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Two footballing personalities of greatly differing pedigrees were in the papers this week, both of whom have divided opinion during their greatly differing careers – broadcast journalist Colin Murray and ex-player and manager Tony Adams. Having welcomed Murray’s choice as the BBC’s Match of the Day 2 host in 2010, I feel duty-bound to comment now he is to be replaced by the greatly differing Mark Chapman. To say Murray divides opinion is an understatement, even if sometimes that opinion has seemed divided between those who liked his irreverence (me) and those who didn’t (everyone else). The response to my enthusiastic welcome of Murray’s appointment certainly suggested I was in the minority and that Murray was an Alan Green-lite when it came to irritating the viewing and listening public – dividing them in the same manner, if not quite with the same mouth-foaming intensity.
Beyond a shared Northern Irish accent – the differences barely discernible to non-Celt ears – Green’s and Murray’s media personae share little and any attempt to put Murray’s MOTD demise down to bias against the accent should be resisted. In truth, Murray wasn’t quite as natural in the MOTD role as I’d hoped and believed, not least because he could never quite hide the impression that football was not his number one area of expertise. He seemed a better presenter during the few seconds he spent trailing the corporation’s gridiron coverage than he ever was ‘dealing’ with the Sunday night pundits. And this was especially true when MOTD 2 had the scraps of highlights from Sky’s ‘Super Sundays’ and brought in their big guns. Murray’s jokes were just too clever for Mark Lawrenson, even when they weren’t that clever at all. And they were beneath Alan Hansen. And the Daily Mail newspaper reported that Murray:”irritated a number of BBC football pundits by the way he criticised players,” with Hansen suggesting that as Murray is not an ex-player himself, he should “leave the negative comments to experts.”
These problems didn’t arise with ex-players such as Dion Dublin. Murray seemed to get on with the much-travelled former striker better than he did anyone else. And Murray and Robbie Savage… well… I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t apply intellectual analysis to anything involving Savage. Lee Dixon, however, seemed occasionally to tire/despair of Murray’s irreverence, particularly when relentlessly applied to discussion topics which required at least some serious treatment. And Murray’s spat with Pat Nevin last Sunday would certainly not have helped his cause even if it wasn’t already lost (I’m sure the decision to replace Murray must been made before then if it was announced this week).
Nevin made the point, comprehensively backed up by the match-footage evidence, that the referee’s view of the Wayne Rooney penalty incident in the Spurs/Manchester United game was Rooney kicking Spurs defender Steven Caulker, thereby explaining why Chris Foy didn’t give the spot-kick himself. But Nevin’s subsequent point, that referee’s assistant, Simon Beck, should have seen that Rooney was fouled and that, yes, it was a penalty, was submerged by Hansen’s and Murray’s vocal insistence that Nevin was being a bit wacky and deserved to be belittled and patronised to the point of submission. Hansen’s role, though, hasn’t been the focus of subsequent attention on the incident.
Murray’s defenders have used Nevin’s presence to highlight the paucity of punditry material available to the Irishman. “Clearly the axe is falling on the wrong side of the coffee table,” noted the Guardian newspaper’s Barney Ronay…erm…irreverently. Murray showed more professionalism in dealing with former Arsenal star Freddie Ljungberg’s MOTD expletive last year than you could ever imagine from Gary Lineker – not that Lineker will ever have such skills tested by the likes of Alan Shearer, who probably still uses Enid Blyton swear words…even when watching Newcastle. And other aspects of MOTD 2 irritated more than its presenter – not least the childishly-stupid animated graphics used in the match introductions. The programme has never been an ultra-serious replica of the main Saturday night show. But there’s a gap-and-a-half between straightforward statistic-heavy previews and Alex Ferguson on cartoon comedy legs.
Chapman’s appointment is widely viewed as a BBC policy-reversal, with the new man criticised as too safe a pair of hands. Chapman is a bit better than that, and his recent performances on the show were still more watchable than the blandness of the Saturday night show. But a presenter more like Football Italia veteran James Richardson would be more in keeping with the tone which made MOTD 2 such a watchable show under the, yes, irreverent and, yes, opinion-dividing Adrian Chiles.
