Pundits have to say goodbye to worrying about what the dressingroom thinks
BOD must realise role of pundit is about entertainment and honesty and a willingness to call it as it is
The family of James Hunt attend the premier of Rush at Odeon Leicester Square, London. Phptpgraph: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
So Brian O’Driscoll resents Warren Gatland – well, d’uh: player P-O’d at coach for being dropped; whatever next? Child disappointed at not getting lollipop? Hold those presses, baby.
No, the interesting bit from that BOD froth blitz last week was actually an aside reference to the possibility of a post-playing career in punditry for the great man.
How, asked Pat Kenny earnestly, will you be able to criticise those you formerly played alongside; to which BOD replied there are “vays”. Actually it sounded less Kraut and more weirdy-lodge handshake, but you get the drift.
Tim Horan, the ex-Aussie player and now speaking studio suit, has told O’Driscoll that, for instance, if George Gregan throws a shockingly bad pass he doesn’t say “that’s a shockingly bad pass”, he says something like “that’s most uncharacteristic of George Gregan”.
Clever huh? Saying something without actually saying anything. There’s a skill there. Careers in middle-management have been built on it. Hell, top management too.
There’s only one problem with it, Brian. It’s boring. Real boring. Scratch-your-retina-to-shreds boring. Pat Kenny boring. If there’s one thing the world doesn’t need it’s another ex-player filling in retirement time waffling bland clichés.
Barely had the first telly signal gone out but a pundit was uttering some “he’ll be disappointed with himself there” crap. Jimmy Hill was probably still growing into his chin. By now it is so passé new-borns can recognise it. Which is why when the opposite comes along it is instantly recognisable as the real deal, and cherished by the viewing public as evidence we don’t have to survive on a total diet of anodyne cant designed to keep one foot in the dressingroom.
The media in general lives for experts, and the theory of expertise in sport is flawless. If you’re going to spout about something there is an immeasurable credibility advantage if you’ve actually been there and done that. So telly in particular loves to turn to expertise. That’s the theory.
But what BOD seemingly still has to grasp is that the role is about much more than turning up all shiny and nice with a glittering CV, but also about entertainment and honesty, and a willingness to call it as it is. And that means having to say goodbye to worrying about what the dressingroom thinks of you. You have to grow up.
Style and substance
Legend has it James Hunt never grew up. The new film Rush perpetuates the myth of the English playboy driver who slid into Formula One history as breezily as he slid into, well, everything really. It didn’t matter if it came in a glass, a phial or a pair of heels, Hunt was there. The image is wonderfully attractive, and the movie will only embellish it. But there was substance behind the flash too.
The Italian Grand Prix was at Monza yesterday. At the same track 35 years ago Hunt pulled his mortally injured friend Ronnie Peterson out of a burning car. A couple of years before that he’d been crowned world champion in Tokyo on a reputedly rigorous pre-race regime of 30 British Airways stewardesses. All bull of course, but fun bull. Hunt was fun, but he also had guts, and expertise, and, crucially, when it came to working with the BBC he was prepared to show both.
“Andrea De Cesaris should really be called De Crasheris. He’s an embarrassment to himself, his team and the sport, and maybe he should retire,” Hunt once hinted. There were others. “Piquet has got no motivation whatsoever. He’s only in F1 to keep his 45 metre yacht afloat – and his helicopter in petrol!’’ The classic pouting response to such criticism is usually, well, how many races have you won; to which Hunt had the priceless credibility plus of being able to say, well, 10 actually.
Hunt realised that once you take the media shilling there is a professional requirement to do your best and front up honestly, or as honestly as you can. And that takes guts, because doing so makes you a target.
However it can also provide wonderful entertainment and insight.
Putting Hunt alongside Murray Walker, famously described by Clive James as a man who even in moments of tranquillity sounds like his trousers are on fire, was inspired.
Murray: “And flames are coming out of Prost’s car as he enters the swimming pool.” Hunt: “Well, that should put them out then.”
There’s been quite a reaction against some high-profile, loose-tongued sporting pundits closer to home recently, along the lines of are they getting too big for their boots, and it’s all attention-seeking, and are they being just deliberately odd and contrarian and Dunphyesque.
Maybe there are bits to that, but as target-shooting goes it’s too easy, too smugly playing to the fan base. Yes, it’s true that talking heads are happy once they’re being talked about, but it is too smugly pat to throw accusations of imbalance and intemperance at them.
If you want balance, go to your accountant. This is sport. And if sport isn’t about opinions and temper, and finger-pointing affront over very little at all, then it’s about nothing more than running around in circles in a hurry. We all do it. Some, though, are paid to do it in public, which might not be very decorous, but once you take the buck, Brian, you’ve got to bang for it.