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That burger house brawler Joey Barton appeared on French TV this week talking in an accent that, while not exactly Peter Sellers in 'The Pink Panther', would not have been out of place in a slightly racist 1970s comedy.
The ridicule that was heaped on him for this - and we even heard a Guardian journalist on 'The Today' programme sneering at it - was a little unfair. After all, we're rightly snooty about the insular, xenophobic British footballers who won't kick a ball for a club not on these isles. But here is a man who is doing just that (admittedly for reasons of exile) and people are queuing up to berate him for trying to make himself, however clumsily, more intelligible to the locals by moderating his Scouseness.
Incidentally, we wonder how much the opprobrium heaped upon him is class-based. We are not so precious as to deny that a man sounding like a bad out-take from 'Allo Allo' is funny. But if he had been a middle-class sportsman - Andy Murray or Chris Hoy, say - would his attempts have been seen as accommodating if misguided, rather than evidence of what a thick yob he is?
The Barton has committed many crimes against football and indeed humanity, but he does give good camera. When asked a question he does try and answer without resorting to a stream of clichés and utterly obvious statements, i.e. the default football interview. It might be pretentious and self-reverential and owe much of its content to cod-psychology but give us this every day over Jonjo Shelvey talking about his hilarious bantz.
Phrase such as "the lads", "the boss", "good banter" and "building on that" are about as erudite as we'd normally expect. Indeed, it's a wonder that TV still so readily goes to interview footballers when they deliver so little.
Players are clearly under instructions to not give much away about almost anything. Couple this with the fact that they're not exactly sure what they know anyway. And then roll in the club's media advisor's last minute lecture about not swearing on TV or generally setting a bad example to the hypnotized children of the nation who are looking to a barely educated man in grubby sports gear for a reason not to inject crack in their eyes and take up a life of prostitution, and you can see why they utterly freeze up.
The more naturally conversational and erudite players also have the burden of not wanting to appear to their team mates as some kind of intellectual snob because they know words with three syllables, so there's a tendency to dumb down to the lowest common denominator anyway.
As top level football becomes more an extension of corporate mind-wipe culture than a mere sport, toeing the party line becomes not just polite or good politics but, we suspect, actually built into players contracts. It's a wonder that they are not issue with a big laminated card with officially approved words and phrases to be used in officially approved interviews from which to read.
"Do you think that was penalty Kevin?"
"I refer you to point 23 of the official West Ham bible of interview barfs."
We do wonder why disagreement or alternative views are so frowned upon so much of the time. If a player thinks the team does better in a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 should he not be able to do so without having the wrath of them manager of club hierarchy visited upon him? Only in an infantile world does an alternative view equal disloyalty.
An interesting exception to these rules of uniformity was Micah Richards after City's 3-1 defeat by Ajax, in which the player criticised Mancini's formation and tactics. Perfectly legitimately, we might add. This immediately had newspapers very excited, precisely because post-match interviews are normally worthless and dull. Quite legitimately, the conflicting views of manager and player were reported, but the unfortunate side effect is that football people are then that bit less likely to say anything interesting or unguarded the next time around.
When a player does say anything at all which resembles the sort of comment a vaguely sentient human adult might make, the TV commentariat will fawn at him dreadful saying he was 'so honest' ,'comes across very well', 'speaks a lot of sense' and any other number of clichés. Like when Joe Hart made his understandably dejected post-match comments after losing to Real Madrid. He was immediately lauded to the hills precisely because no-one ever says anything which feels like the kind of honest human comment that the viewer might also make in such a situation. That shows you how far from reality we have got with footballer interviews. Plastic is so routinely passed off as organic.
But to be fair to the players, Brian, the post-match scenario as Geoff thrusts a microphone at you is never going to be the perfect time to say anything of worth. Your body has been running flat out for an hour and a half, you're exhausted and dehydrated so how much sense would anyone make? One is hardly going to be Woody Allen in Manhattan in such circumstances. The real question is why after all these years, TV still thinks we want to see a player standing there trying to wipe snot out of his nose or, more hilarious still, having to give a bottle of champagne to an alcoholic.
The more considered interviews held outside of the match day environment is where we get the best of players and it's not all dodgy alpha male banter. We know people such as Clark Carlisle and Danny Murphy are liable to talk like grown-ups. Maybe it is time to dispense with the post-match chats for once and for all. Or replace them with a short general knowledge quiz which would be entertaining for viewers and also educational for the footballer
"Well played, Jermaine. You can have this Man of the Match Award if you can name three albums by The Beatles."
"Erm, obviously Geoff at the end of the day that could be Abbey Road, Rubber Soul and erm was it Concrete Roots?"
"Nearly right Jermaine but that was Dr Dre's debut album. Close but no cigar, I'm afraid."
"Obviously, I've had a bit of 'mare there Geoff but the Gaffer will hope we can build on our Dre discography knowledge next week."
Surely better than trying to ask them anything about the actual match, no?
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
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