Having a Pop at the Pundits

They get let off the hook week in week out. As the game of football has grown and more matches are broadcast live on a multitude of channels so standards have dropped.

No, I’m not talking about players who can’t score or defend or even move for that matter or referees who can’t tell a handball from an offside or a ball out of play. These days they do not escape as camera angles and technology and experts dissect every wrong move, every missed opportunity and every poor decision.

What about the experts though? Who is monitoring them? Why isn’t there a dubious pundit panel alongside the mysterious dubious goals one? Why is there no Global Head of Punditry, rigourously assessing the likes of Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Robbie Savage? (Although granted the latter may need a whole dubious committee of his own)

I don’t think it is a bold statement to suggest, indeed, categorically state that the state of British football punditry is at an all time low. Mark Lawrenson, in hair terms the Donald Trump of punditry, looks bored by his own presence in a studio. Michael Owen seems to have been bought the Complete Works of Colemanballs, digested every word and is determined to use each gaffe on BT Sport and Glenn Hoddle for all his media and ex-pro sycophants who lament his loss to the game and his tactical nous still conjures up the spirit of Eileen Drewery. A man who seems to amazingly impress all his fellow pundits with his “knowledge of the game”, “tactical acumen” and bewilder them as to “why there seems to be no room for him in today’s game” yet still to my clearly untrained ear talks absolute twaddle when he comes anywhere near a live microphone. You could say much the same for Harry Redknapp and his financially astute dog.

Here’s an example for you. BT Sport have the goal-fest that was Norwich v Liverpool the other week. Prior to kick off Michael Owen, Steve McManaman and Glenn Hoddle are perplexed by Jurgen Klopp’s decision to start with Robert Firmino up front as opposed to Christian Benteke. Firmino gets a hammering from the team and to a lesser extent Klopp for going with Firmino. The fact that the pundit’s preferred choice of Benteke has played a 90 minute version of footballing statues in recent outings counts for nothing as there is abject bewilderment that Firmino should get a look in ahead of the former Villa goal machine. Sure enough Firmino scores 2 goals and narrowly misses a hat-trick in a man-of -the-match performance for Liverpool.

Later on in the game with Liverpool 3-1 down, Klopp substitutes Jordan Ibe and brings on Adam Lallana. Glenn Hoddle is beside himself, his tactical know-how just cannot comprehend how “the lad” and the “really talented young player” can be hauled off being one of the only members of Liverpool’s squad who can “directly influence the game”. I personally was also beside myself thinking if Hoddle had been watching the same game as me. Ibe had beaten his opposing full-back early on in the game and then faded into obscurity, offering nothing offensively and failing to do any tracking back, constantly exposing Alberto Moreno. Hoddle had other ideas though but strangely went quiet when shortly after Klopp’s dodgy substitution Liverpool proceeded to quickly go 4-3 up. How much Glenn Hoddle could give still give to the game of football, if only he was given the opportunity!

This week, one Liverpool fan site has polled its readers and who came out as player of the month? Why, none other than Roberto Firmino. I’m guessing for all of Owen’s, McManaman’s and Hoddle’s bluster Christian Benteke wasn’t troubling the scorer (as -per) in that poll!

Now there may not be, at present, a dubious pundit panel, but there is a TV Anchor, in this case Jake Humphrey. Did he expose the pundits for their nightmare in Norwich?

No. Of course not and that’s the problem. Players and referees are pulled apart and their every action or lack of it exposed and criticised. There is no problem with that. It’s a professional game after all but when pundits get it wrong, particularly so spectacularly wrong, then the host should point it out and expose them for it. They are paid well too as is the host and it would sure make a change from the blase “bon-hommie” that exists currently. Match of the Day can be almost unwatchable as Gary Lineker chortles along with his pundit pals whilst the in-jokes keep coming. All Jake Humphrey had to say was, “So, Steve, Glenn and Michael. Robert Firmino man of the match and an inspired substitution from Jurgen Klopp. Not such a good day for you guys was it?”

Incidentally, what is it with Steve McManaman? He really does need a suitable haircut for his age. At this rate and if he ages badly he’s one step away from becoming Mick Hucknall.

