Forget the politics and the point-scoring - Last Saturday’s Match of the Day was terrible, plain and simple

Saturday’s edition of Match of the Day was broadcast without pundits or commentators following Gary Lineker’s suspension.

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I spent most of last week in Lisbon, largely and wilfully cloistered from the clogged sewer pipe of the British news cycle. It was, in a word, blissful. On Saturday evening, thanks to the combined efforts of the sadistic machinations of RyanAir and the organisational effectiveness of a striking union of French air traffic controllers (solidarité!), I took a heavily delayed flight home, flicked on BBC One, and promptly wondered what the **** was going on.

Here we had the bastardised, vulture-picked carcass of Match of the Day, a kind of highlights show for the nuclear winter, devoid of all humanity, and ultimately, entirely pointless. There was no punditry, no commentary, and thanks to some canny producer’s epiphanic realisation that the mind can only endure so much ambient crowd noise in one sitting, the whole limp affair was over in 20 minutes or so. But, of course, you already knew all of that.

Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker returns to his home in London with his dog.Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker returns to his home in London with his dog.
Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker returns to his home in London with his dog.

Now, allow me a little poetic licence here. Obviously, I was aware of the Gary Lineker debacle unfolding back at home as I consumed enough pastel de natas to give a bull elephant diabetes. Even three-star Portuguese hotels have the BBC News channel. But to see the rotten fruit of the Beeb’s self-pesticidal labours served up in such tragic shades of dross was shockingly grim, even to the pre-warned. If I wanted to sit in underwhelmed silence for the best part of half an hour, I would simply reread a selection of my own articles. Maybe with a cup of lukewarm tea and one of those Jaffa Cake Jonut things. The ratio of Jaffa to donut is frankly contemptible.

At this stage, delving into the grisly minutiae of the Lineker saga is all a bit rote and futile. Besides, my esteemed colleague Matt Gregory has done a much more considered, thorough, and eloquent job of that particular brief than I ever could. But if there are a couple of things that I may add, it’s that, for my money at least, impartiality should never be prioritised over accountability for heinous leadership, and that if you have been accused of acting in a manner reminiscent of 1930s Germany, perhaps the initial knee-jerk reaction of the Conservative-darling Director General shouldn’t be ‘censor the dissenters’ - especially when you have the likes of Alan Sugar and Fiona ‘he only broke her nose once’ Bruce on the payroll.

Instead, it is worth examining Saturday’s Match of the Day on its own merits, or lack thereof. In the aftermath, a snivelling cavalcade of Tory lapdogs took to Twitter to hail this new, butchered format. They showed all the goals! They didn’t make us listen to experts in this, the year 2023, where knowledge and factual accuracy are regarded as scurges akin to leprosy! They even finished in time so that I, a safe seat MP who definitely definitely loves it when a footballer wellies one right in the goal hole, could sprint to the local pub and sit by myself at the end of the bar, drinking a single, performative pint before trudging home to tend to my Jacob Rees-Mogg shrine and sob into the tank as I feed my two goldfish, Boris and Maggie!

But here’s the thing, if you want football reduced to three minute clips without any frills, or even the tether of a functioning television set, log out of Elon Musk’s bear-baiting echo chamber, and have a little look-see at this newfangled thing called YouTube. It’ll blow your narrow minds. Hell, their highlights even have commentary!

The anti-Lineker mob, so many of them vehemently opposed to cancel culture and possessing the self-awareness of paving slabs, have pointed to the unusually high ratings of Saturday’s show as some kind of signifier that ‘the people’ want Match of the Day to continue in its lobotomised form forevermore. In reality, those viewing figures were almost certainly inflated by a sense of morbid curiosity. It’s the same reason why motorists rubberneck at six-car pile-ups and entire Instagram accounts are dedicated to gnarly videos of surgeons draining cysts.

If nothing else though, Saturday’s embarrassment proved that there is undeniable worth in the tried and tested iteration of Match of the Day that will return this weekend. Let us never debase it like this again, because the alternative, as we have so brutally discovered, is utterly, irrevocably, deplorably crap.