BALL pundits: don’t you just love them? Well, maybe you do, perhaps you don’t. They are there to curry debate, adding their professional perspective to TV and radio coverage of our great game.
Only yesterday, we woke up to reports that former Spurs and England schemer Danny Murphy was facing a £2.5m tax bill. Now Murphy is one of the better, more thoughtful, ones but, in general, we should not rush to contribute to any fund-raisers for struggling pundits.
Because, let me tell you, they are doing very nicely. Most casual TV football fans could reel off eight or 10 names, the ex-players who regularly turn up in the corner of our living rooms courtesy of Sky Sports, BT Sport, ITV and of course the BBC.
They all earn good money; often very good money. But there is an absolute platoon of pundits beneath this elite who are commentating or opining on big English matches on a plethora of platforms all over the world.
SCRATCHING THE SURFACE
Pundits and co-commentators (Andy Gray’s old role at Sky) include many who appear only very occasionally on major programmes but feature regularly elsewhere. I give you Clive Allen, Warren Barton, Garry Birtles, Alan Curbishley, Peter Reid, Nigel Spackman, Tony Gale, Trevor Francis, Don Goodman, Ray Wilkins, Davie Provan and Shaka Hislop.
And that’s only scratching the surface. Many of them, unseen in the UK, ply their trades by contributing to the Premier League’s international feed, transmitted world-wide.
Some of the better known are regularly contracted to fly to Doha, to the Qatar HQ of beIN Sports, the new-ish name for Al Jazeera’s sports platform, to broadcast. Their flights are paid for, of course, as is their stay in one of the finest Doha hotels. They often fly out to take in several English games over a block of days – earning tens of thousands – before flying back, until the next time.
One former top player, who preferred not to be named, told me: “It’s not quite a circus of pundits but there is certainly a lot of former players on this particular bandwagon, myself included. It is testimony to the power of the English game, especially the Premier League.
“It gives the boys a way of staying ‘in the game’. Such opportunities were very limited before the explosion of media interest in the Premier League. In the Sky Sports and Premier League era everything has changed – it certainly beats running a pub, as so many old players did in the old days.”
I was told of one eye-popping recent itinerary for a respected pundit who took in a Sunday Premier League TV match before setting off for a flight to Doha to appear on BeIN’s coverage of a big Tuesday Cup clash, broadcast from Doha. The time difference meant he finished work in the desert studio at 1.30am before stealing a few hours sleep and heading for a flight back to London.
He got to Heathrow in time to grab another nap before dashing off to a big London club’s home match for a domestic broadcaster on Wednesday evening!
So, and with due respect to the unfortunate Mr Murphy, it’s nice (and very well paid) work if you can get it.