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Ex-LFC Player Pundits – A Short Rant

Jurgen Klopp arrived in Liverpool with a fair amount of hype. There’s no doubting that the appointment of Klopp following the sacking of Brendan “David Brent” Rodgers was quite a coup for Liverpool F.C. He brings some much needed life to the club after the endless droning from Rodgers about “character” and “the group”. Now things are measured in terms of “this moment” and whether the football or decision making on the pitch is “cool” or not. Whatever Klopp brings to the party, things are certainly not going to be dull.

In his first press conference, the former Dortmund manager quipped about the British press, saying that he had heard a lot about them and that it was up to them to prove all that he had heard was wrong. The assembled football journalists that crowded into that press conference were charmed and Klopp probably bought himself some time with them in terms of getting things right at Anfield. However, there was one section of the football media that were not in attendance that day and seem ready to crank up the pressure on “the normal one” from the get go.

Step forward the ex-LFC player pundits.

There are usually warning signs that a Liverpool manager is about to be given his P45. Press conferences become a bit awkward, “people outside the club” with “agendas” are often spoken about and as the paranoia really begins to set in the former players in the press start getting blamed for the current incumbent’s inevitable fate. Houllier, Hodgson and Rodgers are prime examples of this belief that they had somehow become victims of these mysterious outside influences before finally biting the dust at Anfield. It is something I’ve never really bought into although I’ve found the behaviour of certain ex-LFC players now plying their trade with the likes of Sky and BT Sport somewhat sinister.

It’s almost as if the classic British media trick of building someone up only to take glee in knocking them back down has been triggered early in some of them. Maybe the clocks changing back to Greenwich Mean Time has confused the likes of Souness, Carragher and McManaman somewhat?

Following the weekend’s visit of Southampton in the Premier League, Souness and Carragher were up in arms and that was just at half-time. They complained about the shape, the balance of the side, nothing having changed since Klopp’s arrival and there being nothing to get excited about, particularly “for two Liverpool fans”. Now, of course, these guys are entitled and paid to have an opinion. Hold on a second though. This was Klopp’s third game in charge! He’s been in the job two weeks! Not only that he’s had a horrific injury list to contend with resulting in the only fully fit, available striker being the fourth choice Divock Origi. There may be talent lurking in there, but he’s fourth choice for a reason! This is also someone else’s team and an unbalanced squad full of forwards (if mainly on the treatment table), “number 10s” and lacking in wide players. It’s also a squad lacking in confidence following Brendan’s chopping and changing of formations and playing players out of position. It really didn’t matter who breezed into Liverpool the other week, this is something that’s going to take some time to put right.

Since Carragher turned pundit, he’s sadly become somewhat of a rent-a-gob for me, hamming up his comedy double act with his new best mate from Manchester, Gary Neville. As for Souness despite a stellar career as a player, this is a man who as a manager of Liverpool brought Julian Dicks to the club.

Outside of the cozy studio bonhomie of Sky, it was the earlier Europa League fixture against Rubin Kazin which sparked a pitch-side Steve McManaman to lose his cool. “They’d have been booed off if this was Rodgers”, he moaned before anguishing with words tossed around such as “poor”, “frustrating” and “not acceptable”. McManaman was a man close to bursting, his face bright red, looking if he was about to implode. What the former blind-alley merchant failed to recognise though was that this was game TWO! Klopp had barely had time to figure out who was going to post the next picture of him enjoying Liverpool’s nightlife and there stood Steve McManaman, badly in need of a haircut that suits his age, raging on the Anfield turf about how everything is just STILL so poor a full 180 minutes into Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool reign.

Klopp needs time at Liverpool and he’ll get it, just like Brendan Rodgers did before him. This isn’t Leeds United or Aston Villa we are talking about here where a manager’s life expectancy is shorter than that of a mayfly.

Personally, I couldn’t understand why McManaman was so upset. It’s not as if Klopp was holding the club to ransom, refusing to sign a contract extension before jetting off on a free transfer to Madrid now was it?

Best of Order…Please?

