Brian Barwick on Match of the Day at 50

Brian Barwick on Match of the Day at 50

coleman match of the dayI have lived more years than Match of the Day has been on television, writes Vernon Grant. For much of that time the programme was a must watch weekly event.

I came home from travelling to an away game, and sat down to watch highlights of the football action played that day. In the days when all matches were played when they should be, i.e. on a Saturday.

Names like Jimmy Hill, Bob Wilson and Des Lynam presented the show and analysis didn’t get in the way of the action. Commentators such as Barry Davies and John Motson were at the top of their craft. Not for them scripting in advance supposedly witty asides in the hope something would happen in the game that presented them with a chance to use their clever, seemingly off the cuff punch line (ITV’s Clive Tyldesley, I’m talking about you).

In more recent times, with the assistance of gadgets and gizmos, analysis has become an integral part of Match of the Day. As have ex footballers with monotone voices who say little of interest and are just there because they are being paid a big fat weekly cheque to turn up. The licence fee payer being the person paying the wages of complacent analysts such as Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer.

Hansen was good at his peak. Good at pointing out defensive mistakes to us viewers. That was a long time ago. He fell foul of that old enemy of regular contributors to television shows, he became lazy. He went through the motions.

The reasons he did the show included the chauffeur driven car, a chance to meet mates and, of course, the ridiculously high salary. All of which led to him joining former Liverpool colleague Mark Lawrenson at the heart of team complacent.

Hansen has gone. The supposed wit of ‘Lawro’ is being increasingly sidelined. Now we have the baritone boredom offered up by Rio Ferdinand. Phil Neville trying to do what he did for years on the pitch, namely be better than his brother. Forget it Phil. After that performance at the World Cup in Brazil you are lucky the BBC has stuck by you.
match of day generations
The best acquisition has been Danny Murphy. A tough, uncompromising footballer in his time, Murphy was the undoubted star of the BBC in Brazil and I hope he continues to deliver the goods on Match of the Day. Insight, clear co-commentary, upbeat delivery, humour and a willingness to correct others when he doesn’t agree with their point of view (rather than just say: “Yeah mate, that’s right, where are we playing golf tomorrow?”)

Murphy was fortunate to be working alongside the best commentator on the BBC these days, Guy Mowbray. While the one time flourishing career of his colleague Jonathan Pearce has gone backwards since the time I worked with him, Mowbray is the clear successor to sensible, accurate and intuitive commentary that was the strength of Motson and Davies.

Meanwhile, back in studio, team complacent will now be captained by the deadly dull Alan Shearer. A man who would make the end of the world sound boring.
He is rooted to his seat waiting for Gary Lineker to call it a day. I hope it is a lifelong wait.

Robbie Savage is there for the same reasons Sky Sports News opted for style over substance. Or tits over talent. Only he’s there to attract female viewers. He may not wish to accept that, preferring instead to believe he has been hired for his outspoken views. Only, as is the way in television these days, he’s far less outspoken than he was in his early broadcasting days. He is danger of becoming impaled on the fence. Of becoming bland like Messrs Shearer and Keown.

I couldn’t put it better than Jonathan Liew did in the Daily Telegraph: “Naturally, it is easy to get immoderately agitated over football pundits. But what makes Savage so objectionable is not so much what he is, as what he represents. A creeping inanity, a gathering storm of dimness, a consecration of the lamentable idea that being “opinionated” is somehow a virtue in itself.”

Well put. I don’t find Robbie Savage as objectionable as some and I always did like the way he came back at callers to 606 on 5 Live. Those spouting nonsense. But he has defended the indefensible on the pitch. He is far from alone in that regard.

Match of the Day has ceased to be must view television for me. Frankly, for some time now, I couldn’t care a jot if I missed Match of the Day. For I already miss what it once was. Not what it has become. Stale.

If plenty of goals are scored the day before, there was an exciting game or some controversial action, I may tune in for the repeat on Sunday morning, or via catch up TV. I will fast forward through the dreary, let’s not upset anyone in the game analysis.

