A range of questions being posed; Why did the open the bulletin with that story? Why did they spend more time on a road accident in Monaghan than a plane crash in Ecuador? Why did they choose these specific images to broadcast during a 30 second clip out of hours of available material? Why did they interview Mr. X instead of Mrs. Y?… it goes on like this. It’s an interesting exercise and it means that you’ll never look at a news bulletin the same way ever again. It’s as if a quiet and complex machine has just been opened before your eyes and you see all the moving parts for the first time; all the Executive decisions about what stories to focus on and how, all the editorial choices about which clip or sound-bite to use, with more options available than on Dealchecker during a summer sale. You begin to see that a news bulletin doesn’t just appear on your screen organically, fully- formed but it’s something shaped and created by people, people who have differing viewpoints and have to make choices about what you see about the world’s events and how these events are described to you. And that brings me on to Lee Carsley.
Many of you will remember Lee Carsley as the dependable honest pro who represented Derby County, Blackburn Rovers and Everton in the English Premier League and who won 39 caps for the Republic of Ireland. Lee was never flashy, he scored the winner in the 200th Merseyside derby for Everton, but by and large he was the unglamorous figure who worked doggedly in midfield, protecting his back four, winning back possession and giving simple effective passes to get counter attacks going. Carsley made his debut for Ireland under the reign of Mick McCarthy in 1997, I remember being at one of his first home games and watching him for the old South terrace in Lansdowne Road. He may not have been on the same level as a Roy Keane in that game, but really how many midfielders in the world were? What he did display was a shrewd sense of awareness, he was always in the right position, cutting out opposition attacks, giving simple passes and making some good challenges, he even showed a bit of attacking verve on his few runs forward. Nothing earth shattering but a very respectable solid game, or so I thought.
Speaking to friends that night after the game I was surprised by how many of them labelled Carsley as “muck” , “rubbish” or “anonymous”. Sure he wasn’t the reincarnation of Maradona, but I wondered if we were talking about the same player. What I quickly realised was that the couple of people who had been to the game broadly shared my opinion while those who had watched the match on TV all thought Carsley was useless. I’ve spoken about Lee in a bit of detail because this was the first time I realised how different two people’s view on the same match could be depending on whether they watched it on TV or live in the stadium, but it’s happened many times since.
Many people quite rightly cite the atmosphere in a stadium, the sense of camaraderie and shared experience as the benefits of watching a game live and undoubtedly these are major attractions to those of us who love to watch the game from our usual seat in our usual stand. But what we don’t think about is that when we watch football on TV we aren’t really watching what we chose. We are instead watching a filtered, mediated game, with a director and camera crew deciding who and what to focus on while a commentary team provide us with their insights, or in the case of Mark Lawrenson tired puns and apathetic musings. Watching highlights dilutes this down even more as the editing process becomes ever more pronounced. Watching a game in a stadium allows you the chance to focus on whoever you want, you get a greater view of team formation and tactics, you get to see better the role that the unsung heroes (the Lee Carsley’s if you will) play in the team. Think about it – even a Messi of a Xavi are only on the ball for a few minutes maximum in a game but when you watch them live you get a better understanding of how they move off the ball, how they fit into a system how they pull opposition players out of place and create space for team-mates. I’ve seen Spain play many times on television and have always been highly impressed by them, however watching them from the gods in the PGE Arena in Gdansk this summer blew my mind. The speed, the pace, the precision, the movement! It was breath-taking! It was art!
In closing I would say that although television has obviously enriched our footballing experience massively, allowing us to see the very best from around the world, broadening our knowledge and bringing us together into a footballing global village I believe that the live experience is still crucially important for anyone who wants a true understanding of the game. For many fans the footballing experience begins and ends with their armchair or their barstool, they criticise players they have never seen in the flesh, berate tactics of a manager after having them explained by Jamie Redknapp and complain about the lack of atmosphere in grounds they’ve never set foot in. If you love the game and want to understand it come and see it live, you’ve bought the album now let’s go to the gig there’s always something to be gained from the live experience.
On Monday evening there were two footballing options before me; Bohs v Shelbourne in Phibsboro or Man Utd v Everton in the pub next door. I know which I found the most appealing, and it didn’t involve a pint.