Football fans come in all shapes and sizes, and certainly many shades of opinion about the game and its environs. Forget even club affiliations for a moment. Some prefer the mile-a-minute thud and blunder of ‘route one’ whilst others may swoon at the intricate geometry of the tiki-taka possession game that bores opponents into conceding goals. Some think standing is the authentic way of watching live football, in all weathers with cold tea and Bovril so hot it would strip paint. Others however want the apparent luxury of sitting in a seat with legroom so restricted it would shame the lowest of low-cost airline cabins.
Such examples demonstrate the broad church of opinion that constitute the football community. In my experience however, there’s probably one thing that unites opinion almost without exception. Put in simple terms, it’s that ITV should not be allowed to anywhere near domestic football action – live or highlights. Having them broadcast England games is bad enough, but news that they are likely to bid for the highlights package from the Premier League next year – BBC’s Match of the Day is the current incumbent – causes concern and trepidation throughout football fandom.
Does anyone remember the last time such a thing happened? Back in the twilight years of 2001 to 2004, BBC let the contract slip through their publicly-financed fingers, and ITV ran away with the contract, laughing all the way to schedule meetings. Des Lynam sat in a chair smugly and self-satisfied to smooth his way through the anchor role with a smile that melted many a housewife’s heart, and U2 replaced the traditional opening.
Andy Townsend also appeared, complete with his buttock-clenchingly embarrassing Tactics Truck. After seeing the somewhat ordinary-talented Townsend attempt to explain to current Premiership players just how they had got it wrong, was only made bearable by the thought that one of them just might land one on his chin, for his cheek. ‘For me, Andy, you couldn’t have an argument.’ I guess Townsend would have been perfectly entitled to go down. After all, there would have been contact.
Now, the spectre is back. With BT having elbowed ITV out of Champions League coverage when they blasted their way into the football game, the commercial channel is a bit flush with the money previously lavished on sending Townsend, Clive Tyldesley and Adrian Chiles on a jolly jaunt around Europe. Reports are that they’re preparing a ‘blow them out of the water’ bid to take the domestic highlights contract back from the BBC as some small measure of consolation.
Over on the Beeb, as Match of the Day celebrates its fiftieth year, there will be at least the beginnings of a few small rumblings of fear. Whilst ITV have a bit of brass to spare, Auntie is less well endowed. If it comes to a bidding war, the odds are that Lineker, Shearer et al, will be more likely to be watching ‘X Factor’ or ‘Strictly Come Dancing” on a Saturday evening, than analysing the fine tactical nuances of the Premier League. Who knows, perhaps one of the experts may even be tempted to follow Robbie Savage’s path into the ballroom, or perhaps the jungle as alternative employment. Either way, the game could be up for the likes of veteran sheepskin coat wearers such as John Motson, who “believes Match of the Day is still an important medium for football news, with viewing figures between four and five million.”
There are of course another couple of possibilities. Firstly, BT could decide to flex its financial muscles a little further and throw their hat into the ring for the Saturday highlights slot. The telecoms company certainly have the wherewithal to get into a big money slugfest with ITV and if they believe having a surrogate Match of the Day in their stable will help them to sell a few more broadband packages, it could happen.
Alternatively, the Premier League could decide that the old show is just too much of a British institution to let it slip away, and award the contract to the BBC regardless of the value of the bid, not only for sentimental reasons, but also as it would offer the best viewing figures. It’s possible, but hardly likely. Nostalgia is very much a thing of the past, and the value of an odd extra pound or two is nowhere more recognised than in the top end of English football.
So there you have it. Enjoy Match of the Day while you can. It may not have long left on our screens. If ITV secure the deal this time, they may not let it go again so easily. Perhaps the channel will have learnt from their mistakes last time around and put on a better show this time. The famous tones of the BBC’s theme may soon be consigned to the cutting room floor, but unless ITV get it right, the new theme certainly won’t be heralding ‘a beautiful day.’
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for ‘theaspirer’ website).