Last on MOTD: From somewhere near Fulham to somewhere near Wigan

IF it hasn’t been Chris Hollins or Sian Williams saying they’ll leave, or Victoria Derbyshire deciding to commute, it’s been Private Eye suggesting the whole thing’s a waste of money or Jeremy Clarkson decrying it as political correctness gone mad.

There have been times, over the last few years, that the BBC’s moving of five departments from London to Salford Quays has seemed like a large-scale version of the final-ever episode of Ever Decreasing Circles. You know, the one in which Richard Briers and Penelope Wilton have to move from Surrey to Oswestry because his employer has relocated.

(I mean, Oswestry! I bet they don’t even have a Waitrose! Etc.)

The perspective in the North West is perhaps different to that of the rest of the country. I live in the Manchester area, and the tone of the local media reports on the BBC’s move has been quite defensive, in my view. This is understandable, given that the move has frequently come under attack from other quarters, but it doesn’t help to paint the city or the region in a particularly friendly light.

You’re not going to encourage people to uproot from the South East to the North West by screaming: “Why don’t you want to move here? What’s wrong with you? We’ve got The Lowry and everything!”

Actually, that reminds me of a Friday night local TV Question-Time-meets-Kilroy-shout-a-thon-interspersed-with-a-bit-of-stand-up-comedy that used to run in the North West called Granada Up Front. Caroline Aherne made the odd early-career guest appearance, and I reckon it may well have been the inspiration for Mrs Merton’s catchphrase: “Let’s have a heated debate!”

The Granada Up Front producers had a habit of picking terrible debate topics, straight from the bottom of the barrel marked: “Who’s better at reverse parking? Men or women?” One week, the topic was: “Who’s better? Northeners or Southerners?” My chief memory of this debate is of a terrifying Mancunian woman, who could have forced Bet Lynch to back away at 50 paces, suggesting with great force that Northerners were far friendlier than Southerners. I almost considered moving to London there and then. And I was only about 12.

Scary people on cheesy debate shows aside, I can see why BBC employees living in and around London might have found relocating north a really difficult decision to make. Yes, we have a couple of great football teams, some nice museums and a few shops, and our riots only lasted a day or so. But, you know, it’s 200 miles away. And while some people can perhaps keep their main home in the south and stay up north in a flat during the week, it’s not an option for everyone.

A friend of mine, who was based with BBC Sport in London, had to make some serious decisions before deciding to go to Salford Quays. For one thing, it meant his wife had to leave her job. For another, they have a young son, and so they were also leaving behind the support network of friends and other young parents they had built up.

(I don’t know why I’m being so coy about this chap’s identity, by the way, given that he wrote a very honest, very funny piece about all of this for The Guardian. You should read it.)

Many BBC employees in London decided not to move north, and that’s fair enough. There was no need to do what Jeremy Clarkson did in July and dismiss an entire chunk of the region, though.

Clarkson is Charlie Brooker in negative. Or Brooker is Clarkson in negative, if you prefer. Both make a living by saying rude things that are very funny as long as you agree with them. The minute you start to take either seriously, you’re in trouble; we’re all in trouble. (Although not as much trouble as when he takes himself seriously.)

In the summer, Clarkson described Salford as a “small suburb with a Starbucks and a canal with ducks on it”, prompting various local politicians to start channelling the scary audience woman from Granada Up Front.

He also stated that, if Top Gear was moved north, he would resign. It was quite amusing, I thought, that the man who spends most of his days extolling the virtues of driving (or, at least, the bits of his days when he’s not trying to deny his ex-wife the right to discuss her own life in public) should apparently be unaware of the concept of commuting. After all, it’s not as if Top Gear is filmed on Clarkson’s doorstep now – he lives in Oxfordshire and the show’s studio is in Surrey.

Anyway, Top Gear’s not moving to Salford Quays. But Match of the Day is. The presenters and pundits will continue – Gary Lineker will commute from Surrey, while Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson live in Southport anyway, so their journey will be easier. Alan Shearer will probably just have to catch a different flight/train/trolley bus from the North East. Life will go on. At least they’re not moving the show to Oswestry.

Last night saw the final show to be transmitted from London before the switch. And the final game of the final London show? I felt it was entirely appropriate.

Last on MOTD: Wigan 0 Fulham 2
Commentator: Martin Fisher

Over the last year or two, a fair few people have said to me: Mike, you’re a freelance, you’re based near Salford Quays, and you know a bit about sport. (Well, OK, maybe they don’t say the last bit.) Why don’t you get some work at the BBC?

Well, let’s take a look at how the interview might go.

Me: Please can I have a job? Please?
BBC: Hmm. Let’s have a look at what you’ve done in your career. What would you say you’re best known for?
Me: Well, perhaps my best-known work has involved spending four years taking the mickey out of your flagship football programme while keeping painstaking records of which game is on last – so painstaking, in fact, that I reckon it’s cost me at least one relationship.
BBC: Riiiiiiiight. You haven’t got a number for Alan Partridge, have you?
Me: You can’t employ him. He’s a fictional character.
BBC: We’ll take our chances.
Me: Smell my cheese!

Four years. Christ. When I started the Last on MOTD strand on my blog in 2007, I didn’t think it would last the season. Now, it’s more or less the only thing I blog about.

In those four years, I’ve covered 167 editions of Match of the Day, of which 59 have featured either Wigan or Fulham – or both – in the final game. That’s more than one in three programmes. (If you’re interested, and you probably are if you’re still reading, both clubs have been on last 33 times each since August 2007.)

No fixture is more likely to be last on MOTD than Fulham’s trip to the DW Stadium. It has now been MOTD’s final game in four of the last five seasons. The exception was in 2009/10, when it was played on a Sunday due to Fulham’s Europa League commitments. (Well, you didn’t think it was moved for TV, did you?)

In short, Wigan v Fulham is the quintessential Last on MOTD game. It was only right and proper, then, that it should be the final game of MOTD’s London era.

It’s a fixture that has been under threat almost annually since Wigan reached the Premier League in 2005, with both clubs enjoying the odd relegation near-miss – the Latics on the final day in 2007 and 2011, Fulham in 2008. Neither side has made a particularly impressive start this time around. But Wigan look the likelier to be relegated.

So far this season, Wigan have combined an inability to score goals with a blundering defence. It does not bode well. Fulham took advantage to win with goals from Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembele. It was the Latics’ sixth Premier League defeat in a row. They are bottom.

Roberto Martinez may yet keep Wigan up, as he did on the final day of last season. But if they do go down, it’s hard to see how they will ever get back. Their fans may yet come to see the days when they were regularly last on Match of the Day as a golden era.

Gubbometer 2011/12
1. Aston Villa: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
2. Fulham: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
3. Wigan: 2 (2L: 4, 3L: 2)
4: Wolves: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
5. West Brom: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
6. Sunderland: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
7. Swansea: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 1)
8. Blackburn: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
9. Tottenham: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
10. Bolton: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 3)
11. QPR: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
12. Newcastle: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
13. Everton: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
13: Liverpool: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
15. Norwich: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
16. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
16. Stoke: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
18. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
19. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
19. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)

2L = On second last (West Brom 0 Liverpool 2)
3L = On third last (Swansea 3 Bolton 1)

(Teams receive one point every time they are last on MOTD. Teams level are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. MOTD2 not included.)

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