The United States and Britain have historically been grouped together as a central part of that notoriously pushy entity, The West, for good reasons. American and English people share similar cultures, the same language, the same essentially imperial history in world affairs.
One arena in which they diverge, though, is their media. There’s a massive gap in the quality of American and British sports media.
For some reason I’ve always gravitated more towards written columns about sports than television analysis. In recent months that’s because I’ve made the prudent decision to put my cable money towards beer and student loans, but this tendency predates that necessity. So in lieu of watching SportsCenter, I go to the ESPN website every day. I read a lot of their NBA articles and some of their football, baseball and soccer coverage.
First, a word or two on soccer. Soccer is an interest of mine much in the way that cocaine is an interest of investment bankers. I take it in whenever possible, often guiltily, and I find that the best product is always from out of country. The MLS, while improving, doesn’t come close to the European leagues.
This is why my main source of soccer news is the BBC’s football website. And it’s atrocious. Never mind their recent redesign, which looks like Big Bird smacked into my computer screen (I know, I know, he’s flightless. Whatever.) Their content is EXTREMELY Anglo-centric. The way their pundits talk, you’d think the East India Company’s stock was still trading high.
The site almost blew up the day that England lost out on the 2018/2022 World Cups (admittedly under shady circumstances – Qatar? Really? Air conditioned stadiums sound totally feasible), and it’s hilarious how they tear apart FIFA, which really doesn’t like England, at every turn.
Still, there’s a pervasive xenophobic vibe to a lot of what I read on the BBC. Their pundits, most of whom are former players themselves, obviously long for the days of gritty, aggressive soccer with lots of tackling and aerial challenges, and they loathe the flashy influence that foreigners have brought to the game. This is more of an observation than a critique, really, because I kind of agree with their viewpoint. It’s not xenophobic, merely obvious, to point out that Latin cultures, for whatever reason, have brought more diving into the game.
I’ve also noticed some marked weaknesses in the BBC’s journalistic decisions and writing. Sports journalism is by definition a softer form of news, but at least ESPN doesn’t blow up its front page with boring quotes from players. Every other day on the BBC there’s a headline: “Rooney Looks Forward to Game Against Chelsea,” “Gerrard Says Liverpool Must Play Better.” It’s not front page news. There are a lot of fascinating aspects to soccer, but the BBC doesn’t highlight them.
Which brings me to the writing. Mark Lawrenson, one of their experts who does predictions for each week’s slate of games, recently wrote: “Chelsea are still winning games despite their problems because they have not suddenly become a bad team.”
This man is paid for his written analysis of soccer.
Anyway, the site’s full of drivel like that. And it’s a shame, because I love the English Premier League, and for all its shortcomings the BBC’s still probably the best place to follow English soccer. Their live blogs on game days do a great job of capturing what’s going on in each match, and some analysts (Lee Dixon, who does tactical analysis, in particular) do a nice job of breaking down big matchups. You’d just think that a country as soccer-mad as England is would have better media coverage of its biggest draw.