The BBC axed the classified football results from Radio 5 Live’s Sports Report and two days later everybody suddenly realised and got real angry in a very British modern media sh*tstorm…
By now you will all have heard the news. The BBC has axed the reading of the classified football results.
You won’t have noticed on Saturday afternoon, of course, because nobody did. That hardly matters now, though. The Daily Mail and Telegraph have shouted about it, and a very modern media sh*tstorm is in full flow.
Firstly, let’s say this. It is a very stupid decision from the BBC. Yes, the addition of the 5.30pm live Premier League commentary has put time pressure on Sports Report, but losing one or two manager reactions to incorporate the full classified results is probably a price worth paying.
It is almost inevitable that this decision will be reversed, but only after an entirely avoidable own goal that has given all the BBC’s most disingenuous critics vast ammunition and the upcoming chance to feel smug about forcing a climbdown.
After that, of course, all these angry people can go back to not noticing whether the classified results are there.
That’s the thing the BBC didn’t realise with this decision. The BBC spends half its time being criticised by other media outlets for not doing more commercially viable stuff, and half its time being criticised for getting rid of niche stuff that nobody really notices but the existence of which provokes a nostalgic sense of comfort that must be protected at all costs.
It is actually a reasonably compelling argument for precisely what the BBC should be. The shipping forecast and the classified football results are the two most obvious such bits of Very British Content. There is no great need for them to exist, evidently very few people actually still rely on them, but it’s strangely reassuring to know they are still there. We might not listen to the classified results, but it is nice to know that out there in radioland someone with a pleasant voice is reading out the results from the Welsh Premier League.
It’s arguably even more worth its spot in the new shortened and thus utterly manic 30-minute Sports Report, given the alternative is another Premier League manager moaning about this or that.
But this row about an ancient broadcasting tradition has produced a very modern media backlash. It’s a perfect blend of nostalgia and fury. Again, it’s very, very British. With the obvious caveat that Twitter is not the real world (thank Christ), there were a grand total of five tweets about the absence of the classified results at 5pm on Saturday evening. Two days later, after it led the Mail’s Sports Agenda column and the Telegraph weighed in, there were hundreds of tweets complaining about this unspeakable act of cultural vandalism.
The Athletic report that the BBC had not received one single complaint about the classified results by Sunday morning; for reference, 33 complaints were logged about the new graphics on Final Score.
In the Telegraph, Jim White bemoaned the Beeb’s cowardice: ‘Quietly, surreptitiously, in the hope nobody noticed, the BBC’s classified football results have been axed. They are no more.’
Nobody did notice, Jim.
Henry Winter acknowledged on Twitter that he had listened to Saturday’s Sports Report. Yet it was only after the Mail and Telegraph stories that he engaged full Winterian mode to decry this knife through the hearts of all football fans.
I was listening on Saturday. I love listening to Mark Chapman because of his knowledge and humour but losing the results took away from the programme.
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) August 8, 2022
The reading of the classified football results on Sports Report has always been part of the Saturday match-day fabric for many fans. @5liveSport @bbc5live decision to scrap the service shows a lack of understanding of fans. It’s about continuity, the pyramid, information…
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) August 8, 2022
Funny how that ‘lack of understanding’ didn’t prompt a single tweet from the prolific Winter at the time, isn’t it?
The Daily Mail, meanwhile, had a Des Lynam EXCLUSIVE in which the Grandstand legend joined the growing chorus of criticism. Lynam’s words were heartfelt and echoed many, many others, but this line the Mail snuck in doesn’t quite reflect the reality.
‘(BBC) Bosses said the decision – made without notice – had been made to save on time, but it has immediately triggered outrage.’
It’s just simply not true. The outrage is real and perhaps even justified. But it was demonstrably not immediate. It took two days; you’d think the Mail would want to claim their place as the provokers of the outrage, but it seems that giving the BBC a kicking trumps even blowing their own trumpet in their list of priorities.
What we have here is a lot of old men shouting at clouds, railing at something that matters to them becoming obsolete. We are very sad to see the classified results go and would wholeheartedly welcome their return. But come on.
The results are in
Around midday yesterday, the inevitable opinion pieces started to drop. And they were all essentially identical.
In its way, this further highlights the enduring cultural, if no longer sporting importance of the classified results. The Athletic journalist Jack-Pitt Brooke summed this feeling up best, wondering aloud: ‘Do I miss the classified football results? Or do I just miss listening to them with my dad in the car when I was 10 years old. Hard to say!’
But while we don’t necessarily disagree with the general thrust of the assorted columns churned out over the last 24 hours, it’s still fun to note the key touchstones that turned all of these pieces into what are essentially nicely written box-ticking exercises.
