Sunday 25 February 2018

Television review: A lesson to be learned from 'the greatest fairytale of all'

Leicester City (All channels)

Leicester City fans celebrate winning the Barclays Premier League. Photo: John Clifton/Reuters
Leicester City fans celebrate winning the Barclays Premier League. Photo: John Clifton/Reuters
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

The thing is, they never thank us. For those of us who keep the game of football going through the long hard years of indifference, the sudden arrival of all the normal people celebrating a victory such as Leicester City's can be a terrible intrusion. Our peace of mind is disturbed, we become anxious that at any moment some happy news reporter is going to commit some egregious act of wrong-headedness, trying to explain it all to the normal people.

When we see that Leicester is the lead item on the BBC News, when we see the RTE News treatment of what they now regard as a "human interest story", we are like pigeons sensing that a cat has come into the loft. We stop relaxing. We are not ourselves any more, as we watch our tremendously complex game being reduced to the childish simplicities which appeal to the sensibilities of the mass market. And do they thank us?

They do not. They just take their human interest stories, their rags-to-riches fable, as if they were watching a Disney movie from which some lessons can be learned. And then they go away for another 20 years, or however long it takes for news of another such freakish event to reach them, something that is apocalyptic enough to justify their attention. And there is indeed something to be learned from this, some "moral" to this story, but it is not necessarily the one that they're celebrating on the main evening news. It is a lesson which involves the news itself, and how the great desire of the media for the "fairytale" can overwhelm its duty to perform some basic acts of what can only be called journalism.

Put it like this: the magnificent achievement of Leicester City in winning the Premier League is, as far as we know, completely above board. It has been accomplished entirely using the natural juices of all concerned, powerful stuff such as team spirit and inspired management and individual talent which has only emerged fully in this special environment. But these days, the world being the way it is, in any other sport the astronomical levels of improvement shown by Leicester would demand a rigorous questioning of their methods.

There is no way around this now, it should be routine, it doesn't even need to have any negative connotations - there is no evidence whatsoever of a doping culture at Leicester, but in any sport, if you were last in 2015 and first in 2016, if you have done something that is routinely described as "unbelievable", you can expect that the question will be asked.

And assuming you have a perfectly good answer to it, you may even be happy that the question is being asked, grateful for the opportunity to answer the question, to get it out of the way. Last week the question was not asked, it was not even contemplated. Though the "real" news people were in town, to take this one out of the hands of the proverbial toy department, oddly enough the story became less "real", more "fairytale".

Frankly, anyone striking a less-than-entirely-positive note of any kind, would have been viewed either as a weirdo or just a total pain in the arse - which is sadly what journalism is, some of the time, and what distinguishes it from public relations or just plain advertising.

Some day the media studies courses may be using this one in their text books, but you can't rely too heavily on them either. The underlying causes of all this giddiness are related to the notion that sport is just a form of light entertainment anyway, that you don't need to bring the values of "proper" journalism to it, that the normal people just need the Hollywood version and then they can return to the serious issue of whether pizza has been delivered to the parties negotiating a programme for government late into the night, how much pizza they have ordered and whether any of them have gone for the pineapple.

So they have left us again to our football, as they were always going to do. We have given them the greatest fairytale of our times, I suppose next time they'll be looking for the greatest scandal.

And we'll probably be able to supply them with that too. For all the thanks we get.

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