Time to end monopoly of ex player mafia

We’re going to start today with a history lesson. Let’s go back to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico generally reckoned to be the best ever and won by the best Brazil team ever including Pele, Jairzino, Tostao, Carlos Alberto and Rivelino. It was the first World Cup to be televised in colour in the UK although only 500,000 households had the required sets.It is hard to believe now, but England’s hopes were so high UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson called a general election for the day after the Semi Finals “it occurred to political commentators that a buoyant electorate would be less inclined to turf out the incumbent government if England reached the Final” (England – the Quest for the World Cup, Clive Leatherdale, page 139). But England were knocked out in the Quarter Finals on June 14th – and on the 18th Wilson lost the election. Amazingly some people think the football defeat played a role in the election result!
The TV coverage in 1970 featured something new – namely “the Panel” – a group of people who commented on the game before it started, at half time and after the match had ended. The panel appeared on both TV networks – the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Independent Television (ITV). The BBC used Ian st John, Bob Wilson, Don Revie and Brian Clough, while ITV had Pat Crerand, Derek Dougan, Malcolm Allison and Bob McNab – all past or present players or as I call them the ex player mafia (EPM for short).
A lot of things have changed since 1970. Everybody in the UK watches TV in colour, and in digital with multi channel content (in 1970 we had three channels). The Brazil team are their worst ever,and no UK Prime Minister would dare call an election during the World Cup and rely on England’s progress. We can share our opinions by using Facebook and Twitter or we can blog. But one thing has not changed in 44 years. You still have to be a member of the EPM to comment on games on TV. Only the names have changed. We now have Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen, Robbie Savage, Gordon Strachan and Glenn Hoddle among others. And both the BBC and ITV have studios in Brazil which in the case of the BBC is a waste of licence payers’ money*.
In my opinion a question that must be asked is why do you have to be a member of the EPM to comment on football on TV? One important side effect of this is the lack of women in World Cup TV coverage. The BBC have one woman in Brazil – Gabby Logan who is not in the studio – while ITV does not have quite as many. One of the excuses for this is you have to be a member of the EPM to comment on football but there are ex women players – Hope Powell for example – who could do the job. But it shouldn’t have to be ex players anyway. CLR James’ phrase “what do they know that only cricket know?” can also apply to football.
But the EPM monopoly does not just discriminate against women. It discriminates against 99 per cent of the people of the UK. Anyone who has watched a game in the pub, took part in an internet forum or listened to a radio phone-in will know the EPM does not have a monopoly of football wisdom. One example is the excellent Jennifer Doyle. Anyone who has read her blog or Twitter comments will know she produces more sense than 90% of the EPM. I’d rather read her than listen to Robbie Savage any day. And there are plenty of people like her. I think Sir Alan Sugar – an ex football club chairman – and Karen Brady – the managing director of a football club – are perfectly capable of talking sense about football.
Now I’m not saying the EPM should not be on TV at all. Some of them are excellent – Gary Neville, Andy Gray (before he made a fool of himself) and Alan Hansen for example. But some are awful – Phil Neville, Savage and Mark Lawrenson to name but three. Are we really saying no one outside of the EPM can be better than them?
As so often a look outside the football world can expose the EPM’s monopoly for the absurd anomaly it is. Another UK obsession is politics. The BBC has a weekly political debate show called “Question Time”. The panel on that is never all past or present politicians. Businessmen, agony aunts, pop singers, historians and journalists have all appeared. Even footballer Joey Barton has been on this programme. If a footballer can comment on politics why can’t a politician comment on football?
It is time for the EPM’s monopoly of football comment on TV to be called out for what it is. Blatant discrimination against 99% of football fans in the UK.In an ideal world football would be like “Question Time”. Some of the people talking about the games would be ex players. But some would not and at least one would be a woman. Who knows the mixture of “insider” and “outsider” perspectives might produce a better standard of debate.
Football on TV is dominated by a clique. Just like the UK Conservative Party. To do well in the Conservative Party it helps to be white male and an old Etonian. Yet Conservative MPs have been attacking football because of its sexism. When you are getting lectures on equality from the snobbish and elitist Conservative Party you know you have problems. It is time to start solving them. It is time to end the EPM’s monopoly.
*If anyone from outside the UK is reading this they might not understand the phrase “licence payers money”. The BBC is funded by a licence fee – currently £145.50 a year – that you have to pay if you have a TV. Even if you don’t watch a second of the BBC’s output. A lot of people call this “the TV poll tax.” A lot of people think sending a gang of ex footballers to Brazil for a month – when they could watch the games in the BBC’s Salford studios – is a waste of money.

One thought on “Time to end monopoly of ex player mafia”

  1. Completely agree with your point here. The monopoly that (elite) ex-players have on football has led to a definite aura of arrogance among them that is evident on screen. Especially with regards to referees, but also officials and any other non ex-pros the attitude seems to be “if you haven’t played at the highest level, you can’t comment.” AVB in particular always got a rough ride from the “EPM” because he’d never played professionally.

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