Last week, ITV announced that they would not be renewing Andy Townsend’s contract and that the long-time pundit would be seeking job opportunities elsewhere after the end of the current season.
Cue much grave-dancing.
Townsend is the modern patriarch of banal co-commentary and he’s seen as being representative of the gravy train culture which keeps ex-professionals eating out beyond their retirement. That’s fair; he has no obvious talent for television and, like so many of his contemporaries, he has survived in broadcasting almost by default.
But - and I realise that this will place me in a minority - I don’t mind Andy Townsend. Of course, I understand why so many are bored by him and why his jingoistic analysis can be grating, but the vitriol that he seems to inspire is disproportionate to what he is.
Any discussion of football media personalities is really a ‘lesser of many evils’ conversation. We know that television executives have long since been formulaic with their hiring and we accept that the standard of the industry as a result is pitifully low.
No, not all the jobs should go to ex-players, but they do and it’s something which will likely never change.
Typically, footballers are neither the brightest nor the most articulate and, once you accept that as the norm, you can forgive Townsend for a lot of his output. The Tactics Truck rightfully belongs in the game’s house of horrors and his child-like yelps are hardly the tip of the broadcasting sword, but Townsend has still been a relatively benign presence.
Accept what football television is and you can establish a much fairer hierarchy of dislike.
The worst crime in that industry is not being inarticulate or having a slightly unpolished delivery, but rather its laziness. The most offensive ex-players are those who embrace the ‘turn up and talk’ culture or who affect opinions for the sake of notoriety.
Townsend isn’t one of those. He may not be the brightest and he may be almost incapable of relating anything that he learnt during his playing years, but there is a sincerity to him which others don’t possess. He doesn’t belong to the calculated, ‘big opinion’ culture and, forgettable though almost all of his input generally is, his responses to the games he covers do feel organic.
Organically bad, maybe, but organic nonetheless.
It’s all relative. Over the course of an average weekend, Sky Sports and BT will employ plenty of pundits who are far more odious than Andy Townsend. This is a generation of loud talkers, antagonists and expensive haircuts and they’re enabled by executives who demand a very low standard. Beyond Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville, there are very few in this industry whose screen preparation extends beyond the selection of a garish suit.
Townsend is an analyst rather than a ‘personality’ - and there’s a very real difference between the two. The former’s role is based around the actual game, the latter’s around his own sense of self. One wants only to be behind a microphone, the other craves the opportunity to show off his new brilliant-white trousers.
It’s worth remembering, also, that Townsend was neither the most talented nor the most famous player. When he left the game, he had no obvious fame to cash-in and no appeal to a wide audience. He wasn’t a former England forward and his father wasn’t actively still involved in the sport, so his secondary career has actually been forged rather than simply handed to him by default.
All the criticisms of him remain valid and he is evidently not a pundit or colour commentator of a particularly high standard, but he is infinitely more tolerable than a lot of his peers.