IBWM meets Kevin Day

The BBC's Match Of The Day programme took a bashing on twitter after comments made by pundits were described as 'ignorant'.  Judged on one outburst?  David Hartrick caught up with award winning comedian, broadcaster, MOTD2 staple and all round decent chap Kevin Day.

A Busy man.

If you had to describe Kevin Day, that’s one way to do it.

You can also say he’s a Match of the Day 2 presenter, one quarter of Chappers’ Premier League Podcast, a writer for amongst others Never mind the Buzzcocks and Have I Got News For You, as you will read a one-time Freddie Flintoff minder, and of course the badge he wears proudest of all – a Crystal Palace fan.

Kevin agreed to talk to IBWM about all things Palace, Poll, Podcast, Pundit, and other words that don’t begin with the letter ‘P’ and as you will read, he’s a man worth listening too…

Only one place to start and that has to be with the Palace. After last season’s trials and tribulations on and off the pitch how do you feel about the start to the season so far - early depression or unshakable optimism? Brighton’s League One form can’t be helping…

To be honest, even if we went down this season - which we won't Brighton fans, deal with it - there would still be more optimism than last season. There was a time in April/May when it really seemed we would be going to the wall, and our future is more secure now than it has been for a decade.

We have proper Palace people in charge with a sensible financial plan in place, people who are rebuilding links with the fans that Jordan broke, by doing simple things like splashing some paint around, answering questions on message boards, agreeing to guest ales in the Holmesdale Bar and talking to the Holmesdale Fanatics - nothing major in themselves but proof that they are including us in the club again.

As for on the pitch, we have seven starters who weren't in our first team last season and Burley is trying to change us into a footballing side which is wonderful. I suspect we may be in for few more hammerings while they get it right but when they do, we'll be fine.

I only judge a season by how Palace are doing, what Millwall, Charlton, or Brighton are doing is of no interest to me - particularly while the buggers are doing well. I'm more annoyed that QPR are flying, especially as they seem to be cast in the mould of plucky underdogs by the London press even though they are financed by one of the world's richest men. The only consolation is that by Christmas Warnock will inevitably have been lured away to another club he simply must end his career at because he loved them as a boy.

Edgar Davids – good, bad, or indifferent?

Hmmm. I'm still not convinced that Edgar Davids is brilliant business for a team newly out of administration with a need for financial caution, especially one with his reputation for dressing room disruption. It’s hard to judge him football wise so far because of a lack of fitness and having to return to Holland when his father died.  That said, we do need bite in midfield and the fans are ecstatic about him...jury’s out.

I genuinely believe the Championship is one of the most competitive leagues in European football and incredibly difficult to judge from game to game. What’s your take on the league in general – who are your early runners and riders?

Leeds 4 Preston 6 anyone? The Championship is a preposterous league and enormously good fun to be in. I would happily swap coming 7th in the Championship every year for struggling at the foot of the Premiership. I’m not sure if the competitiveness reflects the fact that every team is good or that they’re all mediocre but there aren't many leagues where you genuinely can't predict the outcome of any single match in it.

I thought Burnley were tremendous against us in the second half recently, and I think Cardiff will go straight up. I can't bring myself to back QPR while Warnock is there but as soon as he goes, I shall be rooting for them as a London team - I do genuinely prefer London teams to do well. For the sake of argument I prefer not to think of Millwall and Charlton as London teams.

I hoped Middlesbrough would do well this year as I love Gordon Strachan, but at the moment, unfortunately, they are halfway to answering the question of what would happen to a Scottish Premier League team in English football.

Many will know you from your work on MOTD2 and I’m sure you were aware of the Alan Shearer/Ben Arfa controversy. What’s your take on the recent criticisms of the programme?

I've been fielding this question a lot lately! The annoying thing is that the BBC have some of the finest, most knowledgeable and hard working researchers I’ve ever worked with. They knew that Ben Arfa was highly regarded at Lyon and Marseille, had a suspect temperament, and had played for his country more than once - so presumably Alan never thought to ask them.

The programme's remit is to show the highlights of the day's football, the pundits are there to give tactical insight from an insider's perspective. I don't think they underestimate the knowledge of the audience - Gary in particular has been banging on about making Saturday more like MOTD2. Sadly the powers that be don't think it's appropriate but I don’t think they’re as excited about facts, statistics, and general knowledge as a lot of the fans are.

