BATTLING Boro were lucky to get a point after being battered by Watford – although they could have snatched an unlikely victory if only striker Curtis Main had taken his chances.
Watford dominated. It’s true. I saw it on TV.
Boro’s impressive long spell of first half pressure didn’t happen. That part of an entertaining and close fought game’s unfolding narrative was ignored in the edit. The flurry of chances were left on the cutting room floor. An enthralling 45 minutes with the hosts narrowly on top was reduced to one long range effort from Watford man Vydra that was well saved (possibly by safe hands Luke Steele).
And the second half – a blink and you’ve missed it, Boro’s goal aside – was a one-sided Hornet’s assault with the home side on the ropes.
Apart from the intervention by Curtis Main, of course. The Doncaster striker showed the good engines that so endeared him to Aitor Karanka as he made the 70-mile sprint from the Keepmoat to pop up on the flank and take a speculative pop. “Quite remarkable!”
That’s the view the gently snoozing armchair army will have of mighty Middlesbrough if they stayed awake long enough to see the “highlights” on the graveyard shift ghetto that is the Football League Show.
In terms of editorial accuracy it was a new low for the BBC’s flagship late night nod to life outside the Premier League. The fleeting footage gave an impression that was totally divorced from the reality of the game.
Yes, it is hard to capture the nuances of a fast-moving game in 60 seconds, and to prepare it in four or five hours but that is the nature of the beast. And they do have highly trained professionals on the case and it is their job. They do it every week. It should be second nature. . Maybe it was a bad day at the office. It happens.
But that was compounded with the most basic identification issues that pointed not to a incidental slip-up on a busy afternoon but to an elemental flaw in pre-match preparation.
Anyone can make a mistake in the heat of battle. Especially if you don’t cover a team regularly. Players are moving, switching positions, they may have similar haircuts, the same retina-burning bright boots, a similar physique or running style. It happens. Even the Gazette sometimes gets captions wrong as photos are moved about on a page as deadlines loom. It is an occupational hazard.
And it is easy to trip over unfamiliar names or to compound them. We hear stadium announcers mangle monikers every week on our travels. After all, even long- time Boro fans struggled with “Jutkiewicz” so you can see how commentators coming in cold can stumble on a syllable or two.
In recent years it became a standing joke within the club how often Jason Steele was referred to as “Luke”, his Barnsley counterpart. But the elder of the shot-stopping siblings has been around for years so you can see how he has claimed first dibs on the name and it has seeped into the collective consciousness of press boxes across the nation.
And we have often heard in-play name-checks for a parade of greyed out Football Manager computer generated squad fillers like John Bennett, Martin Emms and malapropic midfield man Harris Faroun.
But it is hard to confuse one player who has been prominent in the action all game with another not on the pitch. Or indeed, at the club. Wait! If only there was some simple numerical device the players could display on their shirts to make out their identity.
Last season Curtis Main wore the same. And there is the source of confusion.
In response to some terse Teesside tweeting, microphone man Dan O’Hagan later apologised to Boro fans and to Bamford.
I feel sorry for him. Not just because of the flak he took but because a dropped clanger was inevitable given his working arrangements.
The commentator isn’t identifying the men out on the pitch by working from the official team-sheet issued to hacks or even from the back of the programme because he isn’t in the stadium. How old fashioned. How expensive!
No, he is working from a website squad list while dubbing his script hastily drawn up on the hoof over a video quickly chopped down in a studio by the out-sourced production company putting the programme together.
And the website he is using for his vital, bang-up-to-date information is the BBC Sport one.
You can’t blame him for staying in-house – there may even be a dictate to stick by the Beeb’s own naming conventions and statistics (hence the chaos of the Grant Leadbitter “ghost goal,” an anomaly that first appeared in the Beeb figures then hung around haunting anoraks for the rest of the season a few years back).
But the BBC Boro page is woefully out of date. It still has Main listed in the strikers section wearing No 23. It also has Emnes, Jutkiewicz and Danny Graham listed among the strikers (the latter pair both said to wear the No 9) – but not any of the big summer signings. Maybe it is just buffering and will load any minute now.
Look. It is not just up front where the current squad list is obsolete. Even if you make allowances for the possible confusion over loan arrangements, there are 16 players on the rosta there that are no longer at Boro.
According to the Beeb Aitor can pick from Jayson Leutwiler (Shrewsbury), Seb Hines (Coventry), Stuart Parnaby (Hartlepool), Frazer Richardson (Rotherham), Christian Burgess (Peterborough), Nathaniel Chalobah (Burnley), Richard Smallwood (Rotherham), Jacob Butterfield (Huddersfield), Jozsef Varga (Debrecen), Cameron Park (released), Main (Doncaster), Kamara (Columbus Crew), Graham (Sunderland), Emnes (Swansea) and Jutkiewicz (Burnley).
Some of those you can understand may have slipped under the radar. I mean, the last three are playing in the obscurity of the Premier League.
