At 10.35 on a Saturday evening, Arsenal, Chelsea and maybe Manchester United fans will be tuning into Gary Lineker’s Match of the Day, gleefully awaiting the highlights of their team’s latest storming win over an inferior team. At the end of the programme, as you Premier League fans switch off the TV, spare a thought for Football League fans across the land.
At 11.45, when the lower league Premiership teams have been duly castigated and we have bade goodnight to Gary and his merry men, on comes The Football League Show. We are greeted by a few round-the-worlds here and there, some peculiar flashing footballs and various snippets of Football League archive footage. Before you have had time to work out how Dean Windass still makes this opening sequence, we are welcomed by Manish Bhasin and a broody looking middle-aged gentleman with a receding hairline – introducing Steve Claridge.
The first part of the show is the featured game. This is essentially the only part of the show where you get to see the team line ups, more than 4 minutes of highlights, in-game commentary and the undivided attention of ‘expert’ pundit Steve Claridge. The featured games are usually an entertaining spectacle, mainly due to the people who commentate on them. These people are so passionate, that they could have me convinced that ‘battering one in’ is a recognised way of describing a 25 yard half-volley.
The natural strain of fatigue aside, after midnight, the show becomes a real slog. This ordeal is in no small part contributed to by the sheer number of games that are shown. With a staggering 72 teams in the Football League, it is hugely impressive that so many games are fitted into an hour and half slot – especially when considering last Saturday’s Match of the Day was the same duration for only 16 teams.
So what is the purpose of the Football League Show? Is it to show us match highlights and an analysis which you wouldn’t get anywhere else? ITV tried to achieve this with ‘Championship Goals’ in 2004 – counting the familiar voice of Clive Tyldesley among it’s cohort of match commentators. It’s title is perhaps misleading, as the programme also included League 1 and 2 highlights – but, with so many teams on show is it really possible to offer more than simply a goal highlights reel? The Football League Show offers analysis in between clips and some extended highlights, which would suggest that the BBC is trying to offer more than this. However, this approach isn’t working.
For a club to get more than just the goal highlights is a bonus, as for League 1 and 2 clubs, for all the teams to get the manager’s post-match interview is almost unheard of. Was it a penalty or wasn’t it? I am afraid you will never know if you only watch the Football League Show, as such trivial match events are often completely omitted from the highlights. Is this really the same programme that Richard Heaselgrave, chief commercial officer at the Football League, said provided ‘comprehensive coverage’?
A widely held criticism of the show is the quality of analysis. While I see the merits of employing someone who has played for most teams within the Football League, Steve Claridge is far from convincing as the ‘expert’. He is notorious for his state-the-obvious approach, with special mention going to his astute observation that, 13 goal striker Adam Le Fondre is in fact a ‘goal scorer’. Additionally, we must not forget his magnificent deduction that most managers want to ‘turn draws into wins’. Truly outstanding.
In fairness to Steve Claridge, he has an unenviable task. Whereas on Match of the Day there are always at least 3 former footballers on hand, Claridge alone has to provide analysis on countless many more games in the same amount of time. To give sound analysis on this amount of games, in such a short space of time, is a task that even the very best would fail at. We are instead doomed to an hour and half of comments such as: ‘not much you can do about that’ and ‘good finish’.
To give sound analysis on this amount of games, in such a short space of time, is a task that even the very best would fail at.
Why is it then that the Championship, the seventh richest and most viewed secondary league in Europe with an average attendance of 17,738, does not have its own programme? After all, to have a show dedicated to the Championship would allow more time for match analysis and not the rushed stuff we are accustomed to. If this were to happen, League 1 and League 2 could expect better coverage, currently the Championship takes up more than half of the show – and the indispensable insight of Steve Claridge.
The programme itself has been in a state of uncertainty over the past few years, most notably, when in 2012, the boxing day edition had to be dropped for ‘budgetary decisions’. The BBC’s current contract to show the Football League runs until 2015 and for a show that attracts roughly a million viewers every week, it is by no means an assured future. With fans being able to view more comprehensive highlights on the Sky Football website you really fear for future of the programme.
There is no denying that Manish Bhasin’s show is a valiant effort, one that gives all Football League fans another way of seeing matchday highlights. In spite of this, until the Championship has its own show and until there are more, quality pundits, it will forever remain just the show after Match of the Day.