And you have to bear in mind that many of the fans aren't either. It's aimed at a late night audience and nearly all the complaints they get are about their team "being on last as usual". The vast majority of complaints about The Football League Show are that there’s too much talking! The pundits remit on MOTD is to comment in a short space of time on goals and incidents and then move on. How well they do that is a matter of opinion, probably depending on how much you know about football yourself.

Do you think there’s a place for what I can best describe as a more tactically astute football programme, not as replacement for MOTD which as far as I’m concerned serves a different purpose, but in addition?

I have long thought there’s room for a more fanzine style of football programme which reflects the interests of fans with a wide knowledge of the game, who want to watch and listen to serious issues being debated and not laughed at. Trust me, I've suggested it enough times.

The sad commercial fact is there clearly isn't an audience for that programme or the BBC would be making it.  I also think that as broadcasters, the BBC are reluctant to offend clubs and managers for fear of losing access to them. They are very sore about the Ferguson business and they would be all over any programme that tried to be honest about players or managers.  Also, there are already hundreds of websites and blogs that are doing exactly that with the added bonus that people can respond themselves within seconds.

In regard to that world of blogging, podcasts, and websites such as this, do you see a future where football coverage moves towards fans and students of the game and away from the obligatory ex-professional for opinion?

The honest answer to this is no, not in the near future. I think it's valid to question whether some of the ex-players who are pundits love the game as much as we fans do. There are notable exceptions - like Lee Dixon for example - but most pundits have a different relationship to the game than us.  They were playing as kids rather than watching and they’re talking about what was a job to them rather than what’s a passion to you. Even the simple idea of traveling to an away game bemuses some of them.

That doesn't mean however that fans would make better pundits. You have to remember these people played at the highest level, so they do know what they’re talking about. The beauty of blogs, podcasts, websites etc is that they are slightly clandestine and outside the mainstream - they can offer opinions that would get them sacked from TV or radio. Broadcasting inevitably involves compromise either for legal reasons, for fear of offence, or simply because you’re talking to a much broader audience, most of whom won't have your knowledge of the Swiss lower leagues.

I’d love to see a range of people giving their opinions - unless they wanted to give those opinions as part of a perfectly crafted light hearted fans' piece on MOTD2 of course - but if you are waiting for a programme hosted by James Richardson with OptaJoe and Zonal Marking as studio guests, you may be waiting some time.

For the record I am currently mostly reading your own 'I Know Who Cyrille Makanaky Was' and 'European Football Weekends', as well as 'In Bed With Maradona'. I follow the usual suspects plus a slightly eccentric Norwegian lad @OhPebbles who is knowledgeable and witty.

I think the criticism of MOTD was partly born from the cherished place the programme still holds in football fans hearts and memories, are there ever moments when you have to remind yourself how good it is to be a part of?

Not 'moments' – I’m constantly hugging myself inside that I am part of the actual Match of the Day. To have the access and insight I’m allowed is a source of great joy.

I could never dream as a football mad kid that I’d ever be standing on an actual football pitch let alone standing there for Match of the Day. I could only be happier if someone could fashion me a time machine so I could go back and do it on ‘The Big Match’ as well.

I think you're absolutely right that most peoples' criticism of MOTD comes from a place of affection. I also think it's very laudable that the BBC allowed them to go retro on the new title sequence as an attempt to acknowledge that there was football pre-Premiership and Sky.

You’ve worked on two programmes, Sky One’s ‘A League of their Own’ (where you worked with one of my heroes - Mr Flintoff) and ITV’s ‘James Corden’s World Cup Live’, that were poorly received by critics but both recorded good viewing figures and received public support. How do you weigh one against the other?

That's a very interesting question. It’s very frustrating to work on programmes that get so many viewers and so much criticism. Good ratings are wonderful but to be honest we all want to be involved in shows that are critically acclaimed, and it can be wearing to be halfway through a series that is getting such a kicking, particularly when you know how hard the foot soldiers involved are working.

To be honest, the World Cup programme could have been the best television ever made - calm down, I said 'could have' - but it would still have got a kicking because James Corden is having a spell where reviewers hate him unfortunately.

As it happens there are many parts of that programme that I’m proud to be associated with. We were making 3 live shows a week and for the most part we made a decent fist of it. We didn't always get the balance right between cheerleading for England and representing a global tournament but at least in the wallchart we were allowing people from every single nation a voice - barring North Korea obviously, but we did ask them!

I looked after Freddie during the making of the last series of 'A League of their Own' - it's exhausting! He’s the most delightful man but it was like looking after a giant lager-drinking toddler with the world's biggest twinkle in his eye. If he’s one of your heroes by the way, he deserves to be, and hearing him talk through some of his exploits was a real privilege.

