There's been far too many blogs and podcasts beating up on Match of the Day in the last few years that it feels like it would be wrong of me to join the chorus. However, I'm going to have to. It was a toss up between that and just going mad and ranting with a recursive impotence at the television every weekend. However, I am pretty good, so I have in fact managed to do both.
I'm not going to focus on some of the problems that other football correspondents and commentators have levelled at the BBC's venerable old football show. Yes, considering the advances in TV technology and social media, the football highlights show has started to feel a bit anachronistic, lumpen and omni-directional. But it does the job and it is, lest we forget, a television institution. We Brits like those. My problem is with the cast of characters.
Back in the day, all you needed to present a football show was a magnificently patterned terylene shirt, a desk with an oddly redundant telephone atop it. Brian Moore would tell us who was playing, then probably also be the commentator on the highlights before popping back to the studio and giving a succinct summary of events without editorialising. The reason that Match of the Day appears so dated is not that it fundamentally follows the same structure that football highlights programmes have always done, but that they felt the need to tart it up. Extra guests, prolonged tactical analysis and needless graphics packages when really all we need is the games and Jimmy Hill.
This blunderbuss of opinion and flapdoodle that BBC1 fires into my face every Saturday night and Sunday morning has left me resigned to the adoption of a number of coping mechanisms. Namely, I have turned it into a soap opera. Every single one of the regular cast are a character, all with their own problems, struggles and burdens. And like their EastEnders counterparts all cramming into the Queen Vic, they are not entirely always in control of whose company they will be in as their storylines develop. Sparks can and will fly.
Gary Lineker is the landlord. He's contractually obliged to be there every week, no matter how bad a seven days it has been or how odious that night's punters are. His strategy is to damn his enemies with faint praise and low-level jibes about their past, but mostly he just farts strangely odour-free platitudes and half-puns into the air where no-one in particular will hear them or care.
Alan Hansen is the most long-standing patron. His seniority means that few will cross him or even make a helpful suggestion about his skincare and moisturisation regime which would stop him from looking like a smoky bacon flavour tortoise. He remembers every single failure and mistake that all of his friends, colleagues and acquaintances have suffered (except for the number of times Alan Shearer kicked someone in the head, oddly) and this makes him a distinctly dangerous competitor.
Mark Lawrenson is the drunk old aunt propped up in the corner, leftover from a wake that took place some time around lunchtime. He's fed up with everything, wishing it could have been him that they had put in the ground but still happy enough to complain endlessly to anyone who will listen, until that great day finally comes. The fact that no-one is listening any more is of supreme disinterest to him as he just runs through his well worn sherry-scented monologue day in, day out.
New blood comes in the form of Lee Dixon and Alan Shearer. There's a little friction between them too, which is always exciting. Alan Shearer is basically Benny from Crossroads, a bungling but largely aimiable village idiot. It's impossible to get too upset by Alan Shearer unless you forget yourself and start to attach any credence to whatever he's spouting. But the sheer amount that he shovels out makes it more and more likely that this will happen, just due to the laws of probability. And this bothers Lee Dixon, who has probably the freshest ideas of the bunch but finds it hardest to get a word in edgewise. Force of personality, rather than intelligence of opinion, is what always prevails in this particular soap opera, which is what makes it so compelling.
That and the ever-present possibility that Alan Shearer might kick someone in the head.