Here’s a fun game. Next time you go watch a soccer match in a bar, pub or somewhere else in public, just spend a moment and try and catch some of the conversation flying around. Not the endless droves of ‘banter’ thrown between groups of hardened males but specifically the talk concerning all things soccer. For in amongst the noise and cackled laughter you will hear the nuanced take on recent events across the soccer nation, perhaps even the globe.
Within this very environment live experts, mighty footballing tactician experts, only too willing to offer their (not so) humble opinion on the latest stories and score lines weaving through the top tier. And the pub is their domain. Perhaps you don’t even need to take part in this game Maybe your mind can stretch back to a time not so long ago that you were in said establishment and your ears couldn’t help but pick up the feint but distinct sound of a well versed English football expert opining to the crowd before them. At least you thought they must be an expert. They were using all the correct terminology; ‘two banks of four’, ‘pressing high up the pitch’, ‘midfield triangles’, perhaps there was a football pundit in the crowd, out of sight but well within earshot gifting locals with his rare but reasoned take on yesterday’s games.
But all of a sudden you realize these murmurs. These sentences have already been heard and not so long ago. It wasn’t Steve down The Dog and Duck who first concluded that what Manchester United were missing was a creative central midfielder ‘you know, someone to replace Scholes’ but a more familiar source. More often than not they came from those esteemed fountains of football knowledge leaving their considerable imprint on the Match of The Day sofa provided by the BBC.
It is little wonder that the 90 minute programme on Saturday night (an institution in Great Britain) wields so much influence over the casual supporter. This year marks the show’s 50th anniversary. For much of that time, it has been solely entrusted to bring football to the masses, entertaining and informing us along the way. In the process, it’s turned us all into second-hand experts of sorts. Their sentences, turns of phrase and observations have seeped into our lexicon to the point of cliché, ready to be spouted by anyone with a passing interest in the English top flight. You’ve probably uttered a few yourself. For many Brits, we’ve grown up with a version of Match of the Day as a mainstay of Saturday television, often the only way to access any sort of English football coverage and now providing the nation with a selection of talking points, appointed themselves, to take out into the world and share at will. It is the forum that dictates our view of the Premier League, determining which stories matter, which managers are under pressure and what clubs need ‘a Makelele’ (turns out that’s pretty much everyone apparently).