Benitez caught in line of ire
Most radio studios have a small light which illuminates when someone extremely important - the Queen, the Prime Minister, Simon Cowell - dies. When that "obituary light" starts flashing, the DJ immediately jettisons the scheduled programme and starts transmitting sombre music. I can only assume there is another light which flashes when somebody decides it is time to oust a football manager from his job.
All scheduled programming is suspended and every minute of airtime is devoted to "Should he be sacked?" debates. If so, the light marked "Rafa Benitez" must have been flashing so hard this week that we will need to plant a small forest to offset its carbon footprint. Naturally, these "debates" are not very informative. They mainly tell us that most sports fans who participate in radio debates know very little about sport, and that presenters know even less.
Cricketer-turned-dancer-turned radio host Darren Gough, for example, claimed last week that Rafa should be sacked because Liverpool's past glories were built by and around local Merseyside talent. Ah yes, Darren. Proud sons of Merseyside like Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Kenny Dalglish and John Barnes - who were born in those well-known Liverpool suburbs of East Ayrshire, Sunderland, Glasgow and Jamaica.
Even local lad Joe Fagan's most celebrated signing, Jan Molby, hailed from Denmark. While it is not surprising to hear a former Yorkshire player extolling the sinister "locals rule" argument, it is irrelevant when judging a manager or player. Where it does have some use, however, is in judging fans. Is it just coincidence that the vast majority of fans currently hogging the airwaves with demands for Rafa's head do not have Liverpool accents? Of course not. Fans tied to a club by the umbilical cord of geography tend to be fatalistic during the lean years.
They understand that their club chose them, and they must shoulder this burden with quiet dignity. Fans who choose a club because it happened to be winning a lot when they were in short trousers, however, are a different quantity. They hold no loyalty to the area, have no interest in the long-term game, and are not properly educated in the traditions of a club. Say what you like about "whinging Scousers" but old-school Kopites back their team and manager at all times. You may have heard them singing a song to this effect. Too many outside fans' emotional intelligence remains unchanged since the day they first chose their club. They want success and they want it now! And if they do not get it, they will stomp their little feet and look for a target to lash out at.
Step forward Rafa. Never mind the European Cup or the FA Cup or that he nearly won the league last season. Never mind the aching void his departure would leave, with no obvious candidate to fill it. For these instant gratification junkies, there is no past or future. There is only the present, in which victory means everlasting glory and defeat means apocalypse now. Thankfully, the club's owners are backing Rafa, but if they do bow to pressure and sack him, then those radio stations will need to illuminate the obituary light for real. Because it will signal the death of old-school values at LFC, which to many is more important than the Queen, the Prime Minister and Cowell combined.
Another week, another wobble in the use of technology to help sporting officials do their job. This time, it was Test cricket in the frame, with the TV umpire Daryl Harper allegedly failing to turn his volume up and therefore hear South Africa's Graeme Smith edge the ball when he was caught behind. Inevitably, a palaver has ensued. The England team made an official complaint. The International Cricket Council (ICC) launched an investigation. And Daryl Harper himself bowled a googly by choosing to defend himself via the social networking site, Facebook, which is normally the domain of inane teenage babble. Presumably, when the ICC reach their conclusion, Harper will not release a statement to the press but will simply display either a smiley or sad face on his Twitter feed. As this is just the latest in a series of techno-rows, my advice is for all sports to do away with all the gadgets and replace them with one solitary piece of kit: the lie-detector. This is what the International Game Fish Association used to verify that a Japanese angler called Manabu Kurita had followed all the rules when landing a largemouth bass weighing 22lb and 4oz. They wired him up to a polygraph machine, asked him the relevant questions, and then declared his catch legitimate. Simple. Imagine if every athlete did a lie-detector test before hitting the showers. It would solve all cheating allegations before they were allowed to fester. Graeme, did you take an edge? Didier, did you dive? Nelson, did you crash on purpose? Tiger, are you honestly going straight home? Plus, if you get the right person asking the questions - I'm thinking of the American television talk show host Jerry Springer - it would be a great bonus for broadcasters hoping to keep viewers tuned in after the final whistle. (Will Batchelor is a writer, broad-caster and self confessed cynical sports fan) firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: January 19, 2010 04:00 AM