If there’s one regrettable by product of Richard Keys and Andy Gray’s recent termination by Sky Sports, it’s that we no longer can look forward to their trenchant analysis being carefully picked apart by the Guardian’s Barney Ronay. And it’s with those changes in job description in mind that Ronay all but pleads for the duo’s return to television (“like beating your dad in an arm-wrestle, this has been an oddly deflating victory. Can’t we just have them back?”) ;
The basic problem is that good TV football journalism is now almost impossible to replicate. There simply isn’t the time. The golden era of football presentation came in the mid-70s when Jimmy Hill (above), a man with just the right strain of informed and energetic egomania, would commentate on a game, commandeer a private plane back to west London (on which his greying beard would be touched up with mascara) and then passionately analyse the match you’d just seen him commentate on.
By contrast Match of the Day’s current migrainous banality is no accident: these lolling satin-shirted sofa fondlers have simply been watching TV feeds in Television Centre, their view fatally restricted, their experienced glazed by distance. Alan Hansen, in particular, worries me. He has been lashed to the upholstery for 15 years now. He is a miracle in many ways, still talking on cue and without noticeable hesitation. But this system has wearied him. He comes before us with abdominals slackened, temples dulled, eyes in mono focus.
The simple answer to this is that there is just too much talking around televised football. Hill would talk simply because he had a tactical itch to scratch. But the game is now presented as storied light entertainment, a branch of mainstream celebrity gush, and so the talk is largely peripheral and hyperbolic. And this, it turns out, was what Keys and Gray were good at. Their talk was a kind of seamless white noise, a muscular background thrum that spoke directly to the banality of its production.