In fact, Richardson himself would still be the ideal choice – although he would probably have to spare us the focus on Cliff Richard’s sexuality which had everyone in our household spluttering “you can’t say that on national television” when Channel 4’s Serie A coverage was at its height… or at least ensure that no-one at the BBC ever spotted them. Murray won’t be short of work, even at the BBC. But, having seen Saturday’s highlights on Saturday and most of Sunday’s games live on Sunday, I will simply watch Match of the Day 2 less now that Murray has gone.
Whether Tony Adams was regarded as demi-God or donkey during his playing career at least partly depended on whether or not you supported Arsenal. My minor disregard for Adams the centre-half was also attributable to his frequent exposures at international level, which he only partly overcame with his ‘bulldog’ spirit and determination. To guide those of you too young to remember Adams the player, John Terry would be his exact modern-day equivalent (especially the bulldog bit), except that while both were terrific at stopping others from playing, Terry can also play a bit himself.
Adams took this determination into a mixed coaching and managerial career. Bulldog spirit didn’t even partly overcome his lack of obvious natural coaching/management talent, although he was a victim of extenuating circumstances, especially at Portsmouth, for all-too-well-known reasons. Yet it was still disappointing to read a recent interview with him in the Independent newspaper, in which he came across as a bitter and disrespectful ‘grumpy old man.’ And I’m not just disappointed in the ‘grumpy old man’ bit because Adams my age. If he’s NOT bitter about his non-involvement in Arsenal’s current coaching set-up, he’s hiding it well. I assumed he was joking when he said he’d asked the board if they wanted his advice and “I’ve got a statue outside and they have not responded.” He claimed he was “cool with that,” and was “fine” with manager Arsene Wenger’s decision to “put Steve (Bould) up there.”
But he wasn’t. “I thought they should have retained Robin Van Persie,” isn’t exactly a headline-grabbing opinion. But it was the first of many put-downs of the current club, which included the interview’s actual headline: “Arsenal are a million miles away.” Adams doesn’t agree with the current wage structure “give the big boys a lot more and (don’t) put so many of the middle order ones on 50 grand a week.” He doesn’t agree with a board that “sees profits” at the expense of trophies. He doesn’t appear to agree with Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis at all: “This is what irritates the fans as well. Ivan is on a lot of money.” And the great god Wenger “is paying himself a few quid,” which irritates him because “I don’t agree with the way he rotates his central defenders” and “his full-backs are too offensive.”
But he’s NOT bitter. Away from the subject of Arsenal, Adams has quickly enrolled, at the age of 46, in the “it-was-better-in-my-day… I’ve-been-there-and-done-it” school. And here, we return to the attitude which helped do for Murray at MOTD. Adams said of Hansen, “I don’t respect Alan because he has never put his head on the block,” i.e. gone into management. Adams reserved particular ire for Hansen’s dissection of Aston Villa’s recent defending, criticising the Scot for “picking on their ages” which was “irrelevant… I lifted a trophy at 21.”
He could, of course, have criticised Hansen for producing an updated version of Hansen’s (infamous claim that “you win nothing with kids,” after a young Manchester United side lost a mid-1990s season-opener at, as it happens, Villa. But Adams chose to cite “his” winning of a trophy, which paid scant attention to the surrounding experience of players such as Kenny Sansom and Viv Anderson. This reminded me of a quote from the Comic Strip presents… Bad News on Tour where one character notes that “I could play ‘Stairway to Heaven’ at the age of 12. Jimmy Page didn’t write it until he was 22. I think that says a lot.” It says even more, now, about Tony Adams’ self-regard. “People who haven’t done it, I have no respect for,” Adams concluded. And this is where we came in, as, ironically, Hansen himself appears to have that sneering, superior self-regard. And that has at least played a part in the replacement of Colin Murray on Match of the Day 2.
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