Okay, so in front of your flat mates I’m guessing that you’ll only admit to reading Buzzfeed and Vice– perhaps you’ll even discuss browsing the Mail’s sidebar of shame in hushed voices with your closer friends- but, come on, you’re a Warwick student. You and I both know that you love a bit of The Guardian. It’s the most left-leaning of all of the daily newspapers, it counts Russell Brand, Charlie Brooker and Victoria Coren Mitchell amongst its columnists and, most importantly, it’s free. What’s not to love?
Well, this rambling, contradictory mess of an article, published in today’s Observer, for one thing. You should probably click the link and give it a quick browse if you intend sticking on this page, because if you don’t, the following rant won’t make a whole lot of sense. But if you can’t be bothered, or if you read the first paragraph and immediately your brain stopped operating to protect you from the utter rubbish it was about to digest, here’s a condensed version. Basically, Catherine Bennett learnt, entirely against her will you understand, that David Moyes was sacked from his position as manager of Manchester United this week. This isn’t of any personal interest to Bennett, and so she demands to know why it’s been featured as one of the main stories on a few news programmes for a while. And that’s pretty much it, really.
There’s a lot wrong with her argument, so much so that I felt impassioned to launch a rapid-fire defence of the place of sport, particularly football in this instance, on our news bulletins and radio airways. For if Bennett gets her way, the sport section of even this newspaper would probably be scrapped because, you know, newspapers should feature more important things, like news and culture. And, frankly, I don’t want that to happen. Firstly because I genuinely and passionately believe that the coverage of sport is one of the most exciting and essential facets of journalism in our modern-day media landscape, and secondly, because I’m a ruthless careerist that will have the line “Sports Writer for The Boar” removed from my CV over my dead body (if only because it slightly makes up for the above line which reads “projected university degree mark: 2:2”).
You and I both know that you love a bit of The Guardian.
The main thrust of Bennett’s argument is, somewhat predictably, that football isn’t ‘real news’. The sacking of Moyes shouldn’t have, in her opinion, been “explored at length on the World at One, PM and Newsnight, inevitably to the detriment of what might conventionally have been considered the day’s news”. Okay, so there does exist some thin ground on which you could construct this sort of argument, I grant you. Yes, football is our nation’s most beloved sport, with our national league being watched by 4.7bn people worldwide and, yes, football is arguably the greatest social leveller in our society; but events in Syria or the Ukraine are undoubtedly events of greater importance that are more worthy of our collective attention.
But this doesn’t mean that the David Moyes automatically fails to become ‘real news’, and Bennett would do well to remember that different kinds of news do exist. And whilst it would be impossible to argue that the sacking is one of the biggest news events in the world, it was certainly one of the biggest in this country. With Parliament on its well-earned Easter break, or something like that, which subsequently resulted in great swathes of UK news coverage taken up with matters as important as wee sweet little Prince George gormlessly gumming his way around Australia for no good reason whatsoever, the Moyes story- a modern multi-million pound footballing soap opera involving the swift decline of one of the planet’s proudest football clubs and around 659 million disillusioned fans– was a story with national interest and resonance.
Really, it seems like Bennett is more interested in launching a thinly-veiled class attack on those uneducated Luddites who enjoy discussing football with one another, because they’re beginning to encroach on her rather more refined turf. In her opinion, football belongs in the realms of the “red-top press” (that’s the papers with the funny, easy-to-read stories and nice big colourful pictures for us football fans to enjoy), and should certainly not be discussed on our more high-brow programmes. “On the day of Moyes’s tragedy, it was still possible to avoid all the above by switching to Radio 3”- thank Christ ‘ey- but disastrously, “by the end of the week the classical station had announced a dedicated Sport Prom, compered by BBC Sport’s Gabby Logan”. One can only imagine Catherine’s shocked reaction to such a troubling announcement, and one can only hope that there was a nice chez-lounge nearby for her to faintly recline on as she acquainted herself with this troubling news, before returning to Great Composers five minutes later.
Oh good god- news presenters who discuss football with enthusiasm when asked to by their editorial team?! What has the world come to!
