Last on MOTD: Cheese triangle day

I LEARNED about the concept of infinity from a cheese triangle, when I was about seven.

It was a Laughing Cow cheese triangle, wrapped in silver foil with a picture on the front. The picture showed a laughing cow wearing a pair of cheese triangle earrings. Those earrings showed a picture of a laughing cow wearing a pair of cheese triangle earrings. And so on, until presumably both the laughing cow and the cheese triangle earrings were smaller than an atom. Perhaps the Laughing Cow invented nuclear fission. Perhaps that’s why the cow is laughing.

This, I would suggest, is an apt metaphor for the manner in which transfer deadline day plays itself out. If the day itself is the initial cheese triangle, then Jim White is the laughing cow and the rest of us are the earrings, hanging on for all our worth. (White, as far as I’m aware, did not invent nuclear fission. But even if he had, he would consider it less important than Bobby Zamora moving to QPR.)

What happens is this: Some players move clubs, some players nearly move clubs, some players resolutely stay put. White sits in a blue Sky Sports News studio beside a bemused young woman in a bright dress, booming away like a disco in the flat upstairs. Over on Twitter, journalists, fans in the know, fans-who-claim-to-be-in-the-know-but-aren’t and pranksters trying to drop another Rajko Purovic on the nation throw in their own comments, info and speculation – some of which feeds off White, some of which feeds back to him.

Then, when things have calmed down, when Sky’s Children In Need-style scoreboard has stopped totting up millions (none of which will go to charity), Martin Kelner or Giles Smith will write a column for the Guardian or the Times, wryly commenting on White’s performance, perhaps inadvertently using gags that have already appeared on Twitter – because these days, all the best gags appear on Twitter instantly, along with all the worst ones.

Underneath the online versions of those articles, some smart alec will leave a comment along the lines of: ‘What a pointless piece. Don’t you know there’s a war going on in Afghanistan?’ And then some other smart alec underneath will comment on that comment.

And on and on and on and on it will go, with comments on comments on comments on comments on comments on comments on comments, until eventually, each opinion will be smaller than an atom.

Meanwhile, in a land far, far away, Carlos Tevez ploughs on outside the confines of all transfer window protocol, existing in a world beyond deadlines, sticking to his own weird script, one that increasingly reads like a collaboration between Ingmar Bergman and Freddie Starr. Its only logic, beyond its sheer illogicality, centres on a career turning in on itself.

Amid all of this, someone, somewhere, had the temerity to organise some football games. Didn’t they know that January 31 was cheese triangle day?

Last on MOTD: Swansea 1 Chelsea 1
Commentator: Simon Brotherton

I say this as someone who is (kind of) on the inside: It seems, increasingly, that media football coverage could function just fine without any actual football. If anything, matches actually get in the way of everything else; the transfer gubbins, the managerial personality clashes, the players’ love lives, the Technicolour Adventures of Mario Balotelli.

You could, at a push, reduce all televised football coverage to shots of reporters shivering outside training grounds, all radio coverage to phone-ins featuring ex-pros telling a series of increasingly irate callers that they’ve never played the game, all newspaper and magazine coverage to comment pieces speculating wildly on what a certain manager might be thinking (This week – Arsene Wenger: Have I left the oven on?) and all internet coverage to anonymous keyboard warriors claiming that all TV, radio and print outlets have an agenda against their club.

When it comes to featuring shots of reporters shivering outside training grounds, Sky Sports News leads the way, particularly on transfer deadline day. It’s not an easy job, staring into a camera and talking without hesitation, deviation or excess repetition when nothing much is happening. Especially when they don’t really need to be there.

This ‘on the spot’ reporting, a technique borrowed from television news, is generally just for show. Don’t get me wrong: Those Sky journalists are still digging for stories, speaking to contacts, looking for the line that no one else has. It’s just that they’re doing most of that over the phone. Which they could just as easily do from an office.

It’s nothing new, this. And it’s a form of television reporting that has been used to a far greater degree of deception in far more serious circumstances. Alex Thomson, an experienced ITN war journalist who hosted Channel 4 News for a while, once talked of his own ‘on the spot’ reporting during the first Gulf War.

Thomson was stationed in Saudi Arabia during the conflict, but that didn’t mean he necessarily knew what was going on. Indeed, he acknowledged during a BBC documentary that he was sometimes relying on his bosses in London to tell him.

“One of the standard devices is the live two-way,” he said during the 1991 documentary, Tales From The Gulf. You go to your man on the spot: ‘Bill, what’s the latest?’ . . . ‘I’m informed that such and such is going on.’ The only reason they [the reporter on the spot] knew that was because they phoned their office just before going on air – and the office had read over to them the latest wire copy. I know. I did that.”
(NB: This is an abridged version of a transcript which appeared in full in ‘Getting the message: News, truth and power, edited by John Eldridge and published by Glasgow University Media Group in 1993)

As Thomson put it, “a perfectly respectable journalistic device – asking someone who was there – actually became downgraded and abused”. By comparison, a load of TV sports reporters standing outside training grounds doing live pieces to camera about possible transfers is pretty harmless, really.

It is still a bit weird when the theatre around the football supplants the football, though. On Radio Five Live last night, West Ham manager Sam Allardyce criticised the Football League for allowing games to be played on cheese triangle day. This story was related by reporter Ian Dennis during a Match of the Day with a difference.

Keen to incorporate the Laughing Cow concept into a straight-forward highlights show, MOTD came up with a first – a presenter substitution towards the end. Gary Lineker watched and discussed five Premier League games with Alan Hansen and Lee Dixon. Then he threw to Dan Walker, standing up a few feet away, to talk transfers with Dennis and Martin Keown.

As Walker talked through a video montage of the day’s main deals, Lineker, Hansen and Dixon disappeared into thin air. And so the final moments of the show consisted of three men standing up discussing Steven Pienaar, while three empty chairs were clearly visible behind them. I was reminded of those instances in a pub, where a group of burly blokes have vacated a table, but you’re wary of sitting there unless they come back. (Mind you, I can’t imagine Keown being intimidated by Lineker. Or Dixon. Or Hansen, come to that.)

Just like last year, the most expensive deal was done by Chelsea. But instead of paying £50m for Fernando Torres, they splashed out less than £7m for winger Kevin de Bruyne, then promptly loaned him back to Genk. Everyone agreed that it was a sign of belt-tightening, part-inspired by UEFA financial fair-play rules, part-inspired by the fact that the world is running out of money.

Torres, meanwhile, featured on MOTD’s final game, not scoring at Swansea. His most notable moment seemed to come before kick-off, when David Luiz held him by the head and gave him some kind of pep talk, both men frozen as others moved around them, as if they were recreating the closing titles to an episode of Police Squad. (I’d say Torres is Frank Drebin, Luiz is probably Officer Nordberg.)

After Jose Bosingwa’s deflected shot earned Chelsea a point, Andre Villas-Boas conducted his post-match interview in an almost inaudible guttural voice, as if he’d just emerged from hibernation. It’s safe to come out now, Andre. Cheese triangle day is done. At least until August.

Gubbometer 2011/12

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

2L = On second last (Tottenham 3 Wigan 1)
3L = On third last (Wolves 0 Liverpool 3)

(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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