Newcastle United legend Sir Bobby Robson once wrote the following about football: "What is a club in any case?
Newcastle United legend Sir Bobby Robson once wrote the following about football: "What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes. It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love."
This image of football, put so eloquently by Sir Bobby, speaks of a sport entrenched in local communities, a repository of traditions, a game supported by fans not customers and played by teams that embody local values and not a global commercial business model.
It is hardly groundbreaking to claim that this vision of ‘the beautiful game’ has long-since been chewed up and spat out by a new beast. But if anyone needed a sign as to how far the modern-day game has diverged from that described by Sir Bobby, Monday night’s ‘Transfer Deadline Day’ brought to us by ‘Sky Sports News HQ’ would have been a good place to start.
The "Jim White" novelty
Sky Sports News, usually bad enough with its cyclical monotonous content, shouty plastic presenters and jammed caps lock text, stands at the forefront of this tsunami wave of global commercial kitsh under which football-as-we-knew-it has crumbled, reaching new heights of brash narcissism on Monday night.
Jim White, alias ‘Mr Transfer Deadline Day,’ has monopolised the closing of the transfer window to the extent that his excessive enthusiasm, theatrical arm-waving and inability to speak at a normal volume, have all become synonymous with the day itself.
He sat by his ‘Totaliser,’ iPad in hand, and metaphorically shackled his interviewees, notably René Meulentsteen and Neil Lennon, to their chairs, reminding them repeatedly that they “were going nowhere.”
A hot-bed of clichés, recycled leitmotifs and regurgitated phrases devoid of any real meaning, viewers were repeatedly reminded that “the clock is ticking fast!’ – although upon further inspection it was clear it was ticking no faster than usual, and after the twelfth visit to Old Trafford in the space of half an hour to find out nothing new, not fast enough.
Indeed, these frequent cutaways to presenters at Premier League grounds were presumably included in an attempt to coat the evening in some sort of false venire of journalistic honesty.
Instead, they merely served to (or at least attempted to) gap-fill, reminiscent of Adrian Chiles and co.’s desperate and struggled attempts to improvise 40 minutes-worth of content during England’s temporarily suspended match against Honduras on ITV in June. For viewers, the watching experience was a remarkably similar, and equally painful sensation.
The show was forced to stare bleakly at its own farcical nature when we cut to Everton to Alan Irwin having a sex toy pushed in his ear by a fan. While the in-studio presenters repeatedly apologised for “anything you may have seen or heard that was offensive,” fans at another ground thrust an inflatable doll into the air behind the presenter.
The show may recognize its own excesses to a certain degree, with White and his fellow presenters playing to the exaggerated production. It may be deliberately tongue-in-cheek – one presenter attempted to use vanishing spray to push back the ever-growing crowds behind him – but that does not stop it being blood-curdlingly annoying.
What is more, it cannot claim to be journalism. Even before White theatrically pressed his finger to his earpiece to bring us the next batch of “sensational, breaking news,” we already knew that the news being provided would be neither sensational (in reality, it was a quiet news day and not much happened) nor breaking.
When José Mourinho was asked in a press conference last week what he would be doing on ‘deadline day’, he stared blankly before retorting, bemused: “I know all the news before Sky Sports.”
Thanks to Twitter, so do we José.
As the transfer window ‘slammed’ shut – hyperbolic in itself with the 11pm deadline actually meaningless with deals still going through the following morning, I found myself not reflecting on an exciting night that would shape the football season ahead, but on one long exaggerated farce, a false event that even its own endorsers are starting to detest (even ‘wheeler-dealer’ and deadline day poster-boy Harry Redknapp ignored the presenter who attempted to get him to pull-over for his now annual car-window interview), a symbol of what football has become.
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