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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Media Spotlight

They're currently showing Last Chance To See on the BBC. It's a series in which Stephen Fry travels around the world to see rare and endangered species on the verge of extinction.

The way things are going this season, he'll be stopping off back home to see Football League managers.

Just two months into the new campaign and already 11 managers have left their posts. Two of them, Paul Lambert
and Mark Robins, went to fill vacancies at other clubs, the rest were all sacked from their club, including the latest - Ian McParland at Notts County.

McParland's sacking will never win any awards for shock value, it was merely a matter of time before the ambitious Magpies board chose to dispense with the services of the Scot.

However, it's another sign of the ever-increasing pressure that appears to come with the job of football management. Perhaps it's just me, but I feel it's a pressure that has significantly heightened this season, and part of the blame lies at the feet of the media.

At the beginning of the season, I lauded the BBC for the extended and more in-depth coverage they would be affording the Football League this season. Indeed, it's been excellent, with feature length games from all the divisions.

However, it's the decision to incorporate an interactive element to their Saturday night flagship programme The Football League Show that I take the greatest objection to.

Manish Basin fronts the BBC's Football League highlights show

Not content with the hypocrisy of allowing failed-manager Steve Claridge to berate other managers for their lack of ability, the Beeb also inflict upon us the ill-informed views of the general football public.

Just seconds into the programme and we're being introduced to a pretty blonde lass imploring us to get in touch with the show. Fine. However, she then begins to suggest that perhaps fans of certain clubs who have lost might want to get in touch.

Now, I'm well aware that bad news is what sells, it's practically the first thing you learn at Journalism college. Indeed, when you consider no-one quite likes a moan more than us British, especially football fans, then it's perfectly understandable.

However, instead of allowing supporters to set the agenda, it's the show itself which has clearly chosen the lines they want to pursue. They want to talk about something, and if you email in your comment on it then there's a pretty good chance they'll mention your view.

It's almost turned into a weekly witch hunt. The writers are already busy scrambling around, waiting to change the first line of pretty blond girl's script for no longer can they hit John Barnes with a big stick after the former England international's sacking from Tranmere.

Which manager will they turn their attention to this week?

The former Lincoln boss Peter Jackson described his shock at turning on the telly to watch the programme only to find his name, just four games into the season, being touted as the next to be sacked.

Of course, things spiralled so quickly from there that Jackson did indeed lose his job with the League Two club. Another example of the awesome power of the media?

Now, of course I'm not suggesting that club chairmen are so trigger-happy that their decisions are based purely on the BBC's agenda on a Saturday night. However, all this extra coverage given to the League also brings extra scrutiny and pressure on managers. But it needn't be like this.

Unlike Match Of The Day, The Football League Show encourages viewer interaction

After managers under pressure, the most common correspondence appears to start with the words, "When are you going to give some credit to my club..." Well, of course they will, but only after they've put another manager to the sword.

Contrast this with another BBC offering though. The excellent Five Live Football League programme on the station on Monday evenings with the combination of the thoughtful Arlo White and knowledge of Mark Clemmit puts its TV rival to shame.

The programme has also featured league managers as special guests. A listen to the thoughts of the likes of Cheltenham's Martin Allen and John Still at Dagenham, and you gain greater understanding of the difficulties of managing in the lower leagues.

Why not afford more praise to the likes of the wily Still, helping his club punch above their weight again, on a Saturday night then? There are managers doing great jobs all over the country, up-and-down the leagues.

Keith Hill, finnally acknowledged this past weekend, has been working wonders at Rochdale for the past three years, and John Coleman, despite Accrington's financial peril, continues to get the best out of his players.

Unless you looked in detail at the League Two table though, you wouldn't know Stanley are only five points off the play-offs.

Gary Waddock's Aldershot, another of the division's smaller sides, are currenty 6th, playing the attractive attacking brand of football which brought them into the Football League. The Shots get no mention at all though.

No, The Football League Show is more interested in turning the heat on Messrs Keane, Sturrock, and Rodgers. Reflecting public interest and opinion? Perhaps. But not when they ask for the thoughts of those particular fans, immediately highlighting the issue.

Instead of fuelling the fire, the media have a responsibility to offer fair coverage of all teams and not descend into the sensational rubbish spouted on radio phone-ins and fans' forums on the net.

Not only for the enjoyment of the discerning viewer, but the odd manager might just be thankful too.

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