Offside, 11 December
Lofty's live blunder proves that there's no place for niceties in football fandom.
Did any Offside readers listen to BBC London 94.9 FM’s live commentary on the Aston Villa v Crystal Palace Carling Cup tie last Tuesday? No, I don’t suppose you did. Even I couldn’t be bothered.
But those of us who didn’t tune in missed one of those classic sports broadcasting bloopers courtesy of presenter Tom Watt. Unaware that his microphone was still switched on, the man better known to the British public as Lofty from EastEnders (you remember, the gangly, asthmatic simpleton who married Michelle Fowler), let his cloyingly chipper mask slip for a moment. ‘Just a fucking shit game between two shit teams’, he said. Then a pregnant pause followed by a gushing retraction. ‘I apologise unreservedly’, spluttered a red-faced Watt. ‘It was a regrettable incident.’ Priceless.
What makes Watt’s faux pas doubly unfortunate is the fact that BBC London 94.9 FM presents itself as the station that supports all London teams. Watt even writes a regular column in the Palace programme – as he does for other clubs – in which he refers to the Eagles as ‘we’. This sits a little uneasily with the fact that he actually supports Arsenal. His overenthusiastic chumminess with callers to his football phone-in show is also rather grating. ‘Fair play to you, mate’, he says to every sad anorak who calls in to whinge about how they’ve travelled the length and breadth of the land to watch crap football. Why does he indulge these losers? Nobody forces them to spend all their time and money following Worthless Athletic. Tell them to go get a life.
After last week’s blunder one might have expected the BBC switchboard to be jammed by hundreds of irate Palace fans. But quite the opposite occurred. An online poll on the Palace Bulletin Board showed that a staggering 84 per cent of Eagles fans felt that Watt had no need to apologise. Fifty per cent even agreed that Palace are a shit team (1). ‘It was very, very funny’, admitted one Palace fan who posted on the discussion thread. ‘For the first time in ages I have to say I enjoyed something BBC Radio London put out in their football commentary’. ‘I hope Palace Radio will be following suit next home game’, concurred another.
Palace fans found Watt’s honesty quite refreshing. ‘Why should he apologise for expressing his opinion on the game?’ asked one supporter. ‘We are shit. Every Palace fan knows we are shit. More honesty please.’ Another argued: ‘These honest, off-the-cuff, remarks are worth so much more than the bland rubbish they spout during the commentary. I’d love to hear a commentator get pissed off with Heskey for being eternally shit and say something like “Well, on his current form, you could say he was just a bit crap”.’
Even within the anti-Watt camp it was the broadcaster’s lack of professionalism that fans objected to, rather than his assessment of Palace. ‘It’s one thing for a Palace supporter to whinge about how we’re not doing well, and something else for a commentator to call us a ‘sh*t side’, said one. ‘F*ck off Lofty! We might be sh*t but what business is it of yours? Go back to the Library, you poncy beckham book ghost writing c*nt!’ said another, more bluntly.
We football fans are a bundle of contradictions, aren’t we? In public we’ll be singing that Crystal Palace are ‘by far the greatest team the world has even seen’, while at the same time our inner fan is chanting: ‘We’re shit and we know we are.’ There’s a lesson here for radio presenters like Tom Watt who try to be everybody’s mate. You don’t impress anyone by pretending to support every London team? Everybody knows it’s a sham.
A football fan should detest his local rivals with a passion. For example, if you’re a Gooner, like Tom Watt, it’s only right and proper that you should hate the Spurs, not sympathise with their plight. So Tom, why don’t you ditch the Mr Nice Guy routine and tell Spurs fans the truth? ‘Mate, Spurs have been shit for over 40 years. You’re no longer a big club. Get used to it.’ This might rub a few people up the wrong way, but it would make for fantastic radio broadcasting.
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