Thursday, 3 January 2013

The ex players pension scheme

Thorpster looks at the drab start to the year, the sad passing of CMJ and why all pundits are ex players? An old boys club? What do you reckon?

Colville...one of a dying breed


January the 2nd is described by many as the worst day of the year. Following the Christmas eating and drinking season and an elongated break from the dubious pleasures of commuting, the moment when the alarm chimes on the 2nd January is a truly painful one. Instead of sitting on the sofa having about fourteen cups of tea whilst flicking across the various sports channels and refusing to let your kids watch some cartoon, or your Mrs a re-run of Christmas Coronation street, you're dragging yourself into the shower. Then trudging to the station to discover another record fare hike.

Anyway enough doom and gloom, I spent my train journey on this 2nd January reading numerous tributes to CMJ in the Times. As so much has been written about the Major across the media, I won't trouble you further regarding the now departed wise sage of radio and the written press. One thing that did strike a chord with me was the mention made several times of CMJ being one of a literal dying breed, the sports pundit that did not play the game for a living.

CMJ...a pundit who didn't play professionally

In footballing terms Sky Sports is sometimes referred to as "the ex-players pension scheme". During my many hours perched or slumped on my worn DFS sofa, post Xmas, I surfed the sports channels on a relentless basis. To fill the schedules Sky showed endless repeats of old Christmas programmes mainly Soccer Saturday Christmas specials. As an old fart who still manages to push his lazy boy through the turnstiles about 30 times a year, I don't see why anyone would call football, "soccer"?

But that aside for the last 20 years Sky has given birth to the TV sports fan. What I also noticed on the trip down memory lane was how many overweight balding 'has beens' it employs,  oh and also Thommo, the Scouse version of Pinocchio (another thing repeated many times over Xmas).

The same is also true of cricket. Myself and Dan grew up with the dulcet tones of Arlott, Johnson, CMJ and Blowers on the other TMS. Of course they were complimented by the likes of Trueman, Bailey and Boycs but they were just adjuncts to the main event next to them. Interestingly about 18 years ago, my old man, a now retired solicitor, was invited by a then client to several events involving Henry 'Blowers' Blofeld. One was an evening of anecdotes at a theatre and I was invited along. After delighting the audience Blowers answered questions, one of which was why Bailey and Trueman were shoved off Test Match Special. Blowers response was that when commenting on a current game in the 80s or early 90s they couldn't resist regressing into their own heyday. So if Malcolm Marshall (also late and great) was steaming in with England's finest hopping around looking like Michael Vaughan attempting the jive on Strictly Come Dancing, Trueman or Bailey would refer to Ray Lindwall or someone similar, which did not appeal to younger listeners.

The Welwyn Garden City 3rd XI opening bat

Today pundits are almost exclusively former professional players. On Sky there are a few exceptions such as the long serving Charles Colville and Welwyn Garden City CC's fine 3rd X1 opening batsman Tim Abraham. Watching broadcasts of old ODI's or Test matches from the aforementioned lazy boy, I noticed Colville being an ever present in the commentary team. These days however with Hussain, Atherton and Co added to the ever growing stable of ex pros on the books, Colville is firmly pushed down the order to the tail end of domestic cricket. These days he has even been pushed behind the likes of Ian Ward, and former star names such as Bob Willis and Walt Allott are relegated to highlights shows and Cricket Writers on TV. Although saying that, Walt's pronouncement that he had never heard the phrase 'Oppo Speak' was one of my highlights of 2012 (only as it was my article he was discussing).

Walt...now understands 'Oppo Speak'

Watching the recent test tour of India on Sky, with the commentary team on UK soil forced from bed at an ungodly hour, it took me back to India tours of the early eighties. With the alarm set for 4am I would awake pre-school to listen to TMS for a couple of hours, in the company of the pundits mentioned above. Another fond memory is listening in bed in the same era to Radio 2 soccer (my favourite word again) Specials as English clubs ruled Europe, the commentary again provided by specialist pundits rather than ex-players.

The sad deaths of Tony Greig and CMJ have left gaping holes in the Test Match Special and Channel Nine commentary boxes. I have a suspicion the trend will continue of the vacancies being filled by ex-players, but don't let me deter you from applying!

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