Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Dear Auntie, it just ain't good enough

By Bryan Cooney

WHEN a professional football team wins a trophy, prudence instructs the armchair viewer to seize the nearest lifebelt in preparation for the inevitable tidal wave of post-match tosh.

It’s so predictable: the trackside TV reporter asks all the players how they’re feeling. And, unless they’re experiencing a migraine, or have just forfeited a ‘monkey’ on the 3.30 at Wincanton, they ignore the inanity of the question and say they’re seeking the nearest moon to jump over.

Steven Thompson doesn’t appear to appreciate moon shots, however. Indeed, the striker confirmed last March, in a moment of the utmost temptation, that clich├ęs were not his style.

He was invited to express his feelings after St Mirren had removed Hearts’ pantaloons in the League Cup final. Thommo talked about it being a cathartic moment for the club. I almost tumbled from my armchair. Cathartic? The temptation was to vacate the old armchair and deliver a standing ovation. And I swear I heard the ghost of Bob Crampsey joining in.

More negatively, I also imagined someone in BBC Scotland feverishly grappling with a Chambers Dictionary. Was this word permissible in the wholly absurd lexicon now endorsed by the Pacific Quay/Inverness mob, where anything of more than two syllables is often discouraged?

Now, I know something of this. During a short but revelatory freelance association with Radio Scotland, I once conducted an interview with former National Hunt champion jockey Peter Scudamore.

In the introduction, the suggestion was that he and trainer Martin Pipe had applied a headlock to their sport; that their hegemony had made a lot of people rich and others jealous.

The producer was either baffled by the language employed, or unimpressed by it. Possibly both. He suggested I change it. I was both baffled and unimpressed with a representative of the once formidable BBC talking in such terms.

So I resisted, arguing that we shouldn’t talk down to the listeners, and emphasising that even if they didn’t understand ‘hegemony’, they would pick up on its meaning from the context of the two sentences. My career with Radio Scotland ended shortly afterwards.

But, let’s forget the pedantry of this old git and return to the impressive Thompson. Just imagine my jubilation when he turned up on the latest edition of Sportscene, alongside the equally impressive and opinionated Michael Stewart.

Deep joy was sprinkled liberally on Sunday evening viewing. Watchable television at long last This particular viewer had almost given up on a programme that really has been toiling these last few years.

Here, now, are two men who might persuade me against putting my foot through the flat screen. They manage to marry an understanding of football with succinct and objective analysis. And they do so without fragmenting and, at times, demolishing the language in the process, unlike a few of their contemporaries.

I hope and pray that the Beeb perseveres with the duo, for they are appropriately twinned. But, knowing the perversity of the sports department, or perhaps those from above who direct the sports department, it’s not a foregone conclusion that these prayers will be answered.

Of course, the problems with football on BBC Scotland lie far deeper than simply Sportscene. So, here’s a question designed to discomfit those who determine our television schedules up here.

Exempting live matches and the occasional foray into the fiscal foibles of Rangers and Hearts, when did you last marvel at the ingenuity and brilliance of the programme makers? And when did you last see a decent football show that dealt with the pertinent issues in the sport?

Hand glued to my heart, I would argue that since I returned to Scotland in 2001, I’ve never seen a documentary to comprehensively satisfy my inquisitive instincts. Well, there was a commendable one on BBC Alba to celebrate Aberdeen’s conquest of Europe. There was another about Ally McLeod’s unequal struggle against Alzheimer’s. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this was performed by the news division of BBC Scotland.

Hey, I pay my licence fee (a hefty one at that) and aren’t I entitled, as we all are, to see something beyond the tokenism of sport at the tailgate of news bulletins?

Sport Nation? With apologies to John Beattie and Rhona McLeod and to the minority sports, the BBC Two offering doesn’t quite cut it for me. Football remains the great turn-on, and I seek controversy, intrigue, insight and, of course, an understanding of this great and Machiavellian game in which once we were proficient.

At present, BBC airs three dedicated sports programmes: Sportscene on a Sunday, Sportscene Results on a Saturday (it’s difficult to concentrate on any subject when the telecast is downloading goals, sendings-off and results), and Sport Nation once a month. More is required.

We are a small country, of course, dominated by two great clubs, so the menu would never be extensive. There are nevertheless plenty of good documentaries to be made. And, just to satisfy other appetites, these should be diverse and not necessarily Old Firm driven.

You might start with the fairytale that ended in nightmare. For instance, whatever happened to Gretna FC and the manager (Rowan Alexander) who supervised the club’s fabulous ascent through the leagues, before becoming a pariah? He is now the assistant manager of an Ayrshire junior side.

A decent programme might also be made on the dramatic Terry Butcher, the English managerial failure who became a Scottish success. A focus on Hibs chairman Rod Petrie would be equally fascinating. Nine managers have departed East Road since 1997, when Petrie joined the club - why does responsibility for a decline in playing standards always lie with someone other than himself?

Then, of course, how about a profile on Jim Leishman, the manager-cum-poet who became a provost whilst his beloved Dunfermline ostensibly disappeared down the plughole? And there’s Steve Paterson, a gambling and a binge drinking manager who left Pittodrie in the boot of a car some years back. An update on his progress might be fascinating.

Sadly, personality-driven programmes such as these are unlikely to happen. Beeb bosses will bleat that they don’t have the budgets to make them. But their argument collapses when you consider the finances doled out to BBC Alba. It’s a worthwhile channel but very much a minority one and claims a disproportionate share of the honey pot.

So, what’s the great importance of football? Initially, the sports department in national newspapers were never treated seriously: they were looked upon as the toy departments. But then editors became enlightened and conceded that sport represents a vital release valve from the vicissitudes of a troubled world. The importance of football should never be underestimated.

Those who run BBC Scotland should wake up to that fact.

1 comment:

  1. I'd rather start by asking BBC Glasgow why it's so firmly entrenched in the Old Firm culture; why it helps promote two clubs built on sectarianism and that do nothing more than lip service to discourage it; why it treats all other clubs as second class citizens that do not matter; do they know or care that their output does more damage than good to Scottish football; that their contract is with Scottish football and just the Old Firm; that they should be promoting the underdog rather than treating them with disdain; do they remember they are a public service broadcaster and not a ratings chasing, audience chasing red top; do they know that there's life outside Glasgow; do they know that it's 2013. I do agree though that Thompson and Stewart are good. You can add Sutherland too.