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Why Syed’s Abramovich rant exposed the failings of Sky Sports News

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One of the innate problems with the TV phenomena of rolling news is that events of importance (or things) aren’t always happening. That’s not strictly true of course. Things are always happening somewhere, to someone. A child is born, a heart is broken, a youtube video of a yawning kitten acquires another racist comment, but things that viewers care about, or might feasibly be expected to care about by TV executives, aren’t.

Rolling news on the other hand is always happening, and like an obese child between meals it needs to turn to cheaply processed crap to fill the void & sustain itself.

To rolling news, sport is already filler. The comparatively insignificant fluff piece tacked on the end of the hour’s genuine events. A whole channel dedicated to it seems indulgent at best, only marginally more insane than Channel 5’s Entertainment news, or anything on ITV2. What can you do when the things between the things that aren’t happening, aren’t happening?

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And so we get the mind-spasm that is Sky Sports News. Where filler is an art form, footage of 4X4s with tinted windows is a dramatic top of the hour teaser and for two days a year – in moments of almost Zen parody – their own reporters reporting the news, is actually news.

When the producer was asked to find pundits to fill up a few minutes talking about the 10 year anniversary of Roman Abramovich’s daring transfer swoop for Chelsea Football Club, I’d like to imagine they chose Matthew Syed with a full knowledge of the thoughtful, intelligent, antagonistic role he’d play. I say I’d like to, because if they did, the rest of the panel wouldn’t have equipped themselves so hopelessly, like gawping fish watching their beloved partners passionately ravaged by John Terry on the dance floor at their own wedding.

In what was intended as another banal smug fest with all the insightful debate of The One Show interviewing Status Quo about a Greatest Hits album, Times journalist Syed launched into a detailed, impassioned attack on the morality and consequences of Abramovich’s takeover.  If you missed it, take a look here.

Tony Cascarino, cast in the role of “For” – the mighty Norse God of incoherent sycophancy – to Syed’s “Against” looked particularly lost. Mentally dry docked by Syed’s tirade, and looked to by his paymaster brethren Jim White & Kirsty Gallacher to restore inane platitudes to the chaos of intelligent discussion that had carelessly broken out, Tony couldn’t find a foothold. For a good 30 seconds he was genuinely flailing – speaking, but with clearly no semblance of thought forming in his mind. Trying to grasp desperately on to a word that might feasibly fit with the last one he said. He was working his way through a sentence one word at a time. Like a child. It was fascinating to watch.

Gallacher fared worse. Finding herself deeper in a highbrow conversation than the London College of Fashion had ever prepared her for, she swung desperately what she hoped would be a sucker punch.

“That said, though, that said Matthew – I just wanted to pick up – I mean, you’ve said what you’ve said about the situation, the political situation, where the money came from; he HAS put Chelsea on the map, he’s put British football on the map whether it’s spending in excess or not. The reason for Premier League’s standing as one of the most exciting – uh you know – football leagues in the world now is surely because of Chelsea…?”

And a sucker punch it was. To everyone watching. To Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Newcastle, and even Chelsea themselves, who’d been attracting the likes of Gullit, Vialli and Zola, and even won a European Trophy before the Russian had even journeyed to these shores to see the fabled Champions League tie that would allegedly spark his love of the game.

The sentence “he’s put British football on the map” should be a sackable offence itself on a channel where the minimum requirement should be to know at least a little about sports. It should be chiselled onto her gravestone. It should be shouted at her in the street. Of all the hand wringing that this kind of discussion wasn’t appropriate for a sports debate, THIS was by far the most offensive thing said.

And hand wringing there was. So accustomed to empty platitudes, easy questions and pally inside jokes have the viewing public become that any semblance of a serious discussion was viewed in some quarters as unfair. Syed wasn’t playing by the rules. They weren’t expecting it. There’s no place for that kind of thing on a sports show.

But why shouldn’t there be? Sky do punditry better than anyone, which is fine for their broadcast coverage, but how can it justify a 24-hour news program reporting largely on football when there’s no actual football on without engaging in anything more serious than Jim White’s Deadline Day Superhero fantasies and Joey Barton’s confused tweeting? Why should anchors and ex-pros be paid exorbitant amounts of money to sit behind a desk and give us less intelligent discussion than a reddit thread? Why should we have to watch a 20 minute segment celebrating the achievements of a man who’s only contribution to British sports is to be very rich and plough a lot of money into a football club, without asking any serious questions? Why should a network that already tries to whitewash football pre-1992 and whose coverage of sport not broadcast by them is pathetic and grudging at best (Wimbledon is relegated to a scroll bar and a segment that seems to be racing against a very small egg timer) expect us to accept it?

When Jim White ended the segment, untroubled by how well he’d helmed the debate, pre-occupied with thoughts of what cape to wear for the upcoming Deadline Day and whether his assistant had ordered the dry ice he’d asked for, the voice in his ear should’ve been telling him what great television that was. But judging by the sparsity with which they replayed the footage, something they regularly do whenever a guest is brought on to add another five minutes to an item in another example of news eating itself, they patently didn’t. It had to find its way onto the Internet for appreciation.

Whether what Syed said was correct or not, factual or embellished, Sky Sports News had neither the ability, nor the intention of discussing it. It was only interested in a hagiographical non-item it could report back on later. “Tony Cascarino says Roman Abramovich has been good for English football.” Roll VT. Another news pillow adequately fluffed.

When Matthew Syed let rip he didn’t just expose Abramovich, but also the failings, inadequacies and utter pointlessness of Sky Sports News.

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Article title: Why Syed’s Abramovich rant exposed the failings of Sky Sports News

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