Written by Jim Keoghan, author of ‘How to Run a Football Club: The Story of Our National Game’, and ‘Punk Football: The Rise of Fan Ownership in English Football’, ‘Is it Just Me or is Modern Football S**t ?’ is Jim’s latest work, where he takes a look at a number of issues in the modern game which really seem to irk him.
If Jamie Redknapp had a pH rating, it would be 7.
You get the impression he’s simply included by Sky as a balancing agent, there to dampen down a spicier sauce made up of the likes of Graeme Souness and Roy Keane. Jamie, like a human form of yoghurt, can always be relied upon to bring proceedings back to a more palatable average, applying a brand of banality that is almost oppressive in its sheer averageness.
‘If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ One philosophical thought experiment posits. ‘If Jamie Redknapp speaks in a studio and everyone hears it, has he made a sound? Might be another.
Every pundit has their own unique selling point. Roy Keane brings brutal honesty, Gary Neville expert analysis, Micah Richards the sense that you don’t want to be around when the laughter stops. For Jamie, his ‘USP’ is the ability to tell you exactly what you already know. He has an almost uncanny knack for describing what has happened in a game at the surface level. There are no hidden depths when Jamie speaks. This is punditry without nuance.
But perhaps aware that he resides firmly on the beige colour spectrum, I like to think that Jamie has rebelled slightly of late. Hidden, here and there, there seems a deliberate attempt to subvert his role as punditry’s very own noble gas.
Take his liberal use of the word ‘literally’. ‘He literally chopped him in half in that challenge’ ‘The ball literally gave him a haircut’, ‘He’s literally just eaten the fourth official’.
Although it’s possible that Jamie has simply confused the word ‘literally’ with ‘figuratively’, I prefer to think that he is playing with the audience, his obvious errors causing them to view his presence as more than just a televisual provider of white noise, in the process enabling Redknapp to escape from the cage of tedium he has constructed for himself.
The same is true of his more ‘leftfield’ takes on football, such as, ‘[Everton are] a team of men’, ‘Peter Schmeichel will be like a father figure to Kasper Schmeichel’ and ‘Real Madrid aren’t in the same league as Barcelona’. Such utterances suggest a man who is no longer content to remain footballing tapioca and through the power of deliberate idiocy, is breaking free.
Recently we got a hint of what the future might hold if he continues down this path, when Jamie, for the first time, ventured beyond football, offering his take on the Black Lives Matter protests and the problem of endemic racism in Britain. The solution, he told the nation, was for more BAME children to become pupils at his son’s private school. Tone deaf, crass and offensive, perhaps, finally, a Jamie Redknapp to get viewers sitting up and taking notice.
A Very Roy Keane Christmas
I woke up on Christmas morning. Deep, crisp snow lay on the ground, the sun was shining and the birds were singing. I opened the window, took in the majesty of it all and then told the birds to reign it in a bit. No need to go over the top.
I headed downstairs where the family had already assembled, waiting to open presents. The kids tore into theirs. I was staggered by their lack of organisation. Staggered. After a few minutes, I pulled them up. This is a Roy Keane family I told them. A Roy Keane Family!
My wife got me a jumper. She asked me if I liked it. I said it felt like she was going through the motions when it came to my gifts. I’d expected a little more from her.
Christmas dinner was ok. I liked how the turkey had been cooked and the way the vegetables and potatoes offered support. But, my god, was I disappointed in the gravy. Far too weak and watery. It needed to establish its personality on the plate. If I’d been the cook, I would’ve refused to let it anywhere near the rest of the meal.
After lunch, we went for a walk. What a mess that was! We were meant to move as a unit but the two at the back kept dropping off. I told them; we’re never going to achieve anything on this walk unless we all put in the effort. It’s only two yards! Get close to people, I shouted, stay tight.
When we got back, we played a board game. The family chose Pictionary and I partnered with my youngest daughter. I was scratching my head throughout. I was so disappointed by her performance. Do the basics I told her. We’re not even talking about winning Pictionary here, just having some self-respect.
And then we all settled down for a film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. What was Indy playing at with his fear of snakes? You can’t let your opponent dominate you. Get out there, impose yourself, let them know what you’re about.
At the end of the day, I lay there in bed, waiting for sleep to come. I have to say that I was frustrated with how long it took to arrive. Where is the hunger? Where is the desire? Shocking. A real disappointment.
It is an abomination they cry. An affront to all that is holy. How dare these women venture an opinion. With an approach to gender equality that makes them sound like a 4Chan forum post, men across the country work themselves up into an apoplexy of rage at the sight of Alex Scott analysing Fulham’s leaky defence on MOTD.
The abuse that Scott receives on social media is staggering, as a tsunami of un-reconstituted men head online to tell the highly decorated former Arsenal and England player how little she knows about a game she played professionally, at an elite level, for 16 years.
It forms part of a depressing wider trend that has seen a certain kind of man push back as women begin to demand greater equality across the sport. For them, there is a yearning to return to the certainties of the past, a kind of 1930s world, where men were men, women knew their place and children still died of TB.
