Football’s periphery is a permanent source of angst. As provocative as the game’s core invariably is, it seems that in 2015 we spend as much time debating its surrounding components.
The style and substance of Match Of The Day; the perma-employment of ex-professionals who mumble their way through punditry; the way the game is covered by the national press.
That’s really a sign of the times. The Premier League’s expansion has cut football loose from its original moorings and the competition now has more parallels with a globally-successful television program than it does an actual sporting event.
At its summit, it’s an extremely predictable league and, just like an HBO series, it has a reliable cast of heroes and villains who seem to occupy the same space year-on-year. We boo, we hiss, we cheer, we sulk.
Battling against that is futile because, having entered a new financial stratosphere, English football is not in a hurry to retract back to its original form. It’s a world of broadcasting contracts and commercial revenue, a land in which the outcome of games and the scoring of goals has been made to feel quaintly secondary.
But, while mourning that is ultimately a waste of time, there are small changes which could help to soothe some of the frustration and allow the public to cover-up against the assault on their senses.
One of them, unquestionably, would be the creation of commentary-free viewing options. Not ‘mute the television and watch in silence’ or ‘wear headphones and listen to the radio’, but a way of isolating the noise of the crowd and hearing only that for ninety minutes.
It’s faintly silly in this advanced technological age that, in addition to HD, 3D, Ultra HD and whatever else lies on the horizon, such a utility does not already exist – but offering it could provide a welcome change of pace. The chanting, the organic reactions, the natural ambiance of a football stadium; those who have been locked out of grounds by prohibitive ticket prices will likely have forgotten how wonderful that can be and, really, television should be doing far more to remind them.
Commentary is not a symptom of the game’s modernity and, while not as many as there once were, there are still plenty of play-by-play voices who genuinely do accentuate the drama. The trouble, though, is that the Premier League has become a victim of its own narcissism and every kick, header or pass that happens on its pitches is emphasised to within an inch of its actual significance.
The effect is very draining. The game’s slightly-too-shiny appearance may be here to stay, but the self-serving drone that it radiates should absolutely be optional. Give me a red, blue or yellow button to press that takes it all away, provide me with the facility to hide away from the punditry, the half-time analysis and the Greatest League in the World schtick. I have been watching football for nearly thirty years and I also have a working internet connection: when I’m outside the stadium, I am equipped to determine for myself what is important and I do not have to be force-fed the melodrama.
Not every week and not in every match, but sometimes that partial mute button would be most welcome. We all love the sport, but we must occasionally be allowed to love it on our own terms.