It’s very hard to hide your true self on Twitter.
You can sign up with the best of intentions, hoping to draw a line between your real life persona and your internet avatar, but with every 140 characters you release, the mask slips a little.
For some, this can be disastrous. Twitter can expose vanity, obsequiousness, creepiness, ignorance, or, in my case, an inability to realise that accidentally urinating on your small child’s head is something that you should probably keep to yourself.
For others, like Gary Lineker, the door swings the other way. Unfairly derided in some quarters as little more than a smug TV host, Twitter has allowed us to see Lineker metaphorically pull Piers Morgan’s pants down, justifiably criticise the England team and, on more than one occasion, fiercely defend Match of the Day.
Lineker’s interview in the Guardian on Monday was an accurate reflection of what we’ve seen of him on Twitter. He displayed intelligence, judgement and loyalty to his friends. And much of what he said was correct.
MOTD is not a specialist show for a niche market, it’s the flagship football show of the original mainstream channel in the UK. It’s not supposed to be intensive, skull-creaking analysis, it’s supposed to be a highlights package for people who merely like football, as opposed to those of us who live it.
The combination of digital channels, internet streams and social networks has given geeks like us the ability to watch half a dozen games or more every weekend, It enables us to have fiercely competitive, “What? You don’t even know who plays right back for Freiburg?” battles of oneupmanship. But most people aren’t like that. Most people just tune in for a bit of football after the pub and go to bed entirely unconcerned by the lack of scrutiny given to Norwich’s inverted wingers.
MOTD is not a show with an awful lot of time to spare, either before the broadcast or during it. They don’t have the long, edit-friendly build-up enjoyed by the excellent ‘Goals on Sunday’ and they don’t have the vast expanses of analysis time used so well by Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher on ‘Monday Night Football’. They were criticised in the past, most ferociously after the disappointing coverage of the 2010 World Cup was followed by another season of comfortable lethargy, but last Saturday’s show was a world away from that dirge.
Lineker was justified too in leaping to the defence of Alan Shearer. I was one of a number of internet snarks who howled at him for his infamous, “We don’t know much about Hatem Ben Arfa,” comment. While Shearer might genuinely have been unaware of him, it was unfair of me not to at least consider the possibility that he was speaking in general terms, off the cuff, in the glare of a studio full of lights and cameras at a stage of his broadcasting career when he wasn’t articulating himself perfectly. Nevertheless, the outcry certainly seemed to shock him into action.
But where Lineker was wrong was in his dismissal of the merits of other brands of pundits and presenters, most glaringly when he referred to James Richardson in the same breath as Richard Keys. Richardson is preposterously quick-witted, warm and engaging. Keys is a modern day Pinnochio, a scarcely believable character desperate to one day become a real lad. Same genre? They’re barely even the same species.
As for the apparent lack of journalists capable of delivering analysis, I can only presume that Lineker hasn’t been watching ESPN or BT Sports where people like Unibet's own Raphael Honigstein and Julien Laurens, and the likes of Phillipe Auclair, Gabriele Marcotti, James Horncastle and many others have acquitted themselves so well. There might be more Englishmen and women on that list if journalists were ever trusted with a Premier League broadcast.
And what about supporters? Anyone who has heard contributors to The Anfield Wrap, True Faith, When Skies Are Grey or Love Supreme in action will know that you don’t need to be able to do shorthand to hold incisive, broadcastable views on football. It’s not all like 606 out there.
These people might not be able to do keepie-ups, or tell us with the benefit of first hand experience if a striker will be ‘happy with that’, but they do know the game.
Lineker’s point that MOTD might not be the place for a non-footballer is reasonable enough, but there barely seems to be a place for one anywhere, save for a rare sighting of the deliciously waspish Neil Custis on MOTD2 Extra. Usually, when offered the chance to deviate from the norm, the BBC go low brow. They go more golf clubby, more salmon sweatery, more Chris bleeding Moylesy. We can take high brow. Give us a go. Please.
The illuminating performances of Danny Murphy and Roberto Martinez on MOTD last weekend are proof that past criticisms of Shearer, who learned from it, and Mark Lawrenson, who did not, were valid. MOTD has noticeably improved over the last three years.
The rest of the coverage can improve too. Lineker is smart enough to know that we only complain about MOTD so much because it’s such an important part of our lives. And just because we welcome his opinions, doesn’t mean that we always agree.