I was intrigued to read an article in the Edinburgh Evening News today about how the comedian Kevin Bridges had a night of his sell-out tour ruined by hecklers constantly, well, er… heckling during his performance at the Edinburgh Playhouse recently. The article’s author, Brian Ferguson, who was in attendance said, “Frankly, it was the worst-behaved audience I had witnessed in 25 years of attending events.” For those watching, solely to be entertained by Kevin’s latest stand-up tour (as well they might have not unreasonably expected), having forked out £30 for the privilege, it was probably a night to forget.

Things get worse when you realise this seems to have become a familiar problem for Kevin at other gigs; such as those in Derry, Arbroath and even, as can be seen via Trip Advisor of all things, Ludlow. (There were no such issues for “The Searchers” who performed at the same Ludlow Assembly Rooms venue with a “great atmosphere”.)

Is this just a problem for Kevin Bridges though? Perhaps the demographic he appeals to is that of a loudmouth, drunken, lout? It appears not! Brennan Reece was “throttled” in Northwich, police had to remove a man disrupting Celia Pacquola’s set in South Wales and Michael McIntyre had his show interrupted in Darlington by a woman who “kept using her phone”.

Trawling the internet there are thousands of instances of disrupting audience members. Of course, there have always been hecklers, but more recently there seems to have been a slip in what some people deem to be acceptable behaviour. Some of this is encouraged by venues who allow taking drinks into gigs as well as serving them beforehand and during the interval which leads to anything from people wandering in and out to go to the toilet during a performance to the kind of behaviour seen in Edinburgh. It’s almost as if some people seem to have forgotten basic manners and can’t actually distinguish what may or may not be just plain rude.

It’s a cultural shift which is not just affecting comedy gigs, but other areas of our lives too. Indeed, in some cases this shift has been encouraged and actively courted. Darts for example. The sport of darts was losing appeal, viewers and sponsors at a rapid rate during the late 80’s and early 90’s. Nowadays, it’s big business, largely thanks to the promotional skills of Barry Hearn. The Premier League of Darts sees the big arenas sold-out across the country to watch the likes of Phil “The Power” Taylor and “Mighty” Michael van Gerwen. The TV coverage has blossomed and there is no doubt that interest in the game has hit new heights.

dartscrowd

Yet, despite this, what has been done to the game of darts? Darts crowds have always shouted, cheered and if you like, heckled. It was controlled though. For the most part, common courtesy for the players dictated that all the jeering and shouting happened between the throw of the players and not when they were actually concentrating and throwing their darts. During throws there was a hush. A silence. A respect for the players. If the crowd overstepped the mark there was a phrase that the referee would use that would compel them to regain their senses and have respect for the two guys at the oche: “Thank you ladies and gentlemen. Best of order please! Game on!”

I love darts but I can hardly watch it now as an ignorant mass, barely watch the game, (in fairness there’s not much you can see in such a large venue, especially when you’re pissed!) dressed in their comedy fancy dress, with their hilarious home made placards, drinking, screaming, chanting and at times abusing players throughout the game. Quite often timing their collective wisdom of jeers and bully-boy booing directly when a player is throwing or about to throw. Yes, darts is popular and growing and has a massive appeal, making lots of money. Is it actually better off for it though in sporting terms? Not for me it isn’t. It’s sold itself down the river to the lowest common denominator and is contributing to a cultural dumbing down of what’s become acceptable. Sadly other sports also seem to be following darts’ lead. The word “sport” will soon be a misnomer, unless preceded by the word “blood” as any sense of “sporting” behaviour and respect dies a very ugly death.

Elsewhere, ITV’s X Factor has provided some of the most uncomfortable viewing seen on British television since Keith Chegwin stripped off in “Naked Jungle”. The “Six Chair Challenge” section of the auditions process has been just short of a scene from the Hunger Games. It has been brutal. Again, a hyped up crowd seemingly completely comfortable to take part in a collective blood-letting, screaming abuse at contestants for telly ratings.

Is it any wonder that in Great Britain in 2015 someone can feel completely comfortable, on a packed bus, to scream racist abuse at an elderly man with a walking frame or a woman on an equally crowded bus feels equally as comfortable racially abusing a pregnant woman?

