Don't We Deserve Better Football TV?

Our boys are dispirited as they look at the TV schedules and see some BBC3 nonsense, Soccer Aid and Panorama's programme about doing a racism. It's dire stuff...

Last Updated: 24/05/12 at 16:39 Post Comment

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When we were growing up - and especially when the older one of us was growing up - football was in the strange position of being at once extremely popular and also something of a fringe activity. The establishment, by which we mean not just the government but the press and the BBC, adjudged football-supporting to be a pastime of thugs, oiks, drunks, peasants and right-wing nutters.

Nowadays, football is a vast beast that generates bazillions in TV money and sells such newspapers as are still purchased, as well as being the go-to campaign for any advertiser, charity, social initiative or bandwagon-jumping politico. Want to sell more sausages in Tesco? England flag, advert with some cheering. Got some kids who can't read too good or keep stabbing each other? Partner with 'urban' footballers. Need a photo opp with foreign leaders? Congratulations, you're suddenly a Chelsea fan. Football has become a very useful idiot.

Given the huge numbers of people who like football and the sheer bloody volume of it, you'd imagine that there would be a lot of TV programmes about it. It strikes us that there are strangely few: we get the occasional poor-man's Panorama about drugs or sexism or racism in football, but very often we find ourselves unimpressed by the offerings. Most football documentaries seem to be very thin, insubstantial things, skirting over the surface of the issues, at times patronising.

One explanation might be that we know a lot about football, and if we knew a lot about other subject, we'd find the factual programming on it sketchy as well. But that's not true when there excellent niche programmes on television about climbing the Eiger, seventies Southern rock music, the making of The Doors' wonderful LA Woman album, hour-long appreciations of arts and craft furniture, and a four-part series on how to cook a meal for 100 soldiers using only burnt hay, grasshoppers and the sweat from a virgin's thighs - we may have made that last one up.

What we're saying here is the concept of intelligent niche TV programmes has reached most corners of our culture but seems persistently elusive when it comes to football. The only fare we get tends to be the BBC3 offering we witnessed at the weekend called England's Worst Ever Team or some such hokum. Cue opportunity for well-worn recycling of clips of England players kicking penalties over the bar with a 'fun' soundtrack. It's all a bit dispiritingly unpleasant and not the entertainment it is obviously designed to be. But regardless, this is the typical type of football programming which tends to tell you little you didn't already know, and usually winds you up while it does.

Surely the more likely explanation is that the people who commission programmes about football think that you - you sir! You in the blue shirt! - are an idiot, a greedy, mouth-breathing dullard who will suck up any old shit as long as it's about this thing you call 'footy'.

Anyway, yeah, that Tim Lovejoy's got a new programme coming out, How To Be England Manager (Wed, 10pm, BBC3). We'll get to that next week if we don't decide to go and live in a cave and call ourselves Catweazle, which we may well do unless you treat us nice...

Also coming up is Soccer Aid (Sun, 6pm, ITV1), in which Robbie Williams and some celeb mates do a lot of good work for charidee. Charity makes us uncomfortable. Why can't everyone just give money on the quiet? Who is demanding people off the telly play football, run through the streets dressed as a penguin or swim through a river of baked beans while playing the bagpipes? If you want to give money, why not just give it without asking anyone to do anything? Is that so wrong? Surely it'd be easier all around and then we can all get on living in our unequal, unfair existences...or are these events more about making the participants feel good about themselves while raising their profile?

Completing an unusually bumper week ahead for football, there's a Panorama about the aul racism, as they say on Craggy Island. Euro 2012: Stadiums Of Hate (Mon, 8.30pm, BBC1) is about those nasty Polish and Ukrainian football fans and their doing of a racism in football stadia.

Will it be a study of the politics of ethnicity in former Soviet bloc nations and an analysis of the roots of racism in economic deprivation? Probably not. Will it include film of monkey noise-makers, banana throwing and pictures of John Terry? Probably. After all, this is the team that thought door-stepping 76 year old Engelbert Humperdinck to challenge him about the politics of Eurovision Song Contest holders Azerbaijan was appropriate and worthy investigative TV. Maybe they're better off sticking to the footy footy footy slurry after all.

John Nicholson and Alan Tyers

Read John's book, 'The Meat Fix', by buying it here.

Alan's book is called 'Gin And Juice: The Victorian Guide To Parenting' and you can check it out here.

Follow Alan on Twitter here or Johnny here.

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