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Match of the Day at 50

Friday 29th August 2014
This week the National institution that is Match of the Day turned 50 years old, but in today's world of dedicated sports channels and round the clock football coverage is the show any more than a much loved novelty?

If you were to listen to the conversation amongst fans sat on terraces throughout the land, on any given Saturday as scores filter through from Premier League games, the words ‘Match of the Day' would not be far away from the many, Bovril-stained lips. It is part of the fabric of an English football fan to tune in to BBC One at 10.30pm on a Saturday night. Much like the team you are told to follow by your family or friends, MOTD is now passed down from generation to generation carrying the same sentimental value as a retro kit or your first pair of football boots.

From ‘The Big Match' on ITV in the early 70's through to Sky Sports' ‘Monday Night Football' today, the original highlights show has always faced and battled against stiff competition but retained a following of up to four million viewers (the number that tuned in to the opening show of this season).

However now, when I sit down to watch Gary Lineker introduce the day's games I can't help but feel the nostalgia and love that I developed as a wide eyed youngster, fading away. The theme song never fails to stir my inner youth but from that point onwards, my interest wavers between the highlights until I find myself numb with boredom by the closing credits.

Whether it is down to the production of the show or a strict BBC directive, Match of the Day lacks any punch or dynamism in the way it delivers the coverage of the most marketable football division in the world. Admittedly, the BBC operates from a fraction of the budget of rivals such as Sky and BT but in trying to match those competitors with in-play facts and interactive studio graphics, it offers little more than a discounted feel to proceedings.

Above all else though, it is the punditry that has become so tiresome. The impression I get from the likes of Phil Neville, Danny Murphy and Alan Shearer is that they are either bereft of any definitive opinion or they are not allowed to speak their minds. This results in shallow analysis put forward without conviction, the BBC's cheese to Monday Night Football's clinical chalk.

Throughout the World Cup, the Match of the Day team showed what they could really do. The coverage from Copacabana was light, clever and above and beyond the turgid ITV equivalent. It was a football show taken back to basics with a variety of pundits or guests giving sensible, brief comment on the game and expressing contrasting opinions in lively debate. People that have played the game throughout the world, discussing the game in front of them.

Match of the Day does not have a huge budget, nor does it have hours of dedicated television time to pick through the bones of every game it shows. So why doesn't it revert back to basics, keeping the football as the focal point and all gimmicks to a premium?

How I remember Match of the Day as a fan growing up is by seeing goals fly in every week on a Saturday night with great commentary supported by a lively studio back drop, not Robbie Savage rushing through a critique on how Burnley could have prevented the fourth goal. Maybe it is a small case of nostalgia on my part, looking through rose-tinted glasses, but Match of the Day is the original and only Saturday night highlights show and it does not have to be like its rivals to beat them.
James Dean
A lover of football. Season ticket holder at Sheffield Wednesday and known as the "Andrea Pirlo of the North".

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