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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 11 June, 2002, 18:22 GMT 19:22 UK
Managing expectations, the language of football
Managing expectations, the language of football

The panel discussed the Football Association's attempts to manage the media.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)


MARK LAWSON:
Ian, my football vocabulary was reduced to two words. I went around saying "one-nil, one-nil", for most of the afternoon. But we think of you as the Alan Hansen of Newsnight Review, so if you could now analyse the language.

There is a game of language management going on, in which the Football Association are trying to stop all the jingoistic headlines, and the media aren't playing the game?

IAN RANKIN:
The media aren't playing the game, and that was evident this week on the BBC, where we had the Falklands Play. I thought it was an odd piece of scheduling, to put it on in the week when England are going to play Argentina.

So they're not playing the game at all. I didn't watch the game today, I watched a movie instead. Maybe I can't talk too much about it.

MARK LAWSON:
Scottish people aren't really used to big football games, are they!

IAN RANKIN:
Not at all, no. We make very good referees, is what I would say. The language has been cleaned up, which I think is very sad.

They are all going to voice coaches and decorum coaches, and being told, "Don't get into any conversation that's going to be interesting. Keep it very level." You know, "The boys done good, we're just playing as a team".

It reminded me of a great piece in Bull Durham, where the rookie is told what he has to say if he ever makes it to the majors. You have got to say, "You played for the team with God's grace".

That's what our footballers are now doing. They are being coached in what to say as well as in how to play.

MARK LAWSON:
Paul, it's become like new Labour, that you have this sense of spin doctors behind the players.

PAUL MORLEY:
It's become abstract, which I kind of enjoy, the battle between an abstract language and the tabloid need for instant gratification. Also, it's little droplets of Sven, the Zen of Sven.

They are regurgitating speeches they have heard in motivational speeches from the great man himself, Sven. I also enjoy the fact that football's become smart.

When content is frowned upon by the tabloid world, we have this man who is trying to reintroduce content into the world through football. That was why I was hoping that we would win today just for that, so the intelligence thing that he is bringing back into sport, into the culture generally, would sustain itself.

MARK LAWSON:
Peggy, do you think Argentina's mistake was to take Veron off at half time? Sorry, that was a trick question.

PEGGY REYNOLDS:
Boys are such rotters!

MARK LAWSON: We can talk about the language of football. The Evening Standard today was "Revenge". The Daily Mail's tomorrow is "Oh, sweet revenge."

Afterwards, Michael Owen in an interview was asked "Is this revenge?", and he said, "No, it was a football match". You have that sense of the struggle going on over the vocabulary.

PEGGY REYNOLDS:
You do. We're still working within a complete fairy tale metaphor. It's still about knights in shining armour, and dreams and heroes, and being haunted by something, and having to achieve the many goals.

But I think that Sven- Goran Eriksson's own language is extremely interesting. He does this very curious trick of repeating words. He just says, "There was a big, big heart."

It's very seductive, because that repetition emphasises and underlines, and his language works wonderfully.

IAN RANKIN:
He speaks English very well for a football manager, does he not?

PAUL MORLEY:
And the stillness he brings to everything.

MARK LAWSON:
Paul, it's also worth saying, it's hard to think of anyone other than David Beckham who has so transformed their verbal delivery among public figures. He's a totally unrecognisable figure.

PAUL MORLEY:
Yes. In another media, if he were an artist or entertainer, you would say that he had clearly been trained, or something was going on. He is becoming almost poetic.

Only one "At the end of the day", today. I don't know what the day is that they're talking about that is always the end of!

But Beckham used to do that just about every other sentence. Today, only one. That alone, plus the penalty, give him a knighthood.

PEGGY REYNOLDS:
In terms of other things, I think that undoubtedly Argentina's mistake was letting Batistuta make that foul when he did.

PAUL MORLEY:
But what about Veron?

MARK LAWSON:
We'll leave it there. The thought for the night is, "A problem is a mountain filled with treasure". That's the last word of Sven-Goran Eriksson on management.

See also:

05 Apr 02 | Panel
30 May 02 | Panel
05 Apr 02 | Panel
07 Jun 02 | Panel
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