In the same week that the BBC announced 2,000 job losses as part of a drive to save the best part of £670m, Jeff Livingstone from the cult football blog In Bed With Maradona made his debut appearance on Five Live’s Monday Night Club in a new slot called Booted, a new section of the show aimed at ‘offering listeners fresh thought on the world of football that can’t be heard anywhere else.’ So far the show has featured the likes of Luke Moore from the blog and website The Football Ramble, Andy Brassell, a freelance European football journalist and Michael Cox from the tactically astute Zonal Marking website.
In Bed With Maradona, along with the likes of The Swiss Ramble, Zonal Marking, The Football Ramble and The Ball is Round are at the top end of the football blogging world, both in quality of content and popularity. In recent times the technology and access to information has allowed fans of football to share their niche interests with like minded folk away from the constraints of the mainstream media. The topics covered by these blogs along are as wide ranging as you could imagine, from Lego football stadiums to the buy to sell policy adopted by Udinese with a bit of 1970s Armenian football thrown in. If Henry Winter went to his editor saying he had just finished 2,000 words on Ararat Yerevan’s 1973 double season it is more than likely it wouldn’t make it to print, but these topics have a home in the blogosphere, with a growing number of football fans eager to step away from the main stream coverage of football increasingly focussed on England, the two Manchester clubs, North London, Chelsea and Liverpool.
The internet is awash with football writers covering every subject imaginable. There are sites devoted to ground hoppers, football travel, life outside the Premier League, Premier League youth teams, non-league divisions, European leagues, specific club tactical analysis, football betting and much more. In addition to those websites, these writers are more often than not found on micro-blogging website Twitter, proving it is useful for more than finding out what Lady Gaga is up to and how Michael Owen feels the price of Champions League final tickets are unfair for the players.
Speaking of Twitter, the editor of Match of the Day recently closed his account as a result of the amount of negativity he received. Whilst some of the comments sent his way were abusive and unjustified, a fair chunk of the criticism was about the poor quality analysis and punditry on the show. Alan Shearer infamously said on MOTD that “we really don’t know much about Hatem Ben Arfa” after the Frenchman had scored his first goal for Newcastle. As an ex-footballer and someone who often reminds people he wants to be a top level manager, it is worrying that he wasn’t aware of a French international player with numerous Champions League appearances to his name who had been transferred for £10m and had previously been linked to Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Real Madrid. Shearer, along with Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson are often the targets of much derision due to the clichéd analysis the churn out week after week. Lawrenson will tell us how it’s not always easy to play against ten men, Shearer will tell us that Aguero has now arrived in world football after netting against Swansea and Hansen will tell us about poor defending without explaining why or how.
In these austere times surely it is these highly paid ex-professionals who should be kicked off their gravy train to save the Beeb a few bob. Accurate figures are hard to come by, but it is rumoured that Shearer and Hansen are both on in excess of £1m per year for their ‘expertise’.
The simple option would be to make MOTD a goals show, along the lines of Football First on Sky Sports. Another option would be to allow some of the obvious alternative talent a shot at the top table. Even if it is not someone from the blogosphere, there are a number of intellectually sound football journalists such as Gabriele Marcotti and Ian McGarry who have demonstrated on the radio and in print their knowledge and ability to convey information without the patronising manor used by those in the ex-pro’s closed shop. Too often those in the game trot out the “you don’t know what you are talking about as you’ve never played the game” line, to protect their place at the top table. Football writers and bloggers make no claims otherwise, but the idea that they have nothing to offer because they have never played professionally is as stupid as it is insulting. A recent sign of the establishment becoming rattled was Bolton Wanderers manager Owen Coyle pouring scorn on analysis of their playing style in a piece by Michael Cox of Zonal Marking.
Football writers and bloggers will never replace the football journalist, and whilst it is the dream of most of the amateur writers to carve some kind of living from their passion, most accept it is not going to happen. However, it may not be too long before some of those at the top of the game are appearing more frequently in the mainstream media as well as in the online world.
Imagine MOTD presented by Iain Macintosh with Gabriele Marcotti, Jeff Livingstone and Michael Cox as the pundits! It would be damn sight better than Lineker, Shearer, Lawrenson and Hansen that’s for sure.