But it’s not just the legions of keyboard hammering incels who view the arrival of Scott, and others on the punditry circuit with distaste. Even former pros have displayed a less-than-progressive attitude, such as when Patrice Evra patronisingly applauded Eni Aluko’s analysis of Serbia vs Costa Rica at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Quite how Evra escaped the ITV studio with his testicles intact, and not volleyed out into the Moscow skyline, stood as a testament to Aluko’s powers of restraint.
There are those men who, in a desperate attempt to appear ‘reasoned’ defend themselves by pointing out that men don’t commentate on the women’s game, so why should women act as pundits on the men’s? Ignoring both the fact that men do commentate on the women’s game and also the troubling back story of ‘separate but equal’.
The sad truth is that for all the advancements that women’s football has made in this country over the past 20 years, discrimination remains an endemic problem in the English game. According to the most recent Women in Football survey, two-thirds of women working in the sport have experienced some form of it.
From the online abuse directed towards female pundits down to those at grassroots being told that they should be at ‘home in the kitchen’, it seems that for a residual lump of men, ‘Football for All’ might be the mantra of the game, but it’s one that from their perspective only really applies to those who have a Y chromosome.
Once the preserve of whiskey sodden grandads and old prison lags, tattoos are everywhere now. In the football world, they are near ubiquitous, the desire to ink-up saturating the game.
The greatest offender is widely considered to be Sergio Ramos, a man whose 42 tattoos make him look like he should be working the waltzers on Hastings pier, not trotting out at the Bernabeu.
Inevitably, because the trend is so widespread, combined with the fact that footballers have too much time on their hands and too many people agreeing to their every whim, a lot of these tattoos are a bit s**t.
Take Christian Vieri, whose right arm’s collection of weird symbols makes it look like the tattooist in question had taken a long phone call while working on the job and had inadvertently spent most of the session using the player’s skin for some in-depth doodling.
And then there’s those, like Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus, who go in for the ‘inspirational’ quote as a way of showing their deeper, more ‘spiritual’ side. Reus’ left hand has been inked with the stirring Oprah maxim, ‘The biggest adventure you can have is to live your dreams’. But does that bear scrutiny? Would falling to your death from a great height -a common reoccurring dream of mine-necessarily lead to a happy life?
Other players, perhaps going for the ‘academic’ angle, opt for a bit of Latin, like Daniel Agger’s ‘Mors Certa Est Hora Incerta Sua’ (Death is certain, its hour is uncertain) and David Beckham’s ‘Perfectio in Spiritu’ (Spiritual Perfection). But if a player is going down this path, it’s important to get it right because nobody wants to end up looking like John Carew whose neck tattoo reads ‘Ma Vie, Mes Régles’, which translates as ‘My Life, My Menstruation’ rather than the intended, ‘My Life, My Rules’.
And lastly, there are those footballers who might get the tattoo they wanted but end up with one that doesn’t really suit them. Like Theo Walcott, whose Sanskrit tattoo translates as ‘Beautiful, Blessed, Strong, Intelligent’. But really, if Walcott was being honest with both himself and the wider football world, he should probably have had the Sanskrit for ‘Disappointing Final Ball’ written on his wrist instead.
Perhaps one of the worst aspects of the proliferation of tattoos is the fact that it makes you respect those players who refuse to ink, making them seem humble and self-effacing. Within this tiny constituency sits Cristiano Ronaldo. And surely any trend that makes Ronaldo seem self-effacing and humble can’t be good.
Judge and Jury
‘We used to sit and look forward to football in comfort on a Saturday, I think you’re becoming too deep, I think you’re setting yourself up as judge and jury.’
These words, spoken by Brian Clough in a wonderfully prickly interview with John Motson back in 1979, seem eerily prophetic from the vantage point of today.
Back when Clough made this critique of the punditry world, what analysis existed would have seemed exceptionally short if judged by modern standards. But Clough was zeroing in on the beginnings of a trend that was picking up steam and which charged ahead like a runaway train in the decades that followed.
As with so much of the modern game, Sky can take the blame here. With an inordinate amount of broadcasting hours to fill, and a finite amount of live football available, they fleshed out the role and prominence of the football pundit, to the point where it now frequently feels like they are on camera for longer than the games they’re there to comment upon. And where Sky journeyed, others have followed.
No live game or highlights package is now complete without excessive amounts of analysis before, during and after, where the game is dissected in exhausting detail with the relentless dedication of a pub bore.
Faced with hours of content to fill, the net for pundits has been cast wider and wider, inevitably leading to diminishing returns. That’s how we’ve ended up with Chris Sutton (a man visibly pained by the knowledge of how much better than you he thinks he is), Alan Shearer (what happens when white noise takes corporeal form) and Martin Keown (the shadow that moves in the corner of your eye).
If the amount of time given over to analysis was trimmed, there would be no need to ever see Garth Crooks on TV again, bewildering us with his intense riddles. Or sit through another segment in which Danny Murphy gives a poorly thought-out opinion that is less about football and more about ensuring he lodges in the memory of the watching public, vital for the alibi he might later have to give to the police.
If he was still around today, you wonder what Clough would have made of it all. The touchscreen analysis, the forensic picking apart of every mistake, Owen Hargreaves’ accent. If he found the light-touch late-1970s unbearable, how would he have coped with the sight of Michael Owen in the pundits’ chair? At the very least, unlike much of the punditry world, his reaction would probably have been an enjoyable watch.