Why We Deserve Better Than Alan Green
The BBC’s veteran radio commentator Alan Green has been at it again, this time insisting on Graham Taylor’s removal as co-commentator for the recent England vs Croatia match. Mark Murphy wonders aloud whether it is time to put Green out to pasture.
BBC Radio Five Live’s Alan Green has been at it again, having a spat with a fellow co-commentator and demanding his removal. While the BBC has been at it again, acceding to Green’s every wish. Why? This piece is unlikely to win any awards for originality. Articles about Alan Green’s favourite football commentator appear tend to turn up with the regularity of London buses. His supporters praise his ‘special’ talents, one of which is his ability to start an argument in an otherwise empty room, another of which is is to have more words written about him than he says himself, some achievement for a man who makes a living talking for chunks of twenty two & a half minutes plus stoppage time in one go, but amongst all the verbiage he inspires, only rarely does the telling phrase appear: “Alan Green is not a very good radio football commentator” .
His latest spat came during the otherwise non-event of a Slovenia friendly. He said something along the lines of participants in the Mexican wave “should be shot” – a bit extreme and, for a national radio commentator, a bit of a stupid thing to say. Colleague Graham Taylor said, in a jocular fashion (and possibly inadvertently echoing the thoughts of a good proportion of his listeners), “You do say some stupid things sometimes, Alan”. It was reported that Green warned Taylor, off-air (something along the lines of “Don’t call me, stupid.”) and, for the altogether more important match against Croatia, listeners ended up with Chris Waddle as the co-commentator.
But why demote Taylor? Why, every time Alan Green says “jump” does the BBC ask “how high”? This is far from the first time Green has been indulged by his nominal bosses. In 2004, Green was censured by the media watchdog Ofcom for a crude racial stereotyping of Manchester United’s Eric Djemba-Djemba which the BBC labelled “irreverent banter” while highlighting Green as a “campaigning anti-racist”. This comment may have surprised those who heard Green utter the immortal words: “Number 17 – that’ll be the Chicken Chow Mein, then” in reference to Chinese defender Sun Jihai” only a few months previously.
It was crude regional stereotyping next up, when he pondered aloud if film star Sylvester Stallone would have bricks instead of wheels on the limousine he had parked outside Goodison Park while he watched Everton play Reading a couple of seasons ago. At a stretch – and we’re possibly being kinder to Green than he deserves here – we could put criticism of these comments down to over-sensitivity or a manifestation of some anti-Green agenda. After all, the bricks instead of wheels gag appeared on “Have I Got News For You” soon afterwards without attracting anything like such opprobrium.
The match between Everton and Reading contained a prime example of Green’s downright unprofessionalism. After a lifeless first quarter to the game, Green took the microphone and said: “Got any paint?” before taking nearly two minutes to set up the obvious “I’d rather watch it dry” gag. In itself, little more than irritating, except that Reading went one-up in the meantime, and we had to rely on the summariser to describe Joleon Lescott’s inadvertent contribution to Reading’s cause. Similar scenarios seem to play out quite a lot when Green is at the microphone. “What happened there?” could easily be his catchphrase – and not in a rhetorical, Fred Trueman “I don’t understand what’s going off out there” sense, which relatively endeared him to cricket followers.
So bad, is Green, the joke goes, that he has to ask Graham Taylor what’s going on, although it is a line that relies on the misleading “Do I not like that” and “can we not knock it?” image of Taylor from his unhappy days as England manager – Taylor is an accomplished pundit who knows exactly what is going on. The same is also said to apply to Jimmy Armfield, who is frequently called upon to explain to the listener what has just passed Green by. Even Mark Lawrenson, otherwise apparently employed solely to laugh at Green’s jokes, has to fill in the blanks from time-to-time.
Green was in full “what happened there?” mode when Manchester United tried a trick corner move against Chelsea at Old Trafford last season. At first, he was joined by most everyone else; not least Chelsea’s back four. But even as he returned to commentary for his second-half stint, he continued to profess ignorance, despite his co-commentator’s patient explanation of this new ‘trick.’ It almost felt as if he’d been so wrapped up in himself that he didn’t care to listen to anyone else.
More serious misdemeanours have also gone unsanctioned. While other journalists covering England’s Wembley encounter with Kazakhstan last year were there to cover Friday’s pre-match preparations, Green was allowed to travel to the game on the Saturday, not feeling the need for such trivialities as research. As a result of being exempt from what was a requirement for other BBC personnel, Green missed the first half, because his plane had been held up in fog, but went unpunished for this apparent unprofessionalism. It is, ultimately, not acceptable for someone that is at the top of their profession (and handsomely rewarded for being so) to be forty-five minutes late for work.
Why, then, does he continue to be indulged? Apparently, it is because he is so controversial and outspoken. A refreshing, unpredictable voice among the bland leading the bland. He is “not afraid to tell it like it is”, and he provokes debate. Much of that was once true, but little of it remains so. Accusing referees of trying to be the centre of attention is less controversial than ironic given much of Green’s schtick, and the same old “isn’t this dreadful?” comments ceased to be “refreshing” and “unpredictable” some years ago. While he may provoke the debate, he ultimately provokes as many people to turn the BBC off as tune in especially, and the “bland” who lead the “bland”, one suspects, wouldn’t be given the leeway that Green frequently seems to be given.
As I said at the start of this piece, there’s nothing original about criticising Green, but that’s no reason to shy away from the task. Alan Green is very well paid to do his job, and in a highly competitive media environment, an environment which is currently subject to stultifying budgetary limitations, the continued employment of someone as self-centred and incompetent as he feels less and less tenable. This needs reiterating in as many different fora as possible, and as often as possible.