Thanks Gary

Richard Keeling has a look at the biggest story of the day.

For far too many years we have had to sit up till almost midnight to see the highlights of the Villa’s game on Match of the Day, while the pundits rabbit on interminably about everybody else. Following Gary Lineker’s suspension and the walk-out in sympathy by his colleagues, I have just watched the highlights of Villa’s game at West Ham, which lasted about four minutes, and I could have been in bed by 11pm should I have so wished. MotD was shorn of commentary and punditry, covered four matches and the programme was over in hardly more than fifteen minutes.

When the story broke about Lineker’s tweet on the subject of government immigration policy I thought what an idiot he was. He knows that BBC staff are supposed to be very careful about their social media postings and he also knows that Beeb-bashing is a favourite sport among most of the media, so he was being very disloyal to his employers.

While some of us may agree with his tweet, we would most likely make our opinions known only to friends and family or to acquaintances in the pub. In any case, dealing with a constant stream of refugees who are determined to get here any way they can is not an easy problem to deal with. Perhaps Gary should be offered a stint in the Home Office where solving the immigration problem will take a lot more than a tweet or two.

I was also rather mystified as to why he should have chosen to go public with an opinion that he must have known would be controversial, not least because it criticised government policy. Yes, we are all entitled to our opinions, but if you are a well known public figure you are going to get more scrutiny than most. What is more, Gary Lineker has achieved his elevation from prolific striker thirty years or so ago to highly paid and respected sports reporter by being very careful about his public image.

Possibly he had had a few drinks when he made the tweet, I thought. After all, social media offer the opportunity to every pub bore to present his views to the world at the push of a button. Another possibility is that, at the age of 62, Gary can see retirement looming and decided that he could afford to take a risk. If news reports are correct, he must be a wealthy man, despite his two divorces. If the BBC fire him he should in any case be highly employable elsewhere in broadcasting.

The first Match of the Day without pundits apparently attracted over two million more viewers than usual. It would be easy to suggest that all the punditry has been keeping people away, but it is far more likely that people decided to switch on out of curiosity. Mind you, I suspect a lot of viewers might have preferred the new format, for its novelty value at least. I sometimes watch football with the sound muted because commentaries so often add so little. On Sunday evenings, in particular, MotD2 sometimes has only a couple of matches to be covered in the best part of an hour and the programme’s editors have to come up with ingenious ways to waste time.

One of the favourite devices for padding out a programme is the montage. This involves a delve into the archives to find a load of clips which can be strung together and accompanied by silly music. The clips may have some interest to a few viewers but, being old and grumpy, a montage is a cue for me to switch off and go to bed because the programme’s producers and editors are taking the piss. Unless the Villa are on, of course.

Another form of padding is punditry and the Match of the Day people predictably seem to think the personalities are more important than the football. I don’t mind Lineker and his co-presenters having a bit of banter but I wonder if the likes of Shearer, Murphy and Jenas really add much to the viewing experience. They all seem to have an air of self-importance and anyone who starts a sentence with “Look”, like Jenas regularly does, is in severe danger of being branded a twat. Steve Gerrard did it a lot when he was with us, so I rest my case.

Of course, the pundit who we all love to see having a good laugh with the lads is Micah. Fortunately his fellow pundits are too polite to mention his captaincy of Villa during our ghastly relegation season a few years ago and his couple of years with our bomb squad after that until his contract ran out. I think we can just about cope without his punditry, though I expect Gary and the rest of them will be back once the Daily Mail and the other muck stirrers allow the dust to settle.

There were three other matches beside the Villa’s game at West Ham and, to be honest, I think a bit more football from each game wouldn’t have gone amiss. Possibly the Premier League has made stipulations about how much of the match can be shown without punditry. If corporate greed were to trump the interests of everyone else it would hardly be a surprise after thirty years of the Premier League. However, I certainly didn’t miss seeing the players come out or the managers greeting each other. I would have liked a longer look at the penalty incident in Villa’s game, though, and also the moment when Buendia went down in suspicious circumstances in the West Ham penalty area.

Still, there was enough action to get a flavour of the match. The people who must really be delighted with the lack of pundits, though, are the match officials. Some of the pontificating from Shearer et al about questionable decision making is in my opinion way over the top. I sometimes wonder why anybody volunteers to be a match official.

This weekend will probably turn out just to be a blip and I expect we will soon be back to commentary and punditry as normal. After all, there are too many people whose livelihoods depend on it. It has been a real breath of fresh air, for me at least, to enjoy a quick run-through of the highlights then get to bed at a sensible hour. Thanks Gary.