Thursday, September 04, 2014

Match of the Had Its Day?

Take away twats like Alan Sugar and Piers Morgan and Match of the Day at 50 was a decent reminisci-package, good on the its history, development, rivalry with The Big Match, etc. We will all have our favourite moments - not necessarily dictated by our team winning and the match getting a good showing - but as a general pastime there is little I like better than being with a few mates and watching a football highlights package of which MOTD is the most famous. These days, when opportunities to go out are restricted by family life, Match of the Day often is my Saturday night (and the Football League Show, as much as fatigue allows). And having it on late at night is far better than ITV’s experiment with a 7pm showing, which failed venture the programme reminded me about.

We all have our rituals round it whether based on sober analysis (better analysis than the ex-pros), interacting with others on social media about worthy phenomena or boozed up ranting at the teams we hate or the mistakes one of ours made. There is still way too much analysis and not enough highlights, but the programme deserved its half-century appraisal. And Lineker, when avoiding the cheap gags, seems a pretty competent anchor to take the programme forward.

What jarred with me was one of the key features of the show – Aguero and that goal on 93m20s, 13 May 2012 – because in reality it shows the waning cultural influence a programme like Match of the Day has over a major football event. So they showed Kun talking his way through it, and Guy Mowbray’s reflection on his commentary that day. But that is not how we generally remember it – we remember the Sky Sports commentary by Martin Tyler. Such a biased commentator, the strangulated Aguerrrooooo is part anguish because one of his favoured top teams were deprived the title, but it is the key aural component of that moment.

That’s not just because Sky had live coverage of the game, it’s because his voiceover is generally what’s on the clips peppered round YouTube. This may be a reflection of Tyler coming up with the memorable phrases - #drinkitin and #youwillneverseeanythinglikethiseveragain - but is more likely to do with the sway Sky Sports has over the nation; people think of them first. Even an acknowledged cretin like Paul Merson delivered something to stick in the memory with his ‘lovebites and everything’ line. Indeed, SlySpores not only has the live games market locked down, but there are many football watchers who get their highlights kick from Sky’s own highlights package, which is not only broadcast earlier but gives viewers the chance to select their own running order (and from what I can gather does more thorough highlights). To these people, MOTD is an afterthought and Sky’s football branding easily outweighs BBC’s.

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After the last-gasp strike, we remember the ephemera around the event, so the role of the game itself – the key cultural affect of a programme like Match of the Day - is watered down by tribute videos. Many of these come not just from the club or major media providers, but by the fans themselves. I can remember the 80-year-old Blue savouring the moment outside the ground, the kids going mad in their house and running into the street, the reactions in pubs from East Manchester to Baltimore and of course the correlate of those United fans and players at Sunderland receiving the news, the Toure song (which in itself became a meme for students to post of their revels up and down the land).

Lastly, for those of us who were there, ‘Typical City’ having reduced us to nervous, gibbering wrecks as per the stereotype, what we remember much less is the incident itself as we saw it in the stadium, sans filters. The sheer derangement that followed would have immediately had some displacing influence, but watching and re-watching all those highlights and tributes all week after induced an uncanny reverie, a nostalgia for being there even though it now felt I really wasn’t and was just another laptop football punter. What I’d give to restore my view from Block 131 of that moment. Desirable, but impossible.

All this makes the influence of a televised highlights programme quite a bit reduced in conveying the effect of those on-pitch incidents we talk about, that sustain us in our love of the game. And Match of the Day could go quite a bit further than the standard iPlayer rerun in peddling its brand – clips to mobiles like the papers are doing, for example.

Nowadays with the content ubiquitous over several platforms despite efforts to crack down, we should not confuse the importance of a medium like Match of the Day as the frame for the event, but know that a frame of some form will play a role.

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