Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Wright Stuff

With its relatively recent descent into chest-beating populism, the BBC has left itself fairly open to criticism over the last few years in terms of its football coverage. This reached something of a nadir at the 2006 World Cup when England were knocked out by Portugal, and any pretence of rational analysis went out of the window. Ian Wright, sitting glumly in the studio, almost completely lost for words, was the most potent symbol possible for the crushing contradiction between expectation and the reality of the England team's limitations. The news that he has been released by the BBC comes as no surprise to those of us that have been keeping a close eye on the BBC's descent into ITV-esque tabloid broadcasting.

You could learn about much as you need to about Wright from a telling interview with Jim Rosenthal for Channel Four's "100 Greatest World Cup Moments", which was broadcast on the eve of the 2002 World Cup. Rosenthal related a story about the match in St Etienne in 1998 in Argentina. He was watching the match when it became apparent that the ITV team was being targeted for extraordinary levels of abuse by the section of the Argentine support sitting immediately below them. When he turned around, he said, there was "Wrighty", with a flag draped around his shoulders, goading them for all he was worth. The story was relayed as a symbol of Wrights "passion" but, considering what the English supporters had been up to in Marseille a couple of weeks previously (turning the French efforts to be welcoming hosts to ruin by rioting on the beach during the England vs Tunisia match), it struck me as being the crass behaviour of the worst sort by someone that, ultimately, was in France to be paid to to a job.

Wright has not sought to blame the matter of his race on the issue, but that's not to say that there haven't been others to do so on his behalf, such as The Guardian's very white and middle class looking Martin Jacques, who effectively accused the BBC of being racist in getting rid of him. He chose to overlook Wright's glaring shortcomings as a football analyst in favour of one quote from Greg Dyke, made seven years ago (in which Dyke, recently appointed as the Director General, described the corporation as being "hideously white"). I don't recall the BBC being particularly racist at the time (though there have plenty of occasions in the past when even their football coverage has been), and their reaction to his outburst has been one of general bemusement. “He was a freelance who only wanted to do England matches. We have lost England matches, so his role does not exist at the moment”, a spokesman said.

It is possible that the BBC is feeling rattled by the almost total loss of live football from its schedule. They have lost the FA Cup and England's home international matches to ITV, leaving just 10 live matches from the Championship and the finals of major tournaments. Considering this, it was inevitable that they would have to trim down their football staff and, although the decision making process has been kept secret (and is more likely to do with allegations made by non-footballing programmes such as "Panorama"), it's just possible that the FA were unhappy with the way that they were showing matches. Clearly they are doing something wrong, or these tournaments would still be being shown by them.

It seems to me that the BBC have taken the decision to retire the court jester. Where Wright has woefully missed the mark is in suggesting that his removal is down to some sort of shirt and tie mafia within the BBC's football department. He seems to be so lacking in self-awareness that he doesn't even understand that football supporters tend to want incisive and articulate analysis - something which he normally appeared incapable of offering. I don't hold out too many hopes of the BBC's coverage improving dramatically in the future (and, with England's matches to be shown in ITV in the near future, the prognosis for increased levels of jingoism look bleak), but the replacement of Ian Wright and his "man in the pub" persona - and, personally, if I wanted the views of the "man in the pub", I'd go and watch football in the pub - is a step in the right direction for thoughtful analysis of football on the television. A small step, but a step nevertheless.


Anonymous said...

I've never quite understood why BBC and ITV have such low brow football coverage. Watch Liverpool in the Champions League and there'll be lots on Anfield having a "special atmosphere on nights like this", "Stevie G" and "Carra" being "Liverpool's heart and soul" and bollocks like that, while details like what formation the two teams are playing gets at best a cursory going over.

Then you think about C4's coverage of test cricket back when they had the rights and you got thoughtful analysis that didn't make you feel like a cretin. It's not impossible to do good coverage of sport.

Maybe it's a symptom of the current state of the game, it's an extension of the celebrity industry now, so they centre on personalities and their supposed traits that we all know about rather than the actual game itself. It's kind of a soap, but for men.

Lee (La Liga Review) said...

Good post.

And I have to agree with you that there is a dearth of decent analysis in British football broadcasting. Both the BBC and Sky have gone down the route of employing former pro's rather than journalists to cover the sport. However, I'm not so sure that the BBC has realised that people 'would prefer insight and analysis' to the rantings of the bloke down the pub - because as you say, getting rid of Wright is only one small step, and until they get rid of the inane gibberish spouted by 'Lawro', the mindnumbingly comatose Shearer and the pally former pros network - then there is little hope of anything approaching decent coverage.

Unlike you, I'm not so sure that the majority of people want anything else from their football coverage anyway - something I find too depressing for words. How many people read the Sun and the Mirror on a Monday as opposed to the Guardian and the Times?

Tote Football Pro said...

I thought he quit:

Ian Wright has quit his role as a BBC football pundit - and branded its coverage "run-of-the-mill" and old fashioned.

The ex-England and Arsenal striker - a regular on BBC One for several years - complained he was made to take the role of the "comedy jester".

Wright told Broadcast he thought viewers wanted football coverage to take a new approach. "Times are changing," he said. "I don't know how long young people are going to want to sit down and watch that same old 'jacket, shirt and tie' format.

"They want people who are dressed like them. They've got no one to relate to and that's why I've said to them I don't want to do the England games any more."

Wright will co-present the revived Gladiators series for Sky One from next month and has a show on radio station Talk Sport.

He added that he was unhappy with his role in the BBC's football coverage. "I feel like I'm just there as a comedy jester to break the ice with Alan Shearer and Alan Hansen who just do run-of-the-mill things," said Wright. "I can't do that anymore. People want something different."

"I was there as the jester" Really mate?! do you honestly think you're coherant and can analyse tactics? It was embarrasing listening to him going 'We need to get more balls in the box/We should be up for it' etc etc

Typical goalscorer. Put the ball in the net, dont be offside, move defenders around. What those blokes at the back and in the middle do he couldnt guess. Shearer isnt exactly the same but its there with him aswell.

When it comes to Hansen who led from the back and knew what everyone should be doing and had to organise at least 5 of the team, the two of them are made to look for decoration. You get the feeling Lawrensons the same but is more interested in being funny and making quips.

Dont get me started on Garth Crooks.....

Design by Dzelque Blogger Templates 2007-2008