In reality, though, drawing attention to class isn’t really that funny or that relevant any more. But it’s not only nasty old football getting its dirty paws all over the sanctified airways of Radio 3 that really grinds Bennett’s gears. No, she’s also not a fan of serious, educated people in positions of responsibility revealing their love for the game. “It is becoming hard”, she sniffs, “to imagine a specialist BBC correspondent who is not, like Man Utd fan Nick Robinson or Arsenal supporter Robert Peston, also able to expatiate, with bashful fluency, on the economic consequences of Robin van Persie”. Oh good god- news presenters who discuss football with enthusiasm when asked to by their editorial team?! What has the world come to! Next you’ll be telling me, Catherine, that they also watch reality television and Eastenders, and that they have a house and mortgage instead of living inside the BBC News Studio!
Such footballing dominance leaves Bennett in a real quandary: she argues that the fact all of our news outlets cover football and other sports to such an extent diminishes the rest of their output. “All this leaves a real gap in the market for a broadcaster who can still distinguish between international news”, and between what Bennett pooh-poohs as mere sport stories. This really leaves me struggling to envisage her perfect broadcaster, because surely, in order to be a well-informed member of the community, you should interact with and at least have some perception of a range of different issues? If a channel was to indeed make headline features out of sport stories every day, then that would certainly be a problem, but considering the Moyes story was the first time in months that a footballing item has been the lead story for the majority of news outlets, Bennett’s calls for a new broadcaster seem fairly exaggerated. Maybe she just should switch over television channels, I’ve heard that sometimes works.
Reading her article, it’s clear that Bennett believes football is a passion that we should keep clandestine, and instead we should all find ourselves a more culturally rewarding hobby. And she doesn’t exactly keep her great love to herself. No, Bennett boundlessly bangs on about classical music like Classical FM are paying her commission. When she’s not rambling on about why Radio 3 is better than Radio 5 (I mean it probably is, but give it a rest), she’s wondering whether the favourite classical piece of Ryan Giggs is “Madamina, il catalogo è questo”. Nope, I don’t understand the joke either (is it “Cheating with your brother’s wife in E major”, perhaps?), but if the rest of her article is anything to go by, I wouldn’t worry, because it’s probably contradictory and doesn’t really make sense anyway.
Bennett’s reasoning seems to consist of blithely pointing that less women like football then men; ergo it must be sexist. That’s rubbish.
After growing bored of attacking the place of sport in the news on class-lines, Bennett changes tact, to focus on sexism within football. Naturally, she proceeds to completely screw up her own argument. Of course, there is sadly no doubt that the beautiful game has a glaring gender quality issue. Just recall the repeated sexist ‘banter’ shared between Keyes and Gray, football’s very own misogynistic gruesome twosome, for example; or a recent survey that found two-thirds of female respondents had experienced sexual discrimination whilst working in football. These examples are actually indicative of the real problem football has with sexism.
Bennett, however, argues that football is sexist not for these reasons, but because “80%” of football’s spectator figures are male, and because “only 28% of (the listeners of Radio 5) are women”. She then patronizingly proposes that football clubs only want more women supporters for “the money if they, too, could be induced to dress up in team colours, dutifully changing shirts every season”. Rather than focusing on the tangible concerns of women actually involved in the game, Bennett’s reasoning seems to consist of blithely pointing that less women like football then men; ergo it must be sexist. That’s rubbish. And, even more so, that’s dangerous, because in so readily hi-jacking a news item that reveals absolutely nothing about sexism in our society, she runs the risk of undermining other feminist campaigns, as well as alienating those women who do enjoy football and who did appreciate reading and listening to discussion of the Moyes sacking.
So, after making this point, Catherine Bennett abruptly brings her argument to a close, expecting that we, the intelligent, informed reader of The Guardian, exit the webpage realizing the stupidity and inherently sexist nature of football, expecting never to encounter the grubby little game on our news programs ever again. But her argument, like a left-footed Emile Heskey forty yard effort in the dying moments of injury time, or like an attempted overhead clearance from Titus Bramble on the edge of his six-yard box, falls markedly short. Football is a sport with massive, universal appeal- across the sexes in fact- that deserves, every once and a while, to find itself discussed on the big cheese programmes on television and radio. And, incredibly I know, this doesn’t, in fact, infringe on the quality of the rest of the broadcaster’s output.
Do football stories unfairly pre-dominate our news reports and radio broadcasts? Join the discussion at @boarsport and have your say.