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Opinion: Sky television did itself no favours on Monday night

The channel’s seeming reluctance to address Blackburn’s problems did not represent its finest hour.

Gary Neville has been praised for his analysis this season.
Gary Neville has been praised for his analysis this season.

SKY TELEVISION, AND in particular Gary Neville, have received much acclaim this season, but neither could have held their head up high following Monday night’s football coverage.

Neville and his colleagues watched Blackburn get beaten by Wigan – a result that consigned Steve Kean’s men to playing Championship football next year. For most of the game, cries of ‘Kean out’ could be heard from the majority of those in attendance at Ewood Park. Moreover, many of the home fans engaged in protest throughout the game, releasing a chicken onto the pitch (a thinly-veiled reference to the club’s owners, Venky’s) and coming onto the field to confront the players and coaching staff once the match had ended (quite an extreme and ill-advised action admittedly).

Sky, however, treated the protests with the utmost level of condescension. Despite the fact that the fans’ actions were entirely peaceful, the general tone of the coverage seemed to be along the lines of ‘how dare they even question the club’s management’.

Gary Neville, who has at times analysed games expertly this season, seemed especially eager to defend the Blackburn owners and management. He paid tribute to defender Bradley Orr when he came out and wholeheartedly defended Steve Kean, claiming the player had shown great character under the circumstances.

In reality, Orr had no option but to say what he said, and will have done himself no favours in terms of his reputation with the supporters by saying what he did. But players will always automatically support their manager in front of the cameras, irrespective of their level of competence (or lack thereof), for fear of being reprimanded if they choose to engage in any form of criticism.

Meanwhile, Neville also supported Kean to such an extent that it seemed as if he too was a Blackburn player under pressure not to say anything too controversial.

In reaction to the fans’ anger, the ex-United man replied with the most condescending of remarks, saying “everyone at that club needs to take a holiday”. With such a comment, Neville seemed to imply that the stark level of anger amongst the supporters was merely a heat-of-the-moment reaction to getting relegated, when in reality, the Blackburn supporters have consistently been expressing their disillusionment for months.

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(Orr, left, wholeheartedly defended Kean in a post-match interview – Nick Potts/PA Wire/Press Association Images)

Of course, there is nothing wrong per se with Neville backing Kean. Perhaps he genuinely believes he is the right man for the Blackburn job. Yet what was so inept about Monday’s coverage was the complete refusal to engage with the anti-Kean stance. Not once were the unhappy supporters’ arguments analysed in depth, nor was the question asked as to whether the seemingly bizarre decision to sack Sam Allardyce – the manager who had guided the club to mid-table respectability – had, in retrospect, been misguided.

Instead, the focus was largely devoted to the pressure Steve Kean has had to deal with, and the supposedly admirable fashion in which he has conducted himself throughout the ‘terrible ordeal’ the supporters have been putting him through. Essentially, it was as if the supporters’ negative attitude (rather than Kean’s poor management) was to blame for the club’s relegation.

Also conspicuously absent from Sky’s discussion was any kind of sustained debate on the impact that Blackburn’s Indian owners, Venky’s, have had on the club. Surely their decision to sack Allardyce, or their awarding of a new and improved contract to Kean, which correlated precisely with the club’s descent to 20th position in the Premier League, deserved scrutiny at the very least.

Therefore, if journalism is about asking tough questions, then Sky’s programme on Monday night was an abject failure. If it is intended to be a public service that seeks to represent the views of the people it serves, then it failed in that regard too, given the complete refusal to engage with the majority of the Blackburn fans’ outrage, coupled with the ostensible antipathy with which the channel’s representatives viewed the supporters’ protests.

So why did Sky television appear to go easy on the Blackburn management and its owners? It is impossible to definitively say. However, an old boys’ club attitude often seems to permeate English football. Current managers and players regularly serve as guest pundits for Sky and other channels, and therefore, the boundaries between footballers and football analysts are often blurred. Consequently, the result is a clear reluctance on the part of pundits to engage in substantial criticism of those with a first-hand involvement in the beautiful game.

And there is indeed a case in point of this old boys’ club attitude that relates directly to Blackburn and Monday night. Last August, the club’s Indian owners bought Gary Neville’s house for a reportedly handsome fee of £5.5million. Therefore, surely the question must be asked as to whether Neville is capable of objectively analysing a club – especially when said analysis seems so one-sided – if he is doing business deals with the owners away from the glare of the TV cameras.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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