Michal Zachodny on why we should all, well, stop moaning and think of others less fortunate than ourselves.
I know, I know, you all dislike Match of the Day. Those ex-pros sitting on sofas and discussing the Premier League games…well, they don’t really know much about Hatem Ben Arfa. Or maybe the problem is that they are all childish, taking football punditry right back to preschool where even a kid can say that Darren Bent ‘took that one well’ or Didier Drogba is ‘unplayable on his day?' In this eternal debate over MotD many of you are behaving unreasonably. There, I said it.
I don't know how many of you have been to Poland, or even taken up the simple (and beautiful) Polish language, but I have been to England (and on the evidence of this article I know a little English), I had the opportunity to watch MotD back then and I’m still doing it whenever I can (translation: whenever my stream allows me). And I don’t get it. Of course, even I knew ‘something’ about the talent of Hatem Ben Arfa but if you are all moaning about the wisdom of pundits then I can guarantee that you ain't seen nothing yet, as the old song goes. Welcome to Poland.
How many football fans do you think there are in this eastern European nation (population: around 40 million)? I don't have an exact figure, but I would imagine that it's probably more than the 150,000 people that have subscribed to Canal+ (the channel that owns the rights for the Polish Ekstraklasa). I’m not complaining about the C+ crew – they are doing their best to pack an utterly mediocre product into shiny new wrapping paper. They pay big bucks to clubs for this privilege and have probably saved more than a dozen of them in the decade or so since they decided to get involved with the murky world of Polish football. Much has changed in that time - C+ has evolved into a decent TV platform, the corruption affair emerged and was solved (apparently), and Polish football fans can look forward to some decent stadiums and new perspectives.
But our punditry, frankly speaking, sucks way, way more than yours. To be honest, I’d love to have Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker discussing the problems of Polish football on public TV. Instead, we get a programme that lasts thirty minutes (remember, eight games to cover!) hosted by a stultifying duo, joined by two boring guests and a former referee for those controversial moments. He's wrong every time. Taking two or three minutes per game (with unmentionable production values), adding goal of the week and flop of the week contests for fans, there is barely any time left for any punditry. One quick question about every game that ‘pundits’ have to answer with one sentence, followed asking that ex-referee whether officials made any mistake, short ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and that’s it. No wonder it’s called ‘Fast Ball’ (in Polish it’s ‘Szybka Piłka’).
It is woeful. It is also shown late on Sunday night, by which time most of those interested already know the scores and have tracked down the goals, and the rest are already back in the office, mentally. Public TV meanwhile has the rights to show the second division (1st League) and depressingly, their approach seems to be designed to prove that anything Canal + can do, they can do worse. Not only they are showing it at the most anti-social times in the week (they don’t care about fans – if they like they can make clubs play on Wednesday or Friday 1:00 P.M) but also it’s just one game every match day. Did I say Public TV? I'm sorry, I forgot to mention that the sports channel is coded, just like Canal +. Poor commentary, anonymous people sitting in an anonymous pre-match studio- it all adds up to what must be some of the worst football coverage ever.
In all fairness, Polish football is decidedly below average and nobody involved is earning even half the sum Alan Shearer or Gary Lineker nets for one season of sofa sitting. Not even players and managers. But even without the money, the fancy studio, and the 'best' pundits, surely a half-decent programme could be produced for the millions of Polish football fans? Maybe, but the biggest problem is that nobody really cares about it. I haven’t seen any discussion on the Internet forums, no blogs have been written, there are no videos of mistakes made by hosts and guests even though I watch them making dozens every week. Nothing. Nobody watches it, nobody cares.
That’s why I envy you, people. I watch Match of the Day whenever possible and admire (yes, admire) the great football played in the Premier League. I read your banter on Twitter, on blogs and I can see why you are angry – the problem is that they could put me right on that sofa and there would not be much difference, even with my horrible English. At least I know ‘a great deal’ about Polish goalkeepers playing in your league... but at least you all care about it, at least you recognise the problem- some of you even know how it should be changed. Your mission will eventually be noticed, change will be achieved – I’m sure of it.
Fans in Poland will shortly find out who has been awarded the latest Ekstraklasa TV deal. It will probably stay on Canal+, which for all the flaws mentioned above, will do no active harm to our football. The real problem is that even though the standard is getting better here (seriously!) it won't matter all that much if no one is watching. Public TV shows four Ekstraklasa games per season, choosing the best ones but even when they are getting high viewership it doesn’t mean a thing to them, it hasn't made them think that maybe, just maybe there is an audience ready and waiting for them. Instead they produce thirty minutes of poor-quality highlights, presented by the worst bunch of pundits found on Polish TV.
You fight for a better tomorrow, hoping to eject Lineker, Shearer et al from the spotlight and away to a footballing backwater, perhaps reporting on the Sunday Ekstraklasa games. But while you are moaning, spare a thought for the only fan in Poland that actually cares about how his domestic football is broadcast and believe me when I say – you could have it so much worse.
If you would like to read more from Michal and get the latest updates from Poland, please visit the excellent Polish Football Scout.