Saturday, 2 April 2011

On Sitting Down to Watch Match of the Day Once Again

It has been three months since I last watched Match of the Day. I have been away at university and unable to get to a television in that time. As I came home today for the end of term, I did a few things I hadn't done for a while: played my xbox, ate my dad's cooking, helped with the crossword (got craic, pretty pleased with that) and watched Match of the Day. I realise this isn't earth-shattering news, it's what a lot of people do every Saturday, but as I watched the programme I realised something; I was really enjoying myself.

For many readers this may come as a surprise. Recently there has been a growing amount of people who are discontented with the coverage of football on the TV (this article is just one example ). In many respects this is completely understandable. In the consumer age we want value for our money and many people feel that the lazy punditry which dogs the BBC and ITV's footballing programmes are not acceptable. To an extent I agree, but yet, I was enjoying myself.

I'm not talking about just enjoying watching the football, I enjoyed the whole programme. There was something about it that was just making me incredibly contented. And then I realised something; for me, Match of the Day was like a warm fire in the winter, a cool drink on a summer's day, it was comforting, enjoyable and most of all, it made me feel at home.

Come on, I hear you say, you're being over the top. It's not that good a programme. But I know that. That isn't the point. The point here is not that Match of the Day could be improved, I'm sure it could. It's that Match of the Day is a vital part of the furniture of a football fan's life. Something which most of us feel we could not do without. To put this into context, I do not support a Premier League club, I support Chester FC in the Evo Stik Division 1 North (the 8th tier of British football), I do not follow a Premier League club, I'm not really bothered if Torres scores for Chelsea or not and so on, but yet I enjoy the programme.

What is it about Match of the Day that continues to keep my interest? I think the poet John Keats has the answer. Whilst football was slightly before his time, Shakespeare was not, and in a wonderful poem entitled 'On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again' (which can be read here - ) he expresses his feelings towards an old friend of his, something which he has cherished and gains something from every time he reads it.

I think there are parallels to be made with Match of the Day here. King Lear is no Romance. My o my it is a Tragedy with a capital T. In fact that should be with a capital RAGEDY too. Shakespeare was really pulling out all of the stops when it came to tugging one's heartstrings here (A synopsis of the play can be found here - ). However, Keats finds the play inspiring and with all of his youthful enthusiasm proclaims "When through the old oak forest I am gone,/ Let me not wander in a barren dream:/ But, when I am consumed in the fire,/ Give me new phoenix wings to fly at my desire." Rather than being comforted by a nice story and a happy ending, he enjoys the twists and turns of King Lear, the betrayal, the death and the madness. This is inspirational stuff and Keats knows it. Rather than being mollycoddled to an easy conclusion, he is taken aback, shocked, but most importantly thrilled into acting upon his desire. Keats is in love and wants the world to know.

Match of the Day. A highlights service. An imperfect one. But through it we see twists, turns, betrayals of players, the death of dreams, the madness that can engulf a match. This is inspirational stuff and every time I watch it I am thrilled. I desire the world to know that I'm in love with it. Do three berks on a sofa spoil this experience? Lord no. They add to it. They're part of the grubby framework of the play. They quickly analyse, and predict, teasing the watcher into imagining what's going to happen for the rest of the season.

I imagine that Keats, sitting reading his play, is taken up in the moment. Just as us football fans are every time we see a wonderful goal or save, a terrible mistake or tackle, or even a suggestive feint or hopeful through-ball. But is this life or death to Keats? No. I don't think so. I imagine at the end of his reading, he would sit back, perhaps blow out his cheeks and say "wow". Then he'll go to the loo just as the rest of us do. Football should similarly not be life and death to the fan. It can make us say "wow" every time we watch it, but we must remember that it is part of everyday life, not the be all and end all of it.

That is why Match of the Day is so good. It is a tool to amaze us. Inspire us. It is not supposed to be the final word. We as fans provide that. Who remembers the greatest moments in football but the fans? Who creates the atmosphere but the fans? But most importantly of all; whose game is it but the fans? That's why the lazy punditry doesn't matter in the end. If you want more, if you want to discuss more, there is an amazing tool for you to do that. The internet. Set up a blog and write your opinions down, read others, comment, be interested. Why? Because you've been inspired by the game. Because that youthful enthusiasm you feel every time a 25 yard volley nestles in the top corner of the goal makes you want to shout about it; you're in love.

Thanks for reading.


  1. Excellent post Richard. We still watch Match of the Day because, for all its flaws, it still has the power to move us.

    I'm not sure what Alan Shearer's reaction would be, though, were you to run that Keats poem by him. If he hadn't heard of Hatem Ben Arfa then what hope for his knowledge of the romantic poets?

  2. Thanks for the kind words William. You do have a good point with Shearer there!