Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Comment: BBC's World Cup play-off analysis is not on the ball

By Liam Beckett

Once again this past week I have been annoyed by what I can only describe as extremely poor and cheap journalism from some of our local broadcasting stations.

Why oh why in heaven’s name could we not for once give our Northern Ireland football team the undivided credit it deserves for the tremendous progress they have been making over the last few years without some of our top radio and television presenters, and I reference the Nolan Show and Talkback here, hijacking what is a real success story with their blatant obsession of always quickly shifting the emphasis onto other things such as an all-Ireland football team?

Instead of embracing what I considered to be another fantastic attempt by our wee country to qualify for the finals of yet another major tournament (and they don’t come any bigger than the World Cup), some of our best known radio and TV presenters unashamedly seized this opportunity to drum up some sort of familiar political slant on the subject, and sure as you know it before you could say ‘pussy was a cat’, what should have been an occasion for celebration and full of positivity was quickly and mischievously reduced into one of negativity and despair instead.

I must not be hypocritical here because I have been a contributor many times on these programmes and I’ve felt they have been both constructive and informative.

But, on this occasion, the very next day after the first leg all BBC Talkback could muster was a story about the anthem which is always going to be downright antagonistic, instead of debating at length one of the most bizarre and shocking penalty decisions I have ever seen.

Then the night before the first game we had what I felt once again lacked thought, professionalism and taste when the Nolan TV show did the ‘swinging both ways’ nonsense which I felt was an absolute insult to the loyal fans of both Northern Ireland and the Republic who live here and have spent thousands of pounds following their respective teams to the verge of the World Cup that this was how two of the biggest games in both countries' history was being covered. 

Little or no mention of the players, referees, goals, or indeed anything that happened on the pitch.  But of course rather than the things football fans would want to talk about, instead we had to listen to those who barely know the difference between Michael and Martin O’Neill pontificating on issues that those who were actually at the games quite honestly don’t really care about.

Although I admire and welcome all of the sporting coverage BBC NI currently offers, clearly on this occasion these current affairs programmes misread our sport and in the process did both sets of supporters a severe injustice.

As an avid sports fan I take great exception to people in the media (particularly those who should know better), knowingly choosing sporting subjects or features which of course they know only too well will lead them into a much more sensational debate on religious beliefs and political viewpoints.

It’s always a dead cert to succeed in this country.  It never ceases to amaze me just how often these shows adopt this method in their madness, and even more so just how many listeners ultimately fall into the trap.

But for me anyway, it’s high time they changed the tune — it’s highly repetitive, not funny and nor is it even worthy of debate anymore.

To continually drum up this theory of an all Ireland football team, as per the Nolan Show the morning after the Republic had been dumped out by Denmark, is becoming tired and weary for the vast majority of us.

In fact now the very mention of it is seen by many as little more than incitement to hatred if I’m perfectly honest, or is it just a very poor attempt at hopefully winning a handful of new listeners perhaps?

The inevitability of this particular debate always proceeds down what all proper football people now consider to be an already well worn path to nothing other than the abyss and the widening of the political divide in Northern Ireland, and no ifs or buts that is seriously wrong for any so-called responsible person to knowingly do that.

Suddenly the topic of sport, and in this instance Northern Ireland’s extremely commendable progress on the football pitch,  quickly becomes very secondary in the debate.

Hence, it’s my belief that it merely acts as a vehicle for certain presenters to then approach, from a different angle, from which to simply agitate people and to attract the much more tribal viewpoints — something these type of presenters thrive on.

I’m sick sore and tired of reminding certain people that sport is this country’s greatest common denominator, it builds more bridges in our communities than any politician, radio or TV presenter ever will, and that’s a fact.

So in future please do all of us in sport a big favour by either debating sport properly for what it truly is, in a positive and constructive manner, or else keep your nose out of it, we’ve all had our fill.


From Belfast Telegraph