This is not the first time Colin Murray has been “politely asked to leave”. Such, at any rate, is how he represents a premature departure from school in Northern Ireland. Not very surprisingly, he seems to have had a knack for exasperating teachers with irreverent jokes and awkward questions. Now the incorrigible boy is to be expelled from Match Of The Day 2, and replaced next season by Mark Chapman.
The theory goes that the Sunday driver has been vexing the retired F1 aces by volunteering his own opinions. But you can see where he’s coming from. It is not as if he has much hope of getting anything worthwhile out of anyone else.
In fairness, squad rotation among his MOTD2 guests gives him half a chance. But the very need to staunch a glut of inanity from the previous evening, together with the fact that the best matches are increasingly reserved for Sunday, has left Murray caught between two sofas.
The Sunday panel will typically have only two games to analyse, both of which they can watch in full, and of course they have had another 24 hours to digest the hectic events of Saturday. As such, they have the perfect chance to redress the leisured superficiality of the Saturday show. As it is, all they tend to lack is a couple of pints and a packet of pork scratchings. The tone was set by Adrian Chiles. As Regular Geezer incarnate, he not only achieved comfortable assimilation with the casual fan; he also exuded an obedient, what-would-I-know deference to the old pros. (In the process, he even contrived a certain appeal to a third audience, who suspected him of hamming things up fairly lavishly to both.)
His replacement was likewise picked out as a fan, as a good lad, rather than an expert. But Murray brought a very different accent – and not just by taking us from Black Country water gurgling down a plughole, to noises apparently liberated from Jimmy Page’s whammy bar. With his high-energy, nervy style, Murray was never going to make a virtue of blandness. That was presumably a calculated gamble, on the part of those who hired him. He would talk fast, and maybe loose as well; he was always likely to divide opinion. For some, his cheek and enthusiasm would strike a lively chord. But others would wince as he imposed himself on proceedings – as this last weekend, when he proved incapable of grasping not only Pat Nevin’s point, on a disputed penalty, but also the impertinence of his own opinion.
Now Murray would have been perfectly within his rights to light a fire under any of the indolent MOTD regulars who trouser a scandalous cut of your licence fee. But he was picking on a guest with the guts and acuity to depart from the consensus; one prepared to introduce something different even to the crass reduction of football to frame-by-frame dissection of marginal, split-second refereeing decisions.
If Alan Hansen, Alan Shearer or Mark Lawrenson are vexed by Murray’s audacity, in criticising professional footballers, then they should perhaps consider their own temerity, in passing off their 19th hole platitudes as professional analysis. On Sky, Gary Neville has disarmed even the most bilious Liverpudlian with his meticulous disclosure of the game’s less obvious dimensions. Neville on Monday nights has become compulsory for those hitherto told only that “the passing, the movement was sensational”, or that “Silva crosses it and that’s a great finish from Aguero.”
MOTD pundits are falling between a rock and a soft place: between their intellectual calcification and their opulently cushioned rumps. Murray might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Perhaps viewers would sooner have had their rage quelled by a quiet twinkle in the eye of someone like James Richardson. As he walks the plank, however, Murray is entitled to bewilderment as looks over his shoulder, and sees all those slobs still lolling smugly round the captain’s bottle of rum.