Alan Partridge's TV show suggestions in 1997 are now a case of life imitating art. "Cooking in Prison," Alan suggested, so Channel 4 gave us Gordon Ramsay Behind Bars 15 years later. Richard E. Grant's Hotel Secrets sounds inspired by Partridge and last week the cricket was interrupted by monkeys. Not quite monkey tennis, but monkey cricket could also be fun. In times of dross polluting the box, we turn to flagship programmes, like Match of the Day. Only it has become so egregious and insulting it now boasts the cringing camaraderie of Partridge's Knowing Me, Knowing You.
Away from Alan, we must turn to Statler and Waldorf, ahead of the curve in 1977, for a succinct summary which applies to Match of the Day's contemporary status:
"How do they do it?"
"How do we watch it?"
"Why do we watch it?"
"Why do *you* watch it?" Statler asked the audience.
Why, indeed. Every Saturday, football supporters, players and journalists put themselves through the torture of the anodyne and the anathema on BBC One at 10.30pm. Check Twitter during the programme's duration and your timeline will be a stream of negativity. Lineker's smug, Lawrenson's unfunny, Hansen's nauseating. It is testament to the programme's decline Alan Shearer has emerged as its best pundit so far this season.
Saturday's edition was treated with the contempt of a modern day Simpsons episode. The BBC seem to think by inviting current players on to the show they are doing something right. Wrong. What can a footballer offer when he is uncomfortably numb at the bantersaurus rexes around him? Vincent Kompany was in such a position for Saturday night's mess of the day. Surrounded by back-slapping members Lineker, Hansen and Harry Redknapp, he could only be diplomatic and subtly recoil at their witticisms.
Kompany is an eloquent footballer who unites opposition fans with his demeanour, but any impact he might have had as a pundit was diluted by his hosts, which made his presence a predictably superfluous one. Instead Lineker and Hansen tried to make jokes and went off on a tangent about how good the Belgium national team was. And aren't there so many of them in the Premier League!
Analysis (what little there is on the show) was overawed by a campaign advert as Mark Hughes' Queens Park Rangers career teetered over the edge of the cliff. A banner at Loftus Road reading 'Harry come and save us' was the final reel of the Rs' home defeat to Southampton; which was convenient for the unemployed Redknapp. No wonder he didn't say anything. He didn't need to.
No reference was made to Chelsea's team being rotated with the pivotal Champions League match with Juventus on the agenda either. This is basic negligence on the behalf of the researchers and, more so, those appearing on the programme. They have played, watched and managed football matches thousands of times between them but cannot pinpoint something so obvious while the terrible quips and terrible questions stymie the scope for debate.
It's not just in the studio, though. In the gantry Jonathan Pearce reminded us all why he is better suited to commentating on electrical tin machines controlled by virgins with a piece of commentary which Partridge wouldn't dare air.
"Chim chim-in-ey, chim chim-in-ey Chim chim Giroud!" he hollered as Olivier scored Arsenal's third against Tottenham. Barry Davies, who hasn't commentated at a football match for the BBC since October 2004, might have smashed his antique mic to smithereens if he had heard it. Brian Moore's peaceful resting meanwhile had suddenly been disturbed.
Every television station which beams live football is laden with flaws in its choice of presenters and pundits, but the BBC are runaway leaders in the 'worst of...' awards. Sky have Gary Neville, whose hour-long analysis prior to Monday night matches is invariably better than the game. Graeme Souness lends candid support with games anchored by the modest yet probing Ed Chamberlain.
Guests on Football Focus actually criticised Neville recently for being "unprofessional" holding jobs as a pundit and an England coach. It smacked of jealousy.
The BBC's incompetent football coverage is endemic. Garth Crooks is, to general astonishment, still employed by the corporation 20 years on and Robbie Savage has recently been given a tactics column. ITV may have Adrian Chiles, but in Roy Keane and Lee Dixon they boast two pundits who are worth listening to, something their counterparts over on One aren't.
Football is just one of several sporting victims of Auntie Beeb. Match of the Day's descent into Partridge-like buffoonery is a side-effect of the corporation not investing enough money or time into sport. The Six Nations, Wimbledon and The Open are the BBC's only stand out live sporting events on the calendar, having lost Test match cricket, FA Cup football, horse racing, Formula One, the Boat Race and exclusive coverage of the US Masters over the last 15 years.
Rather than plough money into trashy reality TV, maybe give the millions of license fee-paying football fans their money's worth with a programme which is analytical, constructive and informative. So archaic is the laddish banter Partridge might exclaim, "Jurassic Park!" Only he isn't celebrating. Match of the Day is, like QPR, holding out for a hero.
UPDATE: It's broke, but don't fix it...
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