The Sports Report theme music:
‘…the familiar jaunty bounce of Out of the Blue, Hubert Bath’s theme tune for Sports Report on BBC Radio 5 Live’ – Jim White, Telegraph.
‘…the jaunty chords of Hubert Bath’s Out of the Blue on the radio would signal the start of the BBC radio Sports Report” – The Times.
‘The Sports Report music dies down” – Daniel Storey, The i.
‘No sooner would you hear that oh-so-familiar instrumental music – dah, dah, de dah, dah, dah, de dah…” – Philip Buckingham, The Athletic.
‘For almost 75 years, the opening bars of Out Of The Blue, the robust theme tune for Sports Report, and the classified check has been a call to arms for generations of football supporters” – Mike Walters, Daily Mirror.
Sitting in the car:
‘…you always make sure you arrive in time to hear blurting out of the car radio…” – Jim White, Telegraph.
‘At 5pm every Saturday of the season, just as supporters were getting in their cars…’ – The Times.
‘You are sat in the car as a child…’ – Daniel Storey, The i.
‘And telling fans they can still keep in touch with results on the BBC website and Final Score on BBC One doesn’t cut it when you’re behind the wheel of a car, making your getaway from the scene of your team’s latest triumph or disaster’ -Mike Walters, Daily Mirror.
Guessing the away team’s score:
‘It has been like listening to poetry: the rhythm of it, the minor rise or fall of her voice giving aural hints to the result” – Jim White, Telegraph.
‘You play a game, with yourself or anyone else who will listen. You hear the home score and have two seconds to guess the away goals tally, clues offered by the iconic intonatio’ – Daniel Storey, The i.
‘There was a rhythm to the classified results, with a higher inflection always reserved for the winning side. The result – win, lose or draw – would become clear before the precise score had been revealed’ – Philip Buckingham, The Athletic.
‘His delivery was so lyrical that you knew if your team had won, drawn or lost before he had completed the scoreline’ – Mike Walters, Daily Mirror.
James Alexander Gordon and Charlotte Green:
‘Read first in the clipped tones of James Alexander Gordon, then later in the smooth-as-velvet hush of Charlotte Green’ – Jim White, Telegraph.
‘You hear the same words that you heard two weeks, two months and two years ago at roughly the exact same time: ‘The classified football results, (as ever) read by James Alexander Gordon” – Daniel Storey, The i.
‘John Webster was first, before the voice of James Alexander Gordon became synonymous with the classified results. Since 2013, the honour belonged to Charlotte Green, the former BBC Radio 4 news reader’ – Philip Buckingham, The Athletic.
‘The results, read by Charlotte Green since 2013, have been dropped… James Alexander Gordon, who died at the age of 78 in 2014 after reading the football results for 40 years, must be turning in his grave” – Mike Walters, Daily Mirror.
East Fife 4 Forfar 5:
‘Maybe, if you are lucky, this is also when you get to hear Green essaying Eric Morecambe’s favourite tongue-twister of a football score: East Fife 4 Forfar 5’ – Jim White, Telegraph.
‘The results even spawned a classic Eric Morecambe joke, when he came up with the tongue-twisting scoreline ‘East Fife 4, Forfar 5’. The teams had the last laugh when the result became reality in 2018′ – The Times.
‘Will you ever hear ‘Forfar 4, East Fife 5′? Of course you won’t: it’s an old Eric Morecambe joke anyway. Still, there’s always next weekend’ – Daniel Storey, The i.
‘Spare a thought, meanwhile, for the late comedian Eric Morecambe and his tongue-twister that will now never be fulfilled. ‘East Fife 5 Forfar 4,’ used to be Morecambe’s dream result and something he would repeat to Alexander Gordon. Forfar winning a penalty shootout against East Fife 5-4 in the Scottish Cup was as close as we would ever come in 2018′ – Philip Buckingham, The Athletic
‘The truth is, to axe it for so little palpable reason is cultural vandalism’ – Jim White, Telegraph.
‘There is change and then there is cultural barbarism; you’ll forgive the hyperbole when I say that this lands close to the latter’ – Daniel Storey, The i
‘For devoted listeners, this is cultural vandalism of the highest order’ – The Times.
‘Scrapping the classified football results on Radio 5 Live at 5pm on a Saturday is not just an act of brainless broadcast vandalism’ – Mike Walters, Daily Mirror
What’s the Storey?
As a final aside, a note of sympathy for our good friend Daniel Storey – whose piece is perhaps the most eloquent of all and the one we are most certain comes from an entirely good place – because he has been done in by the i headline writers.
Having acknowledged that there is hyperbole even in saying this ‘lands close’ to ‘cultural barbarism’, what does the headline then inevitably bark?
‘BBC axing the classified football results from Radio 5 Live is an act of cultural barbarism’
We really miss the days when it used to be us stitching him up like that.