I like football. I am not, though, a dribbling idiot honking kebab-vomit into a pint of lukewarm lager. This, I think, is an important distinction to make. It shouldn't be a distinction that I have to make, but I'm afraid I feel that football fans are treated as if we're all a bunch of gurning monosyllabic fuckknuckles.
Which is a shame, because I don't think we are. Don't get me wrong - some football fans are ignorant turds whom you almost want to applaud for managing to sit the right way throughout the entire game. But this football fan put it nicely during the World Cup:
Football fans, despite what the producers of Match of the Day apparently believe, are not idiots. Granted, anyone who has ever listened to a radio phone-in will know that there is an anti-Darwinism at the heart of every broadcast, a survival of the thickest as sensible voices are drowned out by braying morons. And yet football fans have never been so knowledgeable. The regular coverage of European leagues on satellite television has allowed us to gaze upon a world outside the bloated hyperbole of the Premier League.
Yes, that's it. What you've got now is a situation where fans, including armchair fans, are more able than ever to fill up on knowledge about the game. We can read more about European football than we ever could before the internet; we can see more action from outside of the UK than ever before, too. But punditry hasn't kept pace with this: instead, it's come to the point where fans are becoming more knowledgeable about players and teams than ex players who, while being good at putting the ball in the net in their day, are not so good, it would appear, at doing any research whatsoever. As Tom English so memorably put it, also during the World Cup:
Before the Algeria versus Slovenia game in Group C on Sunday, Shearer seemed to be speaking for the entire BBC panel when he said, "Our knowledge of these two teams is limited." Limited! What the former England striker was saying was that he hadn't done his homework, that he hadn't spoken to any of his vast array of contacts in the game, hadn't tapped into the BBC's huge research machinery, hadn't even bothered, seemingly, to peruse the internet for some background on Algeria and Slovenia or even flick through a newspaper or a magazine. Shearer was content to sit in front of the cameras and tell the viewers that, really, he didn't know much. Hardly a revelation to those of us who have groaned our way through his anodyne commentaries in the past, but embarrassing all the same.
You might have hoped that someone might have had a word with Shearer after this kind of carpeting during the World Cup, but it either didn't happen or Shearer isn't listening. Jonathan Liew of the Telegraph let out a weary sigh of despair after watching the "Yul Brinner/Weetabix"-haired expert proffer his opinions at the weekend:
You may, or may not, have heard of Ben Arfa before he moved here, but then you aren't paid to talk about him on television.
"No one really knows a great deal of him," Shearer asserted confidently as he introduced highlights of Ben Arfa's performance against Everton.
It was an astonishingly deficient piece of analysis, for which his earlier golden nugget of insight – "It's weird seeing Birmingham wear red, isn't it?" – curiously failed to atone.
These 'experts' know about the things that relate to their playing days, but when it comes to actually finding out about things, they're not so sharp. You may say that pundits are not necessarily there to provide expert analysis but rather a bit of colour - look at the bewildering ramblings of Eddie Jordan on the BBC's Formula One coverage, often far more exciting than the races themselves; or Michael Vaughan on Test Match Special, like Geoffrey Boycott but without the insouciant charm - but that seems somehow unsatisfactory to me. I want these people to tell me something I don't know and make me see things that I might not otherwise see. Is that too much to ask?
Surely the very least you could do, as a commentator and analyst on English football, is to find out about English footballers, and keep an eye on what's going on in Europe so you have a good idea about World Cup and European Championship qualifying, players coming to the Premiership in the future, and so on. No...? Well, no, apparently not. It's even got to the stage now where Gabriel Marcotti, someone on the BBC who had a clue, has jumped ship for ITV - ITV! - while Robbie Savage and Steve Claridge lock their antlers of bluff shouty fuckwittery on Five Live on a regular basis.
I'm sitting there listening, thinking "Oh will someone please kill them both", but then I remember that would mean more of Alan Green - who himself delighted in telling his listeners he couldn't be bothered to look up the Bulgarian team before they played England in a European Championships qualifier, yet somehow knew that England should be better than them.
I think it's this kind of arrogant ignorance that gets people's backs up. By all means we can all agree or disagree about football - it's one of the marvellous things about the game that we can all watch the same match and take something different away from it - but it's getting to the point now where viewers are becoming more aware of what's going on than the presenters and pundits who are meant to be there to offer an insight. Now I don't mind people being well paid, off the licence fee or not, because I'd be tempted to think "Well, they've earned it" if they're any good; but it's hard not to think that some of these faces are just coasting along on their footballing glories without bothering to put the work in with their day jobs. But please, can we just have some people who actually like finding stuff out? Who want to know about new players, because they're interested? Who offer something other than just a lot of pub bore opinions? Please...?
No, probably not. But I can't help wondering if the rumblings of discontent from fans are getting a bit louder.