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Unless you're a football nerd, you probably missed it. The football world was almost certainly not watching in their millions as James Richardson presented BT Sport's Sunday Night Football, a live show which covers the action across the Italian, French and German leagues. Instead of solely relying on ex-players as pundits, they have made the bold move of getting writers and journalists on who actually know something and can talk. This shouldn't seem such a radical move in the world of televised football, but it is.
The programme is niche stuff, knows its audience and is most definitely not for the mainstream. You get all the action along with informed discussions of issues raised by them, interesting features, bits of history and profiles of managers and players. Its all kept rolling along by James Richardson's unique, witty, light but educated style.
So it was very disappointing that one of their best contributors and all-round Bavarian dude, Raphael Honigstein, was removed mid-show last night for making what I think a doctor would call a w*nking gesture towards the host at the opening of the show. Maybe he didn't realise he was on camera or on air. But after an ad break, serious apologies had to be made by AC Jimbo about BT not wanting this sort of thing blah blah (which we didn't believe) and yer man Honigstein was removed mid-show; sent home without any tea to think about what he had done, no doubt.
I expected better of BT Sport and of this show especially. The small coterie of acolytes who love it are all grown ups, Very grown up. We are not offended by such hand gestures. In fact, quite the reverse - we'd like to see more hand gestures in football discussion programmes, in fact we'd like to see anything that makes programmes funny and interesting. Its not like he took a poo on the desk.
This came a day after David Ginola had made the same gesture behind Jake Humphrey's in the pre-show before the Newcastle game, for which they said "BT Sport would like to apologise for any offence that was caused during this morning's/Saturday's broadcast," Yeah. How many do you think were offended? Some, I'm sure, but why do their feelings matter more than those of us who are not offended by such playful silliness. Most of us are far more offended by Tim Lovejoy's presence on the channel but did we get an apology? No.
But, to be serious, it raises important questions. Whose sensibilities are being protected here? Whose moral choices are being applied and why? If w*nking gestures offended you that much you would be so repulsed by the culture of football that you'd run a mile from it. This isn't Songs Of Praise. Football is full of rudeness, it is part of the culture of the game because its part of the culture of the people who watch it.
Yet it would seem this cannot be reflected in any way by football TV. You're not even allowed an occasional swear word even though you can hear the word 'p*ss' said on Radio 4 at 6.30pm. Indeed, Radio 4 broadcast a programme recently about the word 'f*ck' and used it dozens of times.
But as you see. I still have to asterisk out a letter in f*ck to protect your eyes. This is part of the same protectionist culture. You know what word I mean, you've said it in your head. The asterisk is utterly pointless precisely because it doesn't obscure the word being used or protect the sensitive from its presence. It's like a very small fig leaf put over a massive set of genitals. Still have to do it though.
On one level it doesn't matter at all because no meaning is lost by such censorship but it is part of this broader cultural media censorship standpoint. On any occasion someone lets a swear word slip, the hand-wringing apologies come out and everyone is forced to look mortified, as though a puppy has been eaten by a crazy man.
Are we supposed to be protecting the children? Well go to any school or watch any documentary about school life such as the excellent current Educating Yorkshire and you will notice that kids swear routinely already. Clearly they haven't learned it off sports TV. Honigstein ain't teaching them something they don't already know.
What such nannyish attitudes fail to understand is that we need better, more varied, more interesting articulation on sports TV. Allowing people to be rude or to swear is part of the rich tapestry of life. In the hands of interesting, intelligent and articulate people ( this is crucial) it doesn't represent a lack of vocabulary, it allows for a wider form of expression.
Defenders of the status quo would, on hearing this argument, automatically push it to an extreme and suggest that if we let people make w*nking gestures at each other or drop the f-bomb occasionally, it won't be long before everyone is naked and stuffing fruit up their arse while abusing nuns live on telly. They would tell us it would mean a fall in standards, as though content is nothing and the words used to express that content everything. They would favour boring, bland, inoffensive work over a really interesting discussion peppered with expletives.
Being able to use the full gamut of language on a TV programme about football need not lead to a situation where everyone is just chanting vulgarities at each other. Intelligent, interesting people don't do that but they do sometimes like to use a vulgar expletive or two.
When doing a radio show a while ago, the producer told me to 'keep the passion but make sure you don't swear.' Obviously, this wasn't that hard to do but frankly, the passion comes, in some part, with the words used. Neutering your vocabulary neuters the content.
This prissyness is made all the more galling when some of those invited into studios to talk football are so boring and utter nothing but meaningless platitudes, say-what-you-see obviousnesses and cliché. They offend our sensibilities with their bland rubbish far more than a rude gesture or a swear word would ever do. I doubt even those managers enforcing this media policy even believe in it. Yet everyone goes along with it in some sort of censorship hypnosis, unwilling the challenge the orthodoxy even while all other media is changing and allowing greater variety of expression.
A way round this would be to give a 'strong language from the start' platitude before the show. It's common place on TV but it seems football cannot be sullied by such adult behaviour. Not once, not at any time of the day or night, not ever.
So who is being protected by this censorship? And whomever that is, why are their sensibilities given priority over those of us who have no problem with it? Bunch of f*cking w*nkers.
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