Meanwhile the Beeb’s squad list doesn’t include NINE of the players who featured on the team sheet against Watford – the game being covered – including Kike, Bamford, Ryan Fredericks, Adam Clayton, Jelle Vossen and Kenneth Omeruo. At some point as a commentator you have to realise there’s a rabbit off,
That website is not fit for purpose. It is beyond a joke. It must be the biggest, most visited sports portal in the country and purports to serve the national game without fear or favour. And it hasn’t been updated since May. And if it is the basis of a remote and hastily done voiceover, it is amazing that there weren’t more mistakes.
Maybe there would be if we got more air time.
Another major gripe from Boro supporters is the slimline segments the club get on the show. It is a weekly joke trying to predict exactly how farcically short it will be and exactly how close to the tail end of the Championship round-up.
I time it. Sad, I know. It is usually around the minute mark of action with maybe a few seconds of scene-setting padding and another 10 seconds of snatched interview and, if you are really unlucky, another 10 seconds of superficial and inaccurate analysis.
Earlier this season Boro fans took off their post-pub beer goggles and rubbed their eyes in amazement as erudite former loan star Dave Kitson – the most articulate footballer since the officer class and public schools dominated the game – opined that Dean Whitehead was the team’s lynchpin this term, driving the midfield forward as a second shelf schemer par excellence. Now I like Deano but even his mam wouldn’t buy that one.
A few weeks later Boro were declared to have done well to keep a clean sheet, especially as they were without key defender Jonathan Woodgate. That’ll be the Jonathan Woodgate who hasn’t played a single minute of league football this term.
Maybe they were getting their information from the Beeb website.
They would be far better patching each club’s well informed local BBC radio man in for a 60-second assessment than leave a semi-detached star floundering over a team he hasn’t seen all season – or Leroy Rosenior guessing based on names he knows.
Boro fans have complained about both highlights and analysis on several occasions and this time – after “CurtisGate” – @kmorrisuk quickly tweeted a stern letter that brought a swift if sheepish reply from host Manish Bhasin.
He said he would pass it on to the appropriate people – so we can expect a mail-merged “your club name here” generic response in however many working days.
They will be used to fielding complaints from fans of every stripe. It is the nature of the beast. Football is an emotive subject, supporters are fiercely proud, parochial with a passion and have a touch of paranoia. It is what we do and the intensity does not diminish the lower down the table you go.
If anything, the expectations of fair coverage rise in the lower leagues because the BBC is tax-payer funded and has a public service remit – it’s their job to cover all clubs equally and not just tailgate the Premier League like star-struck autograph hunters. They are supposed to be lead by real journalists ethics not the needs of the top flight gravy train.
Which makes it galling when they don’t air the programme during international breaks when they could give a rare deserved and considered perspective on the bottom two divisions and do it well before midnight.
Hartlepool’s battle for survival is just as important and worthy of coverage as pampered Premier League prima donnas diving and moaning through a mid-table makeweight goalless draw – and treated well could even be far more engaging TV.
But the harsh reality is that you can’t fit a quart in a pint pot. I know. I appreciate that. The show has 72 teams to jam into 90 minutes and is up against technical and time constraints.
They have to weigh up editorial factors and public interest in the “story” of the day with the race against time to edit footage down into bite-sized cameos that capture it.
And of course, the story changes quickly. On Saturday Boro’s game was second v third and could expect a decent show. But then Bournemouth battered bossless Birmingham 8-0 (poor Malcolm Crosby) and Leeds disposed of their manager of the month and you could feel us slipping down the running order as the day went on. I can accept that.
Every second is precious. So that makes it more infuriating that so much of it is wasted with shots of teams getting off coaches, signing autographs and shaking hands before kick-off. Unless the team coach broke down and the visitors have arrived towed by a tractor or a fire engine, I’m not that interested.
We don’t need that telegenic garnishing. On with the action.
Then there’s the problem of the footage itself. You can only work with the material you’ve got. Only the featured game gets the Sky Sports no-expense spared multi-camera treatment with angles and close-ups and behind the goal perspectives relaying the drama. It needs the full works thrown at it because it is being sold to foreign markets.
For the rest it is a strictly Primark production with a solitary camera perched high up in the Gods in a gantry with just one perspective panning from end-to-end in a bid to capture that lower league long ball experience.
The footage itself can be low quality, veering between shaky hand-held smartphone chic on close-ups to long range sniper sight shots of key moments unfolding in the far corner.
Technically it is a huge job gathering feeds from 36 games, ordering them, editing them, dubbing video and then getting it all packaged and scripted in six hours. They are to be applauded for that.
The show is valuable. It is culturally vital for clubs who get little exposure. But it is also dealing with a precious commodity that should be treated with respect.
Do the research. Get the story right. Use the air-time wisely. Bring in experts as pundits.
Maybe it would be better regionalised like Late Kick Off with each area giving a bit more airtime and analysis to their own clubs utilising people who actually know the clubs, the context and the players. You could still add a 20 minutes high-light package with the best dozen of so games around the country and tell the story. But what do I know?
With just a little bit of thought it could be so much better.