Football is intrusive, all right; but mightily persuasive as well. It is impossible to steer clear of football, but at the same time — I speak for myself — it is hard not to be fondly enamoured of it. For sure, there is no remote escape from both the obviously besotted obsessives who ration tightly every other game to dole out oceans of space for footy in the public prints, or the soccer-mad broadcast chiefs who schedule the airwaves. Commercial radio’s dedicated channel TalkSport does what it says on the tin — take it or leave it. Its BBC counterpart Five Live is meant to cover all news and current affairs, but the football bafflegab continues pitilessly to muscle in. Wretchedly preposterous has become Five Live’s relentlessly repeated trailers, not for specific upcoming programmes but for a general, grating and graceless backslapping applause for the station’s own arrogance. Trailer trash. Even switching on for a weather forecast can have the info topped, tailed or interrupted with a bombardment of nauseating trills in which a frenzied cheerleader informs you you’re tuned into the greatness of Five Live.
Telephone to complain and they take listeners for morons and, with a patronising hauteur, a callow lackey snootily explains these infuriating, turgid trails represent ‘“signpost-identification”, sir, an integral part of modern broadcasting, sir, as the vast majority of our listeners will tell you, sir’. This ‘signpost-identification’ rot is drummed into them at the ‘meejer studies’ universities — where ‘professors’ also, doubtless, champion the cheap and interminable money-for-old-rope football phone-ins aimed to bring, as that twerp Wilfred Pickles used to say, ‘the people to the people’. Like hell they do. The football phone-in simply lets loose unpleasant, usually brick-thick barmy bigots for hour upon excruciating hour. Civilised listeners are being insulted. Someone senior at Five Live should get a grip. Or is the literal cheapness of these marathon spans of humourless blather the priority production value? You have to sympathise with the poor, put-upon phone-in presenters, bingo-callers in bedlam.
Meanwhile, that off my chest and autumn as good as gone, I admit I’m rather looking forward to the long wintery slog. Although I doubt there’ll be much different. Mid-October and Manchester United and Chelsea top the table, nothing new there; but the Premiership’s overtures had obviously been lively enough, with astonished supporters of such as Portsmouth and Reading delightedly rushing to the photocopier to print off for framing in gold leaf the league table showing the two of them, in turn, actually leading it for a week. In my time I’ve had a soft spot for, and enjoyed (if that’s the word) watching both Pompey and (as the once matey old family tabloids used to call them) the ‘Biscuitmen’. At monastery school in the 1950s, high above the Newbury road, sometimes on Saturdays we’d feign injury from compulsory rugby and play truant to watch Reading at their rickety old hillside bunker at Elm Park. And did you know that the first ever ‘live’ account of a League soccer match on the inaugural transmission in January 1948 of the now venerable radio Sports Report was made by John Arlott from Pompey’s Fratton Park? Or, rather, breathlessly and from three railway stops down the line in the basement of the Portsmouth Civic Offices: ‘This was a magnificent game, the forward lines of both Portsmouth and Huddersfield keeping on the attack because the wing-halves of each side brought the ball to them along the ground….’ Ah, grave certainties, uninterrupted by either trailer tripe or phone-in loons.