left with next to nothing. And, secondly, how exactly should we celebrate others’ misfortune? Possibly with shyly-concealed air-trumpeting. Newcastle will have learned one important lesson from “Survival Sunday”: namely, if you are going to choose a manager from the television pundit roster, try not to choose the least insightful one available. It is highly likely that Andy Townsend, Mark Lawrenson or even a chimp with a pointing stick would have managed more than one win from eight games.

The last Match of the Day of the season was a programme of two halves. The first half contained the traditional collage of the vital games, switching to and from Villa Park and the KC Stadium to bleed every drop of drama from the occasion. After the relegations had been sorted out, however, there was absolutely nothing at stake in the remaining seven fixtures and Lineker, Hansen and Lawrenson drifted through the rest of the programme like bumblebees dazed in the ivy-bloom.

Lineker could just about drawl “OK” after each uninterested contribution faded away and, when Alan Hansen was asked to summarise the season, our analytical chum slumped to the occasion: “Drama… intrigue… suspense… the teams at the bottom have been poor… the four at the top have played exceptional football…” The suspicion here is that a younger, keener Alan might have prepared for that question, as it can’t have been terribly difficult to see coming. There was a sudden change in tempo right at the end when we were rushed through the season’s highlights, month by month, with approximately ten seconds on each month. I realise that we are more complicated than a century ago but has human cognitive processing really advanced to the extent that ten months’ worth of information can be assimilated in just over a minute and half, involving avant-garde camera angles into the bargain? A rare case surely of television overestimating its audience.

A much-heralded interview with David Beckham on Inside Sport this month (he still eats a lot of pasta) was remarkable only for how close his and Gabby Logan’s knees were. Obviously it is the 21st century but one still expects two separately married people to keep a seemly two inches minimum between their individual knee-skin in public. Back in the studio there was a clean six feet between Gabby’s knees and those of Stuart Pearce and Jonathan Davies. Perhaps the Cromwellian Ray Stubbs had a hand in that.

From WSC 269 July 2009