As a presenter Mark Chapman seems affable and engaging, and in person he is even more so. The host of Match of the Day Two, the NFL Show and The Monday Night Club on Radio Five Live may be riding the crest of a wave in his career, but there is clearly no danger of it going to his head. The 44-year-old’s attitude to presenting remains “[it’s] not about me, but about them”.
Despite Chapman’s amiability, he has also garnered a well deserved reputation amongst fans for not allowing his guests to get away with the overused clichés and meaningless platitudes that some pundits typically proffer. Chapman sees this as part of an effort “to get the best out of every pundit I work with on TV and radio”, adding “they know that I’ll challenge them, that I’ll pick them up on stuff but they also know that I’ll try and get them out of any trouble that they get themselves into.”
Whilst he’s made a mark for probing questions on Match of the Day Two, the NFL Show is characterised by the chemistry between its host and its two resident pundits (former Houston Texans cornerback Jason Bell, and two time Super Bowl winner Osi Umenyiora). Though the three men are from extremely different backgrounds – Umenyiora is married to a former Miss Universe and Bell is in a relationship with one of Girls Aloud – their on-screen friendship never feels forced, and also doesn’t stray into irritating bonhomie.
When asked if the trio are as close off-screen as they appear on it, Chapman says “we are close, we get on very well, we still talk during the week even now on a WhatsApp group”. He also gives a charming insight into the atmosphere of the production process, and one that rings true: “when we are arrive at the studio it’s hugs all round, they’re [Bell and Umenyiora] very much about the team, about the cameramen, about the woman who does the autocue, about make up, about the guy who brings us the coffees – it’s a proper team effort, and it is…full of laughter, to be honest with you, and if it wasn’t natural and genuine I think you’d be able to tell on screen, really.” The team were in Minnesota in February for the Super Bowl, which Chapman describes as “challenging”, but “the most exhilarating TV thing to present”.
It is full of laughter….and if it wasn’t natural and genuine I think you’d be able to tell on screen really
If presenting live for four and a half hours is a challenge, ‘Chappers’ finds not allowing the team he supports (Manchester United) to influence his broadcasting somewhat easier. He admits working in the industry “changes your relationship”, adding “you watch so much sport that in many ways it can dilute your passion a little bit for your actual club. You spend so much time watching football, working in football, dealing with people who are at your club and then getting a different view of that person so it might alter how you feel about your club”. Instead, the hardest aspect of broadcasting as a fan can lie in praising all teams other than your own to compensate for your internal affection, and “when your team are crap to not go so overboard and hammer them because they’re doing so badly”.
One element of modern media that is getting particular attention at the moment is fan channels such as Arsenal Fan TV, recently the subject of criticism from Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin. Seen by some as a colourful alternative, or even a threat, to traditional media, and others as something of a joke, Chapman is comparatively philosophical: “I don’t see them as a threat. I think there’s room for everybody…if you go back ten years ago podcasts were meant to bring the end of radio, and in-fact what they’ve actually done is increased listening to radio.” When asked his opinion on the actual content itself, Chapman say he thinks “there is a place for it. Some of it becomes a parody of itself…I think any right-minded individual wonders if they’re just putting it on a little bit to get more clicks…but only in the same way that a radio phone-in would deliberately put a passionate mad fan through to create good radio. I don’t have a problem with it.”
In-fact, it’s the Hector Bellerin’s in this debate that ‘Chappers’ actually reserves most criticism for, suggesting “you have to take it with a pinch of salt a little bit, most reasonable people enjoy it and realise it is what it is. Those within football need to stop being so sensitive about what fans think and say, that’s the world we live in. Anybody in the public eye has to deal with the fact that you’re going to have the piss taken out of you, that’s kind of what happens. There are a lot more benefits.”
Those within football need to stop being so sensitive about what fans think…you’re going to have the piss taken out of you
Although the conversation is decidedly friendly, on the subject of the future of sport Chapman strikes a cautious tone. With more than one sport currently beset by doping scandals, he argues cycling shouldn’t be the exclusive focus of attention “because it’s been a lot more transparent than other sports…there’s part of me going ‘hang on DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), that’s fair enough on cycling but if you really dug into rugby or athletics or football…’” Chapman has journalistic experience with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and laments that WADA’s argument that “those that dope, and the drug cheats, will always be one step ahead” is still his belief today.
On scandal-ridden FIFA he is similarly pessimistic, admitting “I couldn’t answer where FIFA goes from here at the moment, and I honestly don’t think anybody could”. Indeed, Chapman sagely concludes “these next two World Cups are going to be very, very interesting…a scandal happens, everybody erupts, there are changes, and everything goes back to how it was. That seems to be the nature of a lot of things.”