You also dabble in the world of horse racing coverage as part of 5Live’s team for the Cheltenham Festival, you’ve written for ‘Have I got news for you’ and ‘Never mind the Buzzcocks’ and other programmes that aren’t on my Sky+, where does football fit in around you working life? Do you still get to Selhurst Park at all?

I love doing Cheltenham for 5Live if only because I get to share a farmhouse with Clare Balding, John Inverdale and Cornelius Lysaght for 5 nights. It's cheaper than a hotel so all of us, including producers and assistants, stay in this massive place right out in the country. Sadly they all now know I’m terrified of the countryside at night and think it's hilarious to try and spook me out.

I’ve done it for 10 years now and at first I was wary of the racing set and their strange rural ways but I absolutely love jump racing now, and jockeys are simply the most extraordinary - and randy - sportsmen you can meet.

Buzzcocks has just started recording again - the Jedward episode will be must-see TV - and HIGNFY starts next week so I’m very busy, touch wood. My wife and I are both freelance, which makes it difficult to turn down any work, but I get to Palace a fair bit. It's not so much the football I miss as the talking bollocks to the same mates in the same seats in the same pub that I really yearn for if I’m working. I’m also trying to write a stand-up show for next year's Edinburgh Festival that combines football and Anne Boleyn - any ideas welcome!

I’ve got to make special mention of your work on the podcast (Chappers’ Premier League Podcast in association with Championship Manager), a quick word on your co-conspirators - Mark Chapman, Roy Meredith, and Graham Poll - is it as much fun to do as it sounds?

It’s great fun to do although I worry we’re slowly turning into Last of The Summer Wine.

It's amazing how quickly we fell into distinct roles: Chappers as the Will Hay - look him up kids - exasperated headmaster type, me as the 'I love football but I'd check that fact before you repeat it because a bloke in the pub told me' type, Roy as the kindly yet slightly baffled boffin type, and Graham as the randy referee type. I really like all of them and essentially I’m doing exactly what I do in The Pawson's Arms pre-match, I'm talking bollocks about football and getting my fare paid to do it.

A word about Graham Poll though because people rarely defend him. He takes a shed load of stick but once you get beyond the fact that he has the sense of humour of an 8 year old - he genuinely laughs every time the girl on reception says "do you want the water in jugs?” - he’s a kind and generous man who really loves his football. He’s also a very good and honest pundit and a mentor to many, although for comedy purposes I do have to point out that he was rubbish in every Palace game he ever refereed. Ever.

Have you actually played Roy’s game - Championship Manager? Taken Crystal Place into the Champions League perhaps?

Unfortunately I have neither the hand eye skills nor the patience to have played it. Professor Layton on the DS however, you can't get me off.  I’ve told Roy I will play Championship Manager when there is a 1970s version. He's getting back to me.

Lastly and after you’ve received a huge thank you for finding the time for a chat, a final question in homage to this site’s name – favourite Maradona moment of all time?

Peter Shilton was a guest on 'A League of Their Own' recently and I was surprised by the raw anger he still has towards Diego. It quite threw James Corden who’s a massive, massive Maradona fan. I love old football photos - along with kits, I have a fetish for old kits - and one of my favorites is the lone Maradona against Belgium so I’ll be boring and go with that.

Kevin’s on twitter @kevinhunterday – if your experience of following him is anything like mine expect plenty of talk of both micro-pigs and Time Team’s Alice Roberts (unrelated conversations I hasten to add).

Also you really should be downloading the Pod – Chappers’ Premier League Podcast - for 2 reasons. Firstly (from a full blown convert) believe me when I say that anything that can make Graham Poll a very likable person has to be listened to. Secondly, if you’ve ever had to mainline Championship Manager into your veins over several months like me, listening to Roy Meredith for a devotee of the game is like our catnip.

Last of all Kevin asked me to mention something that’s simple brilliance and comes with a good cause. On twitter as @longestmatch I urge you all to support this straightforward premise – one man has organised 36 players into taking part in the world’s longest charity football match ever. In the hopes of raising £18,000 for the Breast Cancer Campaign, on Friday 22nd October they kick off with the aim of playing for 60 hours straight – that’s right, I said 60 hours, six zero, 3,600 minutes. If ever there was a reason to immediately head to longestfootballmatch.com and give a little, it’s that moment of disbelief you’ve just had now.