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25 September 2019

Post-match “talking points” are the worst. Once the game’s over, I’ve forgotten it all

Commentators pick on any passing trivial incident in a desperate attempt to turn it into a running story.

By Hunter Davies

There are so many “talking points” these days – none of which I am talking about. Yet the commentators are convinced that talking points are the only things football fans are talking about.

They, of course, decide what they are. “After the break we will look at that incident again, it is a real talking point. Don’t go away, you can have your say, phone in on this number and tell us – was that a handball, was the goalie out of his area, did the goal scorer give a rude gesture to the home crowd, was the referee right to take all his clothes off, were the pies up to scratch today, was it fair to have that close-up of the blonde in the crowd who was bending down? We’ll be right back.”

They pick on any passing trivial incident in a desperate attempt to turn it into a running story. There are many pointless boring media outlets desperate for a talking point.

The biggest one this season has been VAR – the video assistant referee – whereby someone in a studio looks at video footage of a referee’s decision and tells him he is an idiot, or spot on, you was right.

In the Leicester-Spurs game on 21 September there were two lengthy delays for VAR, one lasting three minutes. Three precious minutes lost, the world stood still – before we were told it was not a goal. They came back to it endlessly, till I was screaming.

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We all want decisions to be correct, but not when it ruins the flow and emotion of the game. Video coitus interruptus has taken the joy and spontaneity out of scoring. When we get back to the action, it’s never quite the same.

Football is not fair. The best teams do not always win. Since it all began, there have been dodgy refereeing decisions. We have to live with it.

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However, goal-line technology is excellent, better than the naked eye. We know the result in seconds, whether it was over the line or not.

The problem with VAR is that they are taking it further back, analysing moves preceding the goal that we have now forgotten – an unseen handball or foul, a marginal offside – long before the final shot that led to the glorious GOAL! Soon they will go back to the dressing room, to see if something dodgy happened there.

The TV commentators love it, because they endlessly get to play with the technology. The producers love it as it fills time. The printed media is always convinced we are talking about the latest corruption stories, such as Liverpool allegedly accessing the scouting system of Man City, and paying a £1m settlement. My eyes glaze over. Clubs have been spying on one other, doing dodgy deals, paying backhanders since 1885, when football first went professional.

Were they playing 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 or 5-4-3-2-1 ? Yawn. No hold on, that last one was a Manfred Mann song.

Young football writers with PhDs in football studies love to analyse formations, telling us what shape the manager played, should have played, with references to the hole, the false number nine, and of course catenaccio and the Italian defences of the 1970s.

Was Bobby Moore more important to England than Bobby Charlton? Who is the all time best left back? What was the greatest goal ever scored at the Kop End? Did Pelé think he had scored that goal against Gordon Banks?

I am quite interested in football history and have written four books about it, but talking about historical talking points – dear God, I get so bored.

The trouble is, I can never remember what I know and what I’ve seen. I am totally lost when fans drone on for hours about an historic match that I was actually at, such as the 1966 World Cup Final. Even games that finished just half an hour ago, I have forgotten.

You would think as I spend so much of every week watching football, reading about football, I would at least remember what I saw.

All I really like is the action, not the analysis. Once it’s over, I don’t want to hear people talking about it. Football to me is moving wallpaper. It floats in front of my eye and gives endless passing pleasure.

A bit like life, really… 

This article appears in the 25 Sep 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The great disgrace