Wednesday, August 20, 2008

SPAOTP Media Top Ten

So how much football do any of us actually watch in real life compared to what we watch on TV? And how much is our opinion informed through the football media lens rather than through our own personal experience and knowledge?

Much of what we know, or think we know, is based on the journalists, presenters, anchormen, and ex-professionals that populate TV, radio and increasingly podcasts. Clubs and players are aware of this and frequently use the media to propagate their position, whether it be by agitating for a move, criticising a referee, accusing another team of cheating or whatever. More and more, these arguments take place in the public arena and it is the job of the media to make sense of it all while at the same time carry forward their own agenda. In turn, the supporter is left trying to make sense of the media.

To that end Some People Are On The Pitch presents its completely arbitrary and in no way scientific top ten of the most influential (mostly) English football programmes.

10. Guardian Football Weekly (Podcast)
James Richardson (right) anchors this twice weekly Sony Award-nominated podcast with an assortment of Guardian Unlimited hacks. This has become as popular for the byplay between the contributors as it has for its funny and cynical analysis. Much of the regular panel also write The Fiver and the show is heavily informed by its narrative.

Regulars Paul Doyle and Barry Glendenning act as cult heroes/pantomime villains depending on your point of view, while chief football writer Kevin McCarra injects a more measured and insightful perspective. Correspondents include Sid Lowe in Spain and Rafael Honigstein in Germany.

The show has a feel of organised chaos which may or may not be by design and the inestimable Richardson manages to keep the animals reigned just enough to keep things coherent, barely.

9. The Game from The Times (Podcast)
Phil Jupitus (right) is the host for this season but previous incumbents were Guillem Balague with Gabrielle Marcotti and Danny Kelly before that. The show tries hard but has too many boring interviews and is way too corporate. You always feel that the pro-News Corps agenda is never far away (it took less than two minutes of last week's episode for the Setanta bashing to begin) and try as it might the show seems incapable of the necessary deprecation required of a low budget podcast. Despite this, it remains a popular show and essential listening for podcast junkies.

8. Sunday Supplement (Sky Sports)
Formerly known as Jimmy Hill's Sunday Supplement. This Sunday morning round table discussion programme used to go under the name of Hold The Back Page which was hosted by Brian Woolnough of the Daily Star. Woolnough continued as the host when it moved to Sunday and Jimmy Hill (right) was introduced as a sort of doyen figure pontificating on what's wrong with the game while a couple of other Fleet Street hacks would join in.

Hill retired two seasons ago but the show continues in the same vain. It's easy to dismiss this programme as nothing more than pissed hacks arguing the toss. However, the panel are made up of the top staffers on the English dailies. Regular contributors are Martin Samuels of the Times, Sean Custis of The Sun and Patrick Barclay of The Telegraph. These are heavyweight journalists with many contacts at the highest level of the game. They may be pompous windbags but they're always worth listening to.

7. Football Focus (BBC TV)
The daddy of all football magazine programmes. Focus has been a regular feature at Saturday lunchtimes since just before the birth of Christ. In fact, it's widely held that that time-slot was originally a pagan festival before it was taken over by the BBC.

Every time I think of the programme, I think of Bob Wilson (right) who anchored the show for many years. These days it's the amiable Manish Bhasin who looks after Mark Lawrenson and steers the viewer through a collection of highlights, features and interviews.

Most of the clich├ęs that you ever heard in the game were probably coined by the likes of Jimmy Hill and others during the programme's halcyon days. The show remains a popular mainstay to this day.

6. Goals On Sunday (Sky Sports)
I was once told that this was the show the pro's watched just after they'd kicked their Page 3 girl of their hotel room. Chris Kamara (right), and this season Ian Payne, introduce action from Saturday while chatting to managers or ageing pros.

The team like to go over controversial decisions by referees and pass judgement, thereby highlighting the benefits of video evidence. The style and tone is a sort of one-of-the-lads cheery dressing room banter that can sometimes make you feel as though you are intruding.

5. Soccer AM (Sky Sports)
It's extraordinary how this programme has crept into football culture given its tiny audience share. It just goes to show the value of aiming a show at a specific target audience (male, 16-25).

The return of "easy easy" to football grounds can be attributed to Soccer AM. The 'Save Chip' campaign during the show's imperial phase (for me at least) resulted in that message being displayed in all sorts of unlikely places.

Series producer Tim Lovejoy (right) left to join Simon Fuller at 19 a couple of seasons ago. Like Lovejoy himself, the programme continues to polarise opinion. Is it mindless populist trash bordering on corporate propaganda or well observed skilfully written banter with its roots firmly entranced in the humour of the terraces?

4. Ford Football Special (Sky Sports)
The lynchpin of Sky Sports' schedules. These days it consists of a live double header of the two most popular fixtures.

Richard Keys (right) is your host with heavyweight pundits Andy Gray, Alan Smith et al plus a prominent player or manager. Alan Parry usually commentates the undercard, and the highly respected Martin Tyler the main 4pm game.

