Adrian Chiles: So what do football analysts do to waste time at work?

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The Independent Football

I presented Match of the Day for the first time last Sunday (well, in point of fact, it was Match of the Day 2 but I can't help it if they only came to me in time for the sequel). As a football fan of a certain age, to be sitting in the studio as presenter when that title-sequence rolls is such a massive thing that if you stopped to think about it you'd have to head for the gents. As it happens, that's where I'd been all weekend in the build-up to my debut. But I'll spare you the details.

I presented Match of the Day for the first time last Sunday (well, in point of fact, it was Match of the Day 2 but I can't help it if they only came to me in time for the sequel). As a football fan of a certain age, to be sitting in the studio as presenter when that title-sequence rolls is such a massive thing that if you stopped to think about it you'd have to head for the gents. As it happens, that's where I'd been all weekend in the build-up to my debut. But I'll spare you the details.

My brother, watching at home, said he got emotional because he was thinking about how proud our Grandad would have been - it's him we both have to blame for our West Brom affliction. This hadn't occurred to me but it will from now on, so you may well find me wiping away tears come the start of tomorrow's programme. Having said that, I could well have cried myself dry by then anyway if Aston Villa have beaten us at The Hawthorns.

When I was offered the job, I thought it would be a breeze. Not least because I assumed that with it being a late evening start I'd simply have to swan in about seven o'clock after a late Sunday lunch, chat things through and then pop up on the box with a cheery grin at 10.30pm. However, they're rather old-fashioned on BBC Sport and insist on archaic practices like careful study of the source material and much diligent research.

So my Sundays, from now until May, will involve arriving at Television Centre in time for the first kick-off of the afternoon. Thereupon it'll be my duty to sit on my backside and watch football matches as if it was, well, my job to do so.

This is peculiar. Football as work just doesn't seem right. A month or more ago, we were discussing what to do on tomorrow's show to celebrate Arsenal's record-breaking unbeaten run, which will surely be extended against Middlesbrough. I mentioned to a couple of blokes in the Football Focus office that it might be worth looking at the occasions on which Arsenal actually came close to losing their unbeaten record (there were hardly any, incidentally). These boys immediately started hammering at their keyboards to scour the stats, setting about the task with the enthusiasm of wolves who had chanced upon some prey.

It felt rather naughty, as if we shouldn't be doing this in work time. But of course this was their work so it was fine. But in that case, what do they gossip about? How do they irresponsibly idle away work time? While the rest of us surreptitiously exchange views on diamond formations here, or a man on his own up front there, what do they talk about?

I spend most of my time working on a lunchtime business programme so, all things being equal, that ought to mean that the Football Focus lot spend time in corridors urgently whispering about what Philip Green's next move will be with Marks & Spencer, or what the Monetary Policy Committee is going to do next.

Gratifyingly, our so-called "expert analysts" on MOTD are actually experts. And they spend an awful long time working on the analysis. All afternoon they pick over the matches with the grim attention to detail of police pathologists.

I'm sure that in time I'll get over the novelty of watching a match with Gordon Strachan sat next to me actually explaining what's going on. It's simply fascinating. I thought I understood football but, it turns out, I basically didn't have a clue. It's like, I imagine, having an architectural historian show you round your own house. You thought your surroundings were totally familiar to you and held no surprises, until someone actually explained to you why everything is how it is.

I could comfortably have written 20,000 words based on what Strachan taught me about the game with his comments on the matches at Goodison and Stamford Bridge last Sunday. But distilling it down to four minutes maximum on live television is a different challenge entirely. Hence the spectacle of a Scotsman and a Brummie talking extremely quickly at each other over a series of occasionally unrelated video clips. We'll get better.

Our other pundit on Sunday was Gérard Houllier. In common with Gordon, he doesn't seem quite sure if he's absolutely delighted not to be managing anybody at the moment, or if he's desperate to get straight back into it. But what is clear above all else is their enduring fascination with the game.

The main body of the programme was the highlights of the two games. In each case last week this was a video lasting about 10 minutes. For nearly everyone on the team these 10-minute pauses while the tapes are playing are a chance to work out what comes next, and generally take a little breather. But not for our pundits. Even though they watched the matches live, and already spent all day discussing them, they were both riveted to the highlights. It's in the blood.

I was reminded of as much by an email this week. Last Saturday I wrote of my despair at the start of each season, of the long winter of tension and misery that certainly ensues. I was gratified to hear from a lovely woman called Alison, an alumna of Cheltenham Ladies College, no less: "You are so right. The knowledge that for the next nine months every weekend will be coloured by how we do makes me feel sick, rather than happy that it's starting again ..."

And so it went on, but without mentioning which team is blighting her life.

Leeds? Wolves? Wycombe? York City? Who could this poor woman support? I e-mailed her back, and soon got a somewhat sheepish response: "I'm an Arsenal fan." As I said, it's in the blood.

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