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John Nicholson and Alan Tyers look at pundits and commentators and pin down what makes them good, what makes them bad, and what makes them ugly. This week, it's 5live's major football dude, Mark "Chappers" Chapman...
Like most blokes, it appears he picked a style when he was 21 and has basically stuck with it ever since, regardless of passing fashion trends. Certainly familiar with the inside of a Next and quite possibly a River Island. We imagine a day off work sees Chappers dressed as though for an Oasis gig in 1994. Finds outlandish tailoring entirely superfluous to the making of a happy life.
Haircut is straight out of the book marked "functional and unobtrusive".
Has a speaking style which embodies the unpretentious bluffness of lower-middle class Greater Manchester origins. Northern enough to sound honest and endearing but not so intensely Mancunian as to make you think he's about to try to sell you drugs, or that his use of the word 'pal' is a precursor to being knifed.
Being enthusiastic in equal measure about all aspects of football and indeed any other sport. The criticism of Robbie Savage's clothes.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Whether on TV or radio, the presenter's gig is to be a ubiquitous fella who conveys sufficient passion for the subject matter while not letting that dominate the guests who are (at least supposedly) the experts. Mark is especially good at this. Enough personality not to be a boring sod but not so much that it becomes all about him. It's a balance that seems to come naturally.
He's especially good doing 5live's Monday Night Club and his best work is, in our view, his radio work. The it's-like-Soccer-Saturday thing he does on the red button with Garth and Robbie or whoever is, through no fault of his own, a heinous affair. Indeed, Mark often looks bemused by events, as does any viewer who is not on strong medicine.
Seems a thoroughly likeable and decent chap. Projects an Everyman quality that suggests he is connected to everyday life rather than inhabiting the organic green tea media luvvy world. We like to imagine he looks at the more southern middle-class artsy elements at the BBC with a jaundiced, gimlet eye, cursing them quietly under his breath.
Weaknesses might be said to not be critical enough of the garbage some of his pundits fart out. But we think that'd be overly harsh. The politics of being a presenter is to be able to rub along with the constantly changing palette of pundits and players and managers. If you become known for giving people a right shafting, no-one would ever speak to you or come on the programme. We suspect Chappers is widely held in good regard because of an innate equanimity and a high guff tolerance.
Some have tried to point to his open support of Manchester United as a problem but we think he has never fallen into being overtly pro-United, nor the easier gig which would be to be overtly critical of them in order to counter-balance perceived bias. Though frankly, we wouldn't care if he broadcast with Manchester United underpants on his head while licking a picture of Bryan Robson. We don't really object to a bit of bias among football commentators and pundits, as long as it's not getting in the way of factual accuracy. After all, one is not obliged to agree with their view.
Tactical genius or tactics truck?
Clearly understands enough to hold his own with the pundits - often being far more articulate and quick-thinking than the ex-player grunt labour who turn up to scramble the English language. He's not required to create original analysis but we sense it wouldn't be too much of a problem. Clearly loves the game and has paid attention in class. Unlike most people we review, he has probably actually broadcast from inside a truck, tactics or otherwise.
Leg squeezer geezer?
See, a media dude like Mark is post-modern and aware. Whereas most of the football guests Mark has on would not even know what we mean by a Leg Squeezer Geezer, he most certainly would. As such we suspect if there was any manly joshing, he would do it in that post-modern spirit.
Too sensible to set fire to your Armani suit or get a Great Dane to ease its bowels into your baseball cap, nonetheless, a football presenter has to be a clubbable sort of man, able to dig the new breed and rub along with the old lags too. Quite where on the spectrum of Bantersaurusing Chappers (an innately Bantersaurus-style nickname) lies is hard to say because of his chameleon qualities. We suspect after eight pints of Stella he could be persuaded by the sillier boys to abscond with a traffic cone.
No noticeable talent in this area. Rightly so.
Why does he get gigs?
He's the BBC's idea of a working class person isn't he? As a Northerner (though half of this column has always been troubled by Manchester's self-identified status as northern as it has always seem a long way south to him) (and the other half of this column is simply incredulous that anyone could think Manchester wasn't ooop North) he probably qualifies as an honorary ethnic minority to the middle-class luvs in Broadcasting House.
We highly rate the Chappers. He doesn't patronize, he talks like a human, he does his research and he knows enough not to embarrass himself in any discussion. On top of that if he cocks things up - inevitable during live broadcasts - he'll have a laugh and joke about it. He doesn't force a style the way some presenters do. We've always enjoyed his work and think that he is absolutely one of the Beeb's best.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
See extracts from Alan's new book 'Tutenkhamen's Tracksuit: The History of Sport in 100ish Objects' here.
Check out John's new series of crime novels about life, death, sex and UEFA Cup football, here.