There is nothing, in the context of watching football, that can compare to being at the match. People may argue that, sat in the comfort of your own home with beer and food, being able to see all the replays of disputed incidents, is far more palatable than dragging yourself out in the rain to watch your team lose at home. I cannot state how ill-informed this view is. Being part of a crowd is tribal and it is unifying. It offers a sense of belonging, and puts you in complete control of your own vision. At a live match, you are the director, not a TV executive trying to second guess your mind. The roar of the crowd will always leave a shiver down the spine, whereas the groans of Mark Lawrenson will always leave you wanting to attack the television you find yourself getting increasingly exasperated at.
I’m lucky. I have a season ticket, and the beauty of the crowd is something I am constantly absorbed by. How can you truly feel unless you are there? A defeat on TV may be heart wrenching, but the channel can be changed in a moment, leaving life to consume you with other distractions. A defeat at the stadium is not the end, as the feeling of hurt and uselessness attaches itself to your skin like an unwanted bruise. The walk back to the car, amongst your fellow fans, trying desperately not to catch the attention of the winning team’s supporters, is in itself a chapter on football fandom.
Obviously, finance and health can render these emotions painfully out of reach, and in major international tournaments this is more prevalent. Therefore, we are subjected to the ignorance, jingoism, arrogance and stupidity of the British TV commentators and pundits.
Last night’s Spain v Portugal was an obvious example. The game was tactically absorbing, if short on goal scoring chances, and yet the main commentators, Steve Wilson and Martin Keown, were quick to deride the game as boring. It seems as if a football match is not the blood and thunder 4-4 of Everton and Stoke, with three red cards, two penalties and a collapsed lung, then it is dismissed as being dull.
Far more embarrassing punditry was evident during the England v Italy game. Whilst there was the admittance that England were vastly inferior to their opponents, Mark Lawrenson and Guy Mowbray actually wished injury on the Italian right-back, Ignazio Abate. Whilst it may be argued that the BBC merely reflects the passions of its viewers, a service funded by the tax payer cannot surely be so narrow-minded and crass?
Alan Hansen is the biggest culprit. The former Scottish international has recently taken a 33% pay cut, resulting in his yearly salary standing at a paltry £1million. No wonder he is always slumped side wards in his chair, he can barely afford to feed himself on such as risible wage. His wage decrease isn’t the reason for him saying the same recycled soundbites – passion, intensity, determination – when describing a nation’s approach, because in 2010 he was beyond ignorant.
Before the second round match in the World Cup, Hansen stated that no German player would get into the England side. Did he not watch the group games? Did he not conduct the most basic research into a team he was scheduled to watch? Heaven forbid that he actually performed his job to an adequate level. Just before a Ukraine match at this tournament he was asked about the team, and could only mention Shevchenko’s time at Chelsea, as if a world outside his cosy bubble of the English Premier League could not be penetrated. It seems as though a computer and some reading are far beyond the capabilities of Hansen’s brain.
At what point was it limply accepted that football shows should be polluted by ex-professionals with the tactical nous of a grapefruit and the courage of a grape? ITV have attempted to buck the trend by formulating debate between Roy Keane, Gareth Southgate and Jamie Carragher, but these promising discussions are often cut short by adverts or by Adrian Chiles, the only man who makes you long to be stuck in a lift with the Go Compare tenor.
Just because you have played football does not mean you have the intelligence to talk about it. As a student, I worked in a DIY store, but to expose me to talk at a spirit level conference would be like watching Alan Shearer. Fans should have more of a say, but unfortunately, TV wants supporters to fulfil a certain stereotype. Therefore, we are reduced to the Soccer AM caricature of beer bellies and out of tune ranting, as opposed to calm and thoughtful analysis on a match.
TV wants to pander to the lowest common denominator, with the same ex-players being regurgitated for insight and wit. Being at a match means you control the vision of the spectatcle unfolding. If you want to glance around the ground for five seconds, taking in the atmosphere, you can. Watching on TV means you submit yourself to the whims of the powerful, with someone, somewhere inexplicably feeding you the absurd concept that an ex-footballer is the height of knowledge.