By Ben Stebbings @Stebbiino
It wasn’t too long ago that Match of the Day was in a sorry state of repair. So long a cherished programming staple, the show now appeared complacent, tired, hamstrung and predictable, and neither the icy barbs of Alan Hansen nor the increasing realisation that Mark Lawrenson was suffering some kind of horrendous onscreen midlife crisis that manifested itself through his choice of shirts, could hold down a viewer’s attention. Most damning of all was the feeling the show had lost its relevance and was coasting along on its well-worn brand-name alone; a dangerous voyage as anyone who remembers Top of the Pops can confirm.
Fast forward to the current day and everything has changed. The show is once again fighting fit with subtle but effective tweaks to its structure.
Gary Lineker, the studio’s bedrock since Hansen retired, now probes managers with his own set of questions post-match adding a welcome personal touch. A zeitgeist-aping array of statistics allows the game to be dissected down to its purest form. A rotating and eclectic selection of pundits offer contrasting viewpoints and valuable insight. Heck, even the familiar faces seem to have upped their game immensely (don’t let the leaden Northern tones fool you, Alan Shearer is no longer the weak link). The show seems reenergised, culturally relevant, and dare we say, perhaps even essential viewing once more.
How then have a few minimal changes catapulted the show to new heights? Certainly its long-awaited appearance on iPlayer has helped, making the show more accessible than ever before. It benefits too that old threats has since been extinguished or redirected; the incendiary Roy Keane left ITV and took any bite their football coverage had with him, MOTD’s self-christened ‘more mischievous’ brother Match of the Day 2 has lost its personality and is wholly reliant on Sunday’s ‘blockbuster’ games. As for Sky Sports, they now focus all their energy on besting new kids on the block BT Sport and besides, Lineker has always staunchly maintained MOTD’s highlight-centric format was a different animal to the analysis-driven Super Sunday or Monday Night Football anyway.
More than anything though the show’s resurgence has been aided by re-establishing the fundamentals of its product; football is the people’s game and, finally, the show seems to have listened to what the people want. The use of Twitter, a fairer running order (the best games, not the biggest teams, go first) and a broadened range of experts (no pundit’s seat is guaranteed) all create a more inclusive atmosphere. Match of the Day is, once again, the fans’ show.
Despite this it isn’t perfect. There remains lingering bias that favours and protects pundits’ ex-teammates and certain England players, not every expert proves a hit (step forward John Hartson who has bravely taken up the mantle of weak link) and surely there has to be a less awkward way to splice in clips of the Goals of the Season past. However, there is renewed life and vigour in the studio and with the show having recently turned fifty, it has never looked better.
This article was first published on StudentVine.Com