It's not for this that the programme is on this list though. It's for perennial pundit Jamie Redknapp. The ex-Liverpool and England player has the family connection with the venerated Harry Redknapp and is one of the men behind the elitist lifestyle periodical Icon Magazine. Redknapp Jnr may come across as a bit naff, but he has his fingers in a lot of pies and is set to become a real player in the world of football in the decades to come.

3. Sport On Five (BBC Radio 5 Live)
This Saturday afternoon commentary and results show pre-dates televised live football by some years. However, the advent of subscription TV was a shot in the arm for BBC Radio's football coverage.

When Sky took the inaugural Premier League contract in 1992 a whole raft of football fans missed out on all these new live football matches. Sport On Five filled the breach and has done so ably ever since. The programme is the home of respected journalists Mike Ingham (right) and Jonathan Ledgard, plus professional loon and minority botherer Alan Green.

The show has the added bonus of reminding the obsessed that other sports exist such as Rugby, Cricket and Horse Racing. However, at its heart Sport On Five is all about the football and is still holding up well in an age of declining radio audiences.

2. Match Of The Day (BBC TV)
Only free-to-air live matches get more viewers than this weekly Saturday night highlights show. If Focus is the daddy, then MOTD is the wizened old Grand Daddy.

Perhaps inevitably, being so popular it falls foul of the hard core. The regular team of Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, and Alan Hansen have been accused of banality, vacuity and infidelity (although not in that order). Oh for the days of Des Lynam, eh?

1. Soccer Saturday (Sky Sports)
Grown from the roots of Sports Saturday, the idea for this programme is both inspired and unsellable. Watching aging ex-pro's watching football and telling us about it? Nope sorry, no-one pitches an idea like that - it develops organically from something else.

Jeff Stelling anchors a motley crew of fading superstars who aren't good enough to be managers and cannot be employed in any other gainful manner. They spend two and a half hours jabbering about football, then the 3 o'clock games start and everyone dons their headphones while Jeff reads the latest scores from the news wires and that's it - the ultimate in low rent programme in the worst traditions of broadcasting.

The result is a national institution which has made Stelling one of the most respected broadcasters in the game. Walk into any pub in England on a Saturday afternoon and the chances are it'll be his face you see rather than Ray Stubbs on the BBC. After Digital Switchover happens and assuming Sky Sports News remains free to air, Stelling should become a true household name.

Soccer Saturday is also the showpiece of another broadcasting phenomena, Sky Sports News. To anyone who hasn't seen this TV channel, it's is exactly was it says it is: news about Sky Sports. The impact this thinly-veiled infotainment channel has had is yet to be properly assessed.

Honourable mentions should go to the fine work going on at Football Fancast. Setanta have two discussion programmes, The Friday Football Show and Football Matters which I believe are both hosted by James Richardson now. I haven't really gone into TalkSport either.

Dishonourable mentions go to the Football 365 podcast which is barely listenable.

So there it is - our Media Top 10 in all its glory, but we'd like to know your thoughts too. Which programmes and podcasts do you like or dislike and which do you watch or listen to? Leave us a comment or cast your vote here...

Which of these is your favourite football programme or podcast?
Guardian Football Weekly
Football Focus
Ford Football Special
Goals On Sunday
Match of the Day
Soccer AM
Soccer Saturday
Sport On Five
Sunday Supplement
The Game
Free polls from


Mr Blackett said...

Soccer Saturday with the Football Weekly podcast a close second. Soccer AM should be fired out of a cannon into the centre of the Atlantic. Helen Chamberlain is starting to look like my mam.

Seb @ Inside Left said...

The Times Podcast is pretty good; there's something about Alyson Rudd's voice that just ticks my boxes.

World Soccer Daily is another regular on my iPod - 16gb's of music, potentially, and all it contains is 100mb of football podcasts.

Duffman said...

I'm with you on SS and GU podcast Mr Blackett. The GU podcast is a great laugh most of the time and over the course of a season I think the listeners get to feel quite close to the regulars. Some fearful arguments take place on the comments pages between them and the listeners. Cracking entertainment.

Have to agree with you re Alyson Rudd Seb but couldn't say why. World Soccer Daily deserves and honourable mention, as should the World Football Phone in.

I had to laugh at your iPod music-to-football ratio. That's pretty much the same as mine.

Chris O said...

I've got to admit, Mr Blackett, Soccer AM does seem a bit tired now, format-wise. There again, what better competition does it have at that time on a Saturday morning?

Seb, I'm yet to experience the dulcet tones of Alyson Rudd, but I've a strange feeling I'm going to find out more where that's concerned...! ;-)

Chrissy said...

well done, I was in the middle of a similar post.

I can not believe you put the time's podcast above the guardian's tho. Phill Jupitus especially has made it almost unlistenable to me

Duffman said...

Hi Chrissy
Had the list been based on favouritism then Football weekely would have been at number 2. As it haapens I understand that The Game is a more popular podcast which is why it got the nod. There's no accounting for taste.


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