There’s more in common between Americans and Brits than you may think. While many Americans still sit down on a late weekend night to watch NBC’s Saturday Night Live, the Brits have a similar tradition. But rather than laughing at comedians perform skits, they choose to guffaw at overpaid actors of a different variety — professional footballers plying their trade as shown on BBC’s Match Of The Day, the football highlights package.
During the past two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to watch Match Of The Day from the comfort of my home in the States. The last time I watched it regularly was during the early 1980’s when I was a teenager growing up in Wales. A lot has changed since then, but the fact remains that most British football supporters form their views and opinions of the Premier League and its clubs from what it sees on that show.
As many of our regular readers will know, football supporters in the United States can view as many as eight live Premier League games each weekend with the remaining two fixtures shown on tape-delay. In comparison, viewers in Great Britain will be lucky to see three to four live Premier Leagues in the same weekend. So, it’s of no surprise that most Brits rely on Match Of The Day to see the highlights of what happened in the Premier League matches. And because the top Premier League clubs are more likely to be televised on British television first, it’s not uncommon for football supporters of smaller Premier League clubs in England to wait weeks before they can see their club play live on television.
Therefore, the role of a highlights package such as Match Of The Day in Britain is of much greater importance than a similar program in the United States.
Now if you’ve watched a lot of live Premier League games on television and you’ve watched the highlights of those same games on shows such as Premier League Review Show, Fox Soccer Report or even Match Of The Day, you may have noticed that the highlights package may not accurately portray what happened during the game. The producers can try their best to feature the near misses, incredible saves and wonderful goals, but what if the game was bogged down in midfield and one of the teams maintained the lionshare of possession yet wasn’t able to convert that into many goalscoring chances? If you relied on Match Of The Day for most of your football coverage, you may miss out on what really happened during the game.
A particular example was this past Saturday’s game between Portsmouth and Everton. Pompey poured their hearts out and maintained much of the possession especially during large spells of the second half. But after watching the highlights of the game on Match Of The Day, I felt that the BBC show failed to capture how Portsmouth played with such enthusiasm and controlled desperation in the second half and how the noise at Fratton Park increased to a crescendo in the latter 45 minutes. The Beeb showed the near misses and goal-line clearances, but the program didn’t capture how well Portsmouth played.
Of course, these are just two examples. But the reality is that most addicted football supporters in the United States and abroad have a much better concept of how Premier League clubs are doing on the pitch than supporters in the United Kingdom. If you’re a supporter of Chelsea and you go to every match at Stamford Bridge, for example, you have a good understanding of how Chelsea are performing at home. But you may not be able to ramble on about the fortunes or misfortunes of how the other Premier League clubs are doing on the pitch. Or if you are, your viewpoints are shaped by what Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson tell you every Saturday night.
Another interesting observation is how clueless most English football journalists are about what’s happening outside of the Premier League — from the Championship to League Two of the Football League. It’s embarrassing to hear how little the guests on The Guardian’s Football Weekly Podcast know about the Football League (thank god for John Ashdown; otherwise James Richardson and co would be hapless). Now if Match Of The Day featured highlights and analysis of the Football League in addition to the Premier League, I can guarantee that most Brits would begin to learn more about the lower leagues.
While most football supporters outside of the United Kingdom have an advantage over the residents of ‘Ol Blightly in the form of more coverage of live games, the quality of the Match Of The Day program is far better in its analysis than most other football programs on TV. One example was this past Saturday’s analysis of the Stoke against Manchester United match where Alan Hansen showed several clips of how Nemanja Vidic played in a central role in not only preventing Stoke from attacking but by playing a key role in creating several attacks for his fellow United players.
Sure, Match Of The Day can be too passive and lightweight in its delivery, but I find the low-key nature of the show quite refreshing as opposed to many American shows that are too full of insincere hype.
To me, Match Of The Day continues to have a massive place in the fabric of British society, but its influence needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It can’t be the be-all and end-of-all of Premier League football coverage. It’s just a highlights show with some expert analysis and a pleasant presenter. No more and no less.
Editor’s note: Just as Gabriele Marcotti of The Times is sworn to secrecy about how he’s able to watch so many Premier League games from his home in the United Kingdom with his magic satellite dish, I’m sworn to secrecy about how I’m able to watch Match Of The Day from my home in Florida. Sorry!