Stan Collymore, the prolific tweeter of talkSPORT, last week wrote a blog on the supposed snobbery of football journalism. His main bone of contention was that players-turned-pundits such as him were looked down upon by, as he put it, football snobs who write sneering Kafka-esque match reports.
Collymore is the reason many tune in to talkSPORT. Gary Neville on Sky Sports is another who has slipped into the pundit's role with ease. But there are many ex-players on air who lack the communication skills to say anything more than "he's a top, top player", or "for me, you can't legislate for that sort of defending". In order for a pundit to be worth their salt, they need to be skilful enough to spot a line and back up a position – which Collymore is gifted enough to do well.
But on radio, for every Collymore, there is an Ian Wright, who hosts Rock 'n' Roll Football on Absolute Radio for the driving-back-from-the-game crowd on Saturday evenings. He is the punditry version of egg and chips: some people's favourite, but still plain and simple. You know exactly what you are getting. But this week, Absolute put some aural Cholula hot sauce on their ova and potatoes (try it, it's lovely), as Johnny Vaughan filled in while the regular host was "on the slopes" according to the station's website.
Vaughan, of course, never played football to any level above that of the general population. But in the pre-Gary Lineker, Jamie Redknapp, Neville and Alan Shearer era, the ability to kick a ball wasn't a pre-requisite to talk about the game.
Vaughan's familiar delivery style of "ask a question, pause, answer, retort and ask a follow-up question all in a single sentence" has all the blokey glottal stops of Wright. But where Wright bludgeons his way through the show, Vaughan is sharp – and not a little self-deprecating about his time out of the limelight. What was most satisfying was that he reminded people football is only a bloody game.
Take his analysis of Michael Owen's let-off for a punch on Mikel Arteta at the Emirates: "[The referee] viewed that it was so surprising that Owen actually threw a punch, he liked the fact he'd done something ballsy." Likely? Not really. But it was definitely an entertaining angle. As was the fantasy picture he painted of Wayne Rooney in a high-vis vest employed as stop-go man at a roadworks.
He even admitted to watching matches illegally online, to a caller from Newcastle, whose club had beaten Vaughan's beloved Chelsea. But where an ex-player – or anyone from Sky – would have allowed his moral compass to spin into overdrive, Vaughan turned it into a brief argument against over-priced match tickets while admitting to the criminal thrill at streaming a match from a dodgy site.
But the best part of Saturday's show, apart from Vaughan branding an interview with Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert "painful", was his anecdote about sharing a Sardinian beach with Rafa Benitez. The Chelsea manager's skill at keeping an eye on their respective daughters while they were swimming impressed Vaughan greatly. And you could hear the wistfulness in his voice when he finished with "if only he could do the same at Chelsea".
While we're being wistful, is it too much to ask that we get Vaughan every week? Not out of any snobbery against ex-players, but just because sometimes we need a little spice on our spuds.Reuse content