You may sneer at the link I’ve suggested, just then, between comedy shows, sport, television and two criminal instances of racist abuse. The point I’m making though is that in our daily lives, the line about what we deem as acceptable through our popular cultural influences is being degraded. What was once rude, unsporting or vulgar is beginning to become almost normal. Check out social media. Facebook and Twitter regularly indicates what a growing minority deem as an acceptable way to engage with others. It’s often not very pretty.

More “out of order” than “best of order” you might say.

Britain Loves an Underdog… Sometimes.

The British love a sporting underdog. We revel in a “giant killing” in the F.A. Cup, unless it’s our team being slayed of course! We watched in our millions late into the night when Dennis Taylor, the plucky Irish funster, beat Steve Davis the boring, safe, winning machine in the last frame on the final black. More recently we cheered on Garbiñe Muguruza as she went toe-to-toe with Serena Williams in this years Wimbledon Ladies Final as she threatened to make an impossible come back from 5-1 down in the last set.

There’s an overwhelming feeling of the British sense of fair play when it comes to sport and we like to make heroes out of the unlikeliest people. Step forward Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards and any junior football team paraded annually in the local press for going a full season without winning a game and getting thrashed every week 62-0 but never giving up, tuning out every week and with the goalkeeper suffering repetitive strain injury from retrieving the ball from the back of the net so often week in, week out.

Strange then that this sense of fair play and supporting the underdog doesn’t seem to apply in other aspects of our country. London Underground workers staged a strike last week over Boris Johnson’s plans to introduce night trains. Whilst this may seem a good idea it’s somewhat of a vanity project for Boris and something he basically announced on the fly, without discussing with anyone about how it might work and probably more problematically how much it might cost.

Transport for London’s proposals to drivers terms and conditions for pulling off Boris’s night trains see drivers faced with rotas where the amounts of night shifts they face are totally set apart from any realistic work-life balance one might expect. Imagine if you suddenly faced the prospect of having to change your hours of work from the daytime to the middle of the night. Particularly, if you fancy spending time with your family when you’re not working. I’m guessing you wouldn’t be too impressed?

Surprising then the amount of vitriol against the tube workers from many in what seems to be a tale of the underdog, in this case the ordinary working tube driver, against the establishment figure and Bullingdon bully boy Boris Johnson. Ah! But look at how much they get paid and ooooh! Look at their holidays, those greedy tube drivers! Why do tube drivers get paid more than nurses? Greedy, overpaid, underworked tube drivers!!!

Strange how when we look at ordinary working people and what they are worth compared to other ordinary working people we seem to reason that X gets paid more than Y so X is totally underserving and should be only getting paid the same amount as Y. It’s the race to the bottom and the politics of envy.

The ordinary working people of Britain should be looking at the tube drivers and underground staff and lending them their full support against Boris and his tax avoiding top earning, Tory donating friends. We should applaud them too in that their perceived high wages and generous terms and conditions shouldn’t be a stick to beat them with but a model for us all to follow and fight for. The RMT Union is a strong one, perhaps the last of its kind. It shows just why all ordinary working people should join a union as a matter of course. Together, through a union, ordinary workers can be heard and have a strong powerful voice against poor working practices and the attempts by employers to treat their staff unfairly. Instead of envying tube staff, we should be using them as the model to springboard fairer wages and terms and conditions for all.

David Cameron wants to opt out of the European rules on employment rights. Those rights entitle you to fair hours, annual leave, sickness and maternity benefits, redress against unfair dismissal and so on. At a time when unions have been vilified by a right-wing media and membership is on the wane we now find ourselves in need of them more than ever as workers rights that we have all become accustomed to are under threat. London Underground workers should inspire us not anger us. Whilst austerity continues to bite, whilst the vulnerable are attacked, whilst the rich get richer and contribute the least to society as a whole and whilst the political classes merge into a faceless force for the few and not the many; let’s support Underground staff in their battle with Boris.

It’s actually a battle we all need them to win before they come after us next.