BBC boss should use Match of the Day’s 20-minute silence to consider if row could have been handled any worse

Sports fans are used to silences usually lasting just sixty seconds but this 20-minutes felt like a lifetime, Tom Peck writes

Sunday 12 March 2023 10:41 GMT
BBC figures that have taken their controversial opinions and got away with it

For the first time in sixty years, the Saturday night football highlights arrived with no trumpet fanfare.

No theme tune, no titles, just a three-second long frame with the words ‘Premier League Highlights’ written across it.

After that it got even weirder, to the point where one wonders if anyone can truly be sure any of it happened? Was it real? Were the same eerie pictures on your TV as well as mine? How can we know? If the words VAR just flash up on the screen and before anyone can moan about them Mo Salah has blasted a penalty eight yards over the bar then did they ever flash up at all?

If a last-ditch Erling Haaland penalty just glides on to the screen and then off it again with the silent serenity of a giant turtle drifting over a coral shelf then who can say with absolute certainty that they ever saw it at all?

If there is no breathless exaltation to mark the moment, if it is not rewound and replayed time and time and time again, if its protagonists are not bathed in those little illuminated circumferences of hallowed light dropped down upon them from on high by the gods in the graphics department, then was there really a moment at all?

What if all that football really is just some blokes kicking a ball about, and that’s it? What if it was always just Aguero not Agueeerrrooooooooo? What if, not especially deep down, it really is this boring? What if that’s why Gary Lineker really is worth over a million quid a year? It’s almost too horrifying to consider.

Match of the Day has certainly had its share of moments, in the last sixty years, but none like this.

The BBC have had its share of embarrassments too, but at least for the most part, they’ve taken years if not decades to come out. This was a humiliation in real time.

There are, almost certainly, at least a few people out there who pay absolutely no attention to the news whatsoever, but who still like to watch Match of the Day. You fear for the scenes in those houses, where they must have thought that another pandemic was underway and no one had told them.

Should someone stumble upon the archive footage of this historic MOTD episode many years from now, they might wonder whether maybe Gary Lineker had caught some kind of terrible disease, and he and everyone who’d ever met him had had to be temporarily locked away. They might also look somewhat shocked on finding out that all that had actually happened is he’d done a tweet criticising the government, and in so doing all but silenced the unsilenceable Premier League.

Sports fans are used to silences. Rarely more than a few weeks pass anymore without the passing of someone or something who must be mourned for a minute before kick off.

The mind can go on strange journeys, given just sixty seconds to meander around in sadness. Twenty minutes, by comparison, is a lifetime.

A Leeds equaliser, a Bournemouth winner, a consolation goal for Forest – with no one around to shout in to a microphone about any of them, none were potent enough to stop the cogs in their hyperextended Saturday night whir.

Do you really have to give up your right to free speech in order to host Match of the Day…how is that not a yellow …why is it one rule for Gary Lineker and another for Lord Sugar… why do I pay my license fee if I can’t even watch the football highlights… how the f*ck has Salah missed that… maybe you just shouldn’t compare the government to Nazis…you really have to fear for West Ham from here…if using a salty analogy costs you your job, doesn’t that make life easy for Nazis, and there are quite a few of them around these days…

When the ball was played they’re clearly level!...that guy on my TV earlier, the BBC director general Tim Davie, the one who said: “I have only one objective, to make sure the BBC is truly impartial” – didn’t he stand to be a Tory councillor once? Didn’t he run his local Conservative association? What’s that about? … bloody hell this is boring isn’t it? Has it always been this boring… Why does it always feel like whenever they talk about impartiality, it’s always the people who criticise the government end up in trouble, and never the other way around?

The main emotion, though, was just to be quietly blown away by it all. Specifically, by the awesome power of collective action. It was only twenty minutes of commentary-free football highlights, but oh what a brave new world, that hath such people as Ian Wright and Alan Shearer in it.

Did Tim Davie think that they would just quietly go along with the defenestration of their mate? That the commentators, even the players and the managers would step up and carry on as normal? That they would carry the burden of his own ineptitude for them? That they would side with him, over Gary actual Lineker?

Anyone tuning in early would have seen most of Tim Davie’s short sit-down interview on the BBC News channel, where he refused to “get into the details” (why are you doing the interview then mate?).

He said nothing of interest but one point was especially boring. That the world’s more complicated since social media came along. That you can be famous for one thing and then start talking about another.

Is the BBC director general not aware that it’s not 2008 anymore? Maybe the thing to think a bit harder about is what happens when impartiality meets the truth?

Maybe the outrageousness of Lineker’s comment, the one obliquely comparing the language of the government to the language used in 1930s Germany (and nothing more), might best be measured not by the number of Tory politicians who are unhappy about it, but by the number of pundits, commentators, sound engineers, football players and managers who have all gone on a de facto strike over Gary Lineker’s right to say it.

If Lineker didn’t have at least a bit of a point, maybe there wouldn’t be twenty minutes of silence in the middle of the BBC’s prime time schedule, and the Director General wouldn’t be having to apologise for it? That might be something for Tim Davie to think about, the next time he’s got a quiet moment, which at this rate is going to be half past ten next Saturday night too.

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