Football Creep and the Dumbing Down of Media

Gerry Hassan

February 6th 2010

It has been an historic day across a range of huge political issues: the resolution of the Northern Ireland impasse between Sinn Fein and the DUP, the public shame of criminal charges against MPs and a peer, BAE Systems paying back millions after the kickbacks it paid for contracts, and of course, John Terry standing down as England captain.

On a day I spent the afternoon interviewing fellow blogger Tom Harris, Labour MP for Cathcart, in the Queen’s Park FC boardroom, I know that football matters. The boardroom in question, set in a collection of permanent portacabins opposite Hampden, is filled with history and triumphs from another era. Queen’s Park won a spectacular ten Scottish Cups – all in the 19th century – before professionalism kicked in and established the dominance of ‘the Old Firm’.

The room was filled with silverware large and small, and staring at a large impressive cup, hoping it to be the Scottish Cup, I was a little disappointed to find it was some local trophy. In a place of such emotions and memories, including a framed Rod Stewart Queen’s Park strip, I could tangibly feel the power and pull of football, yet the conformity and vice-like grip of the game on our imagination grows alarmingly by the day.

Newsnight’s Friday programme concentrated as its top two items on the parliamentary and BAE scandals, relegating the Northern Irish breakthrough to half a minute. Impressively, their third item was a ten minute or so exploration of John Terry’s resignation as English captain.

Worse still was the content of this item chaired by Gavin Esler with Gabriele Marcotti, who has written a biog of Fabio Capello, and Steve Claridge, a football pundit and coach. This laboured item didn’t concentrate on the numerous moral levels of Terry’s tale, from the sexual morals to issues of media prurience. This had been the line of direction of BBC Question Time the night before, with Melaine Philips taking the moral high ground, and a lot of the rest of the panel worrying about the acceleration of media intrusion into people’s lives. The nuances and wider issues from the case were all openly acknowledged.

Instead Esler and company used the story as an excuse for a long, creaking discussion about football, the mentality and motivations of footballers, leadership on the field, and England’s chances in the forthcoming World Cup. They just stopped short of discussing whether the switch of captain from Terry to Rio Ferdinand meant England should shift from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 formation on the pitch!

This was a lad’s fantasy item on a day filled with history and big news stories. Ten minutes on Newsnight talking about football. That seems like a Bobby Moore moment to me, remembering the time the England great died and the BBC Six O’Clock News spent its whole programme on him. That at least wasn’t on a day filled with such big stories as today.