TalkSPORT: asking vital questions or all part of football’s dumbing down?

TalkSPORT will rope you in with a nebulous question; provide a fantastically obscene opinion from someone who we regard as knowledgable; question whether they’re having a laugh; await your hysterical rebuttals; hark back to the argument the next day for yet more disagreement and then repeat several times a day.

It is a business model that relies on the controversy – often seeking it to drum clicks and interactions – since it’s inception in January 2000, TalkSPORT has redefined the phone-in element of radio focusing on a wider range of subjects and moving away from simple match day reaction. This past week has been indicative of the way this media is able to manipulate an audience and capture traction despite the ridiculousness of the opinions.

Jamie O’Hara, a TalkSPORT co-host, suggested that Rangers manager Steven Gerrard should leave Rangers to take the recently vacated role at relegated Bournemouth. O’Hara stated that ‘It’s [the Bournemouth job] a bigger job.’ Firstly, to prove the futility of this argument, Bournemouth is a club that has historically been a third-tier side and the highest finish in their 121-year existence has been 9th. Rangers, on the other hand, have just the small matter of 54 Scottish titles, 33 Scottish Cups and a European Cup Winners’ Cup. Not really much of an argument historically.

O’Hara, to attempt to find some meaning in his argument, could well have been referring to times more recent. Bournemouth, thanks largely to the might of the Premier League’s global broadcasting deals, ranked, in 2018, as the worlds 28th richest club according to the Deloitte Football Money League. Rangers haven’t been anywhere near the top thirty since 2007. Thus positing that Bournemouth is a bigger commercial entity and should, in the age of superclubs, be credited for such wealth.

The argument is, of course, steeped in questions surrounding the statue of the Scottish game. Scotland rank 14th in UEFA’s country coefficients, only marginally above the Czech Republic, whereas England are 2nd. In the club rankings, where England has 6 of the top 14, you have to go to 45th place to find Celtic – below FC Krasnodar. Whilst these ranking only take into account the eminent clubs in these country’s, you have to take that they reflect the standards in the league.

To his credit, O’Hara succeeded in stimulating conversation and opening up further avenues of contention, particularly around how we view the quality of the Scottish game alongside the English game.

Ally McCoist, a Rangers legend, led an impassioned defence of Rangers the following morning. It was McCoist’s defence that drew a further line of enquiry, one that is implicitly at the heart of all football-related discourse. He started listing teams that he believed Rangers to be ‘bigger’ than.
Naturally, this was a fairly meaningless exercise witnessed by over 100,000 on a Twitter clip, Leeds United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton and Chelsea supposedly are beneath the stature of Rangers. While that is absurd to some, it is defensible to others.

Therefore, we are left asking how do we view football clubs: do we hark back to the glory days of one team to prove their worth whilst ignoring another’s or are we guilty of ignoring historical glories in favour of recent achievements?

Both are fantastic questions as they speak directly to how we see football and the basis’ of our biases and how they stoke the tribalism that TalkSPORT acutely targets. Leeds United, for example, returning to the Premier League after a 16-year absence, has won three English league titles, reached the 1975 European Cup Final and the Champions League semi-finals in 2001. They are undoubtedly a historic giant whose achievements undoubtedly deserve scrutiny alongside Rangers, if not for another other reason than their European pedigree.

Everton, too, has won 9 English league champions and may well have won European Cups had it not been for England’s European ban in the late 1980s. Tottenham have contributed enormously to the world football through Arthur Rowe’s ‘push and run’ with which Vic Buckingham adapted and took to Ajax, and then Barcelona, starting the total football revolution. Both clubs, in the past 10 years, have ranked comfortably in the worlds top 20 richest clubs despite countless seasons without silverware.

So do we accept Rangers’ historical significance but ignore Tottenham’s? Do we focus on Leeds’ barren previous 16 years but ignore Rangers’ previous 12 years since losing to Zenit Saint Petersburg in the UEFA Cup Final? Are we all just hypocrites in pursuit of defending our tribe – see Ally McCoist?

TalkSPORT relies on the latter. Their model requires one hypocrite to entice another into a debate – not to say that debate is unwanted. The latter was provoked by O’Hara’s initial assertion, then by McCoist’s defence and now by rival fans even of clubs not even mentioned. It would be odd not to see a Celtic fan rile against Rangers, a Manchester United fan or a Liverpool fan assert that it is unequivocally true that Everton or Manchester City are smaller clubs than Rangers. This performative nature of fandom has aided TalkSPORT no-end.

TalkSPORT is able to show advertisers the interactions and traction they create and the cycle continues. This is not to say that TalkSPORT is uniquely evil – this is a problem across every form of media – but they are the crudest example. They remain a microcosm for a much wider problem.
Some would disagree with it even being a problem. Instead, they see the debates they create as worthy and allowing of viewpoints. But the fact that the model relies on the continual disagreement of fans, as one caller leads to the next, means we can at least question its productivity.

Are fans supposed to agree, is there any common ground for fans? Is there scope for fans to acknowledge rival viewpoints whilst still being a fan? TalkSPORT really would prefer it if you could answer ‘no’ to these questions – and then someone will come on and disagree with you.


About the author

Ewan Freeman is a contributor to Long Reads: Football and The Student, based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He covers all aspects of the game, across Europe, from current affairs in the top flight to issues affecting lower league clubs.

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