I know it’s been said a thousand times already but it’s deserved – the Olympics truly was a spectacular sporting event. It produced so many ‘where were you’ moments that will linger in the memory forever. I will always remember Jessica Ennis crossing the 800m finish line with her arms aloft, Mo Farah wheeling away after the 5,000m and 10,000m doing the Mobot and the unparalleled dominance of our cycling team in the Velodrome, as well as many other highlights.
The Olympics was pretty much my world for the entire duration of the event. I’d get home from work to find my girlfriend already tuned in, park myself next to her and that would be our evening until the matchsticks could no longer keep our eyes open. We watched as much as we physically could, and what made that possible was the coverage – in my opinion it was an excellent. I’m sure most have a little grievance about a particular aspect, but considering the hours of live televised broadcasting I don’t think we could have asked for a lot more.
With so much air time, it put a lot of pressure on not only the respective anchors but the pundits too. Each sporting event had its own specialist, ready to provide expertise in the event of a rule break, explain technique and provide an insight into the mental aspect of what these remarkable athletes were going through. I saw criticism of Ian Thorpe early on suggesting he lacked charisma but that missed the point of his presence. He was not there to add star quality but, as one of the greatest Olympians ever, his role was to add value to what we were seeing in his particular field. Along with many of his colleagues, he fulfilled this duty and we as the viewer were much better off for it.
In-between coverage, we had the likes of Matthew Syed looking into the fascinating realm of sport psychology or saw a feature on the forgotten story of Peter Norman – the white Australian who joined Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium in Mexico 1968 during their iconic Black Power salute. And I couldn’t get enough of Michael Johnson’s analysis and often frank opinion – given even more conviction by his Morgan Freeman-esque vocal delivery.
All of this brings me nicely onto Match of the Day, returning to our screens this weekend hand in hand with the new Premier League season. The Olympics showed that the BBC is capable of producing that quality of analysis, so is it not about time they took this approach to their flagship football offering?
In stark contrast to Thorpe, Johnson, Redgrave et al, we welcome back (and I use that term loosely) Hansen, Shearer and Lawrenson to our screens. Shearer is dull as dishwater, which wouldn’t be a problem if his contribution went beyond “He’ll be disappointed with that” or simply talking us through the goal in the assumption us mere mortals cannot process the pretty pictures with our own eyes.
Hansen was once a good pundit but has become lazy and predictable, to the point where he has turned into a walking, talking cliché of himself. And very little needs to be said on Lawro other than he is dire and clearly uninterested to the point where it becomes a little insulting. If you don’t want to be there Lawro then do us all a favour and leave. I can assure you that you won’t be missed. As a trio they offer next to nothing, and I resorted to recording the programme last year so that I could skip through their inane and pointless ramblings.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. On Sky, Gary Neville raised the bar last year by a pole vaulting distance, and I only hope it has a domino effect on his contemporaries. He provided analysis and a deep understanding of the game, displaying an interest in the technical details rarely seen from many of our so-called experts.
Meanwhile Stan Collymore has developed into an exceptional pundit, offering passionate and articulate insight, whilst displaying a genuine love for the game. Even worse is that BBC had its own version in the ranks with Lee Dixon but have lost him to ITV. Having played second fiddle to that lot, I’m not sure I can blame him. Sadly, Adrian Chiles’ vampire-like ability to suck the life out of all around him will probably ruin Dixon – if he ever gets a chance to speak between the adverts. I almost feel sorry for Gary Linekar who has become an excellent anchor and genuinely wants to engage in footballing debate. I just hope he doesn’t just give up with those around him and morph into Richard Keys (the thought of which just made me shudder).
Match of the Day has unfortunately been dumbed down, seemingly because that is what the BBC thinks the viewers want. But for every person who bases all of their opinions on what one of the tabloids tells them to, there are so many more who want to be engrossed in a detailed tactical debate. Let those who want a simplified programme watch MOTD Kickabout (which by the way is very good) with the kids and allow the grown-ups to watch a grown-up programme.
The BBC has the perfect chance to change the way they deliver football to the masses on a Saturday night. They even have a successful blueprint now within their own sport department. Rather than continue with mediocrity, they could up their game and give us what we all so desperately want. Instead, this morning the news has broken that Harry Redknapp has been appointed to their punditry team. Great.