‘Match of the Day 2’ was spawned courtesy of the game now being run by Sky Sports.
Adrian Chiles was a better presenter of that show at the BBC than he has ever been at ITV. He’s joined the full of himself eleven.
Colin Murray fast became the ‘Marmite’ of sports broadcasting. Dan Walker and Jake Humphrey came off that very long mannequin production line in TV. If you ever saw a Yul Brynner film called ‘Westworld’ then you will know what I mean. I can hardly tell the two apart. The same production line has many more women coming off it nowadays (usually blonde and carrying Dolly Parton like adornments).

But there are still bland, all purpose, he can present anything (and they usually can) type front of camera faces, of which Walker is the latest flavour of the month at the BBC (Watch out Dan. Today’s Magnum soon tastes like yesterday’s Strawberry Mivi).

Mark Chapman. The best on the BBC.

Mark Chapman. The best on the BBC.

On radio or TV, Mark Chapman is the very best football presenter on the BBC books. Sadly for him he never kicked a ball, jumped a hurdle or won an Olympic medal. Therefore, in the TV times in which we live, he will likely always play second fiddle to someone who never got booked for England.

Funny how so many young ones think that getting a media studies degree will help them get into or on TV.
In the final five years of my 25 in television production it appeared to me that being related to someone in football (niece, nephew, son, daughter or the mistress of a manager), or having once played the game, was far more likely to result in you working in TV. Although shagging the producer is still up there as a fast route to TV stardom (whatever the PC police may tell you).

Political correctness was unheard of in 1980 when Brian Barwick and I produced football on television. He worked with some of the greats, including David Coleman and Des Lynam. I with Martin Tyler, John Helm and Fred Dinenage, among others. Best we pass over the season when ITV thought asking Derek Dougan to present their version of Match of the Day would be a good idea. It wasn’t. Either a good idea or, for the record, my idea!
lineker match of the day
Barwick gave Gary Lineker the chance to sit in the hot seat on Match of the Day. A seat previously occupied by one of the finest sports broadcasters of my lifetime, the ultra professional Des Lynam.

Lineker is now very comfortable as host. It wasn’t always that way. When he took over I feared he would sink before he could swim. But Barwick taught him the tricks of the trade, helped him relax into the role and did that rare thing in television circles these days, he stayed loyal to his would be star.

The former England striker got better and better at presenting. No easy job, whatever you might think. Lineker makes it look easy. Perhaps it has become too easy.

I understand the production team have been told to breath new life into Match of the Day. I think a kiss of life is called for. A more upbeat presentation style. Inject some excitement into the show. That advice is aimed at the entire team, front and behind camera.
It is all very well being laid back when presenting and producing TV, but being awake and ensuring your viewers do not nod off is vital.

In the sixties Match of the Day was exciting. In 2014 it is just there. I hope the patient is woken from its self induced coma and gets back to being the must watch show it was when Law, Best, Charlton, Bell, Summerbee, Lee, Greaves, Osgood, Moore, Hurst and Peters and many more true stars of the 1960’s were plying their trade.

Any television programme surviving so long is something to celebrate (with the exception of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’).
So happy birthday Match of the Day!

When you began on air I was spending my pocket money helping Manfred Mann reach No.1 in the charts with ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy.’
The song is as old as you. As old as a joke told by Mark Lawrenson. Like the Match of the Day theme tune, it still has me tapping my foot.

As it does the man who was for so long Editor of the programme. Here is my twelve minute interview with Brian Barwick, recorded in Liverpool in November 2013 and published for the first time here.

2 Comments

  1. Dave 5 years ago

    Funny you mention Derek Dougan’s season at YTV. What inspired the choice? At the age of eleven, I could barely understand his links. A very odd choice for the marquee Saturday evening programme.

    • Author
      Vern 5 years ago

      Dave, If only I could remember how Dougan was chosen. I expect it was our director Geoff Hall who came up with the idea (he was pissed more often than he was not!) Which would explain it. To see DD going through the agonies he went through each Saturday night before we went on air was painful to watch. Have to remember that, back then, to ask a former player to be a TV presenter was very rare and he will not have had the luxury of being sent on some course to learn how to do it. He was thrown in at the deep end and, most weeks, sank. The sweat was dripping off him. It was indeed a very odd choice by YTV. It’s not as though he had local links when he was a playing. On the plus side, for him at least, he did kop off with our Production Assistant and she always told me he had no trouble going into extra time each and every week! Vernon

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