A Postmodernist Deconstruction of the Post-Match Interview
Along with television commentary, the post-match interview is the clearest possible opportunity to observe how football clichés have permeated the consciousness of all those involved in the game. Seemingly unwittingly, players (and, to a lesser extent perhaps, managers) conduct these interviews by calling upon a vast reserve of stock phrases and words for answers. The overwhelming presence of these well-established verbal safety-nets does make the seasoned football cliché enthusiast wonder if the interviewee really has anything of note to say at all.
Regardless, the demands of Sky Sports mean that their on-air time must be filled, and so these inane Q&As continue. While the average footballer is hardly an intellectual, you get the impression that the players at the less knowledgeable end of the spectrum use clichés in order to survive an interview, rather than give one. With media training now a common part of an Academy player's development, it wouldn't be outrageous to assume that they are taught these phrases, much like a secondary schoolchild would be taught the appropriate vocabulary they would need on a very unlikely trip to a restaurant in Germany (Ich mochte ein bratwurst, bitte.)
Postmodernist thought often refers to the concept of cultural recycling. Apparent, for example, in film genres such as film noir, it relates to the reappropriation, or even mere imitation, of verbal and visual cues to the extent that a genre is thus established. Pastiche films almost mindlessly draw from previous productions, while parodies do the same, although with a notable level of self-awareness and irony. If footballers continuously looked at the camera after each cliche, and gave the nation a knowing wink, they'd easily qualify for the latter. However, it is currently beyond the comprehension of most of today's players to display such self-reflexivity - they are too preoccupied with somehow plucking out a phrase to answer Geoff Shreeves' latest conundrum to realise that they are referencing and regurgitating football history. The odd "I know it's a cliche, but..." does represent some hope, though.
It should be no surprise that any player that does manage to momentarily eschew the Footballer's Code will be regarded with near wonderment and awe. These "articulate" players will inevitably be either a) tipped for a future job in management or b) earmarked for a future role in the media. For example, "studious" professionals like Gareth Southgate can be assured of a position on the touchline at the end of their playing days, while any player that can string a sentence together by themselves is very likely to feature on MOTD2 by the end of the season. Matt Taylor's appearance on Sunday's edition, aided by his penchant for speculative long-range efforts, would seem to lend support to this theory.
However, such heresy as to try and go without football clichés is a direct threat to The Angle..., and all that it seeks to lampoon. Therefore, in customary style, we present the following utterances, which you may well have heard from a footballer at some point:
A fair and loyal bunch, strikers "don't care who gets the goals, as long as we get the three points", but can't resist adding that "it's always nice to score". The Angle... is yet to witness a striker (a player who is supposed to be "selfish") announce that he absolutely does care that it was he who got the brace in a 2-0 win, or perhaps that it's "only sometimes nice to score". The most self-indulgent a player lets himself become is when, at the behest of the brown-nosing interviewer, he contemplates whether his 35-yard volley was "one of the best goals" he's ever scored.
Long-serving full-backs, understandably ill-versed in the art of getting on the scoresheet, resort to hilarious bouts of self-deprecation when confronted over their goalscoring exploits. Allusions to "nosebleeds" are commonplace for those players who "don't get too many".
Magnanimity turns into blatant patronisation for the victorious footballer. "Credit" is always offered to inferior opposition (on paper, at least) for "making it hard for us".
Often fairly humble about their effective late introduction to the game, a goalscoring substitute will invariably be asked what his instructions were upon coming on. The classic reply would be:
"The manager just asked me to get out there, put myself about a bit, make a nuisance of myself and maybe nick a goal. And that's what I did."
Whilst it would be highly ignorant to draw attention to any foreign player's lack of command of the English language, it does appear that the first words any overseas signing is taught upon arrival are "happy", "important" and "very". Amazingly, this heavily-restricted vocabulary still suffices when answering Geoff Shreeves' less taxing enquiries.
Player Returning From Injury
Delighted to be back in action after a long injury lay-off, the more melodramatic players will recount how "there were times when I thought about packing it all in."
After a Dramatic Comeback
When inevitably asked if they had thought, at 2-0 down, that the game was over, a defiant captain/goalscorer (usually) lies and claims "No, we never stopped believing. We knew that if we got the first goal...."
Faced with accusations of malice after a tackle that leaves an opponent injured, the guilty party (or, more often, a team-mate) will attempt to construct a desperate defence of their character. Even the dirtiest player will still be heard proclaiming that "I'm/he's not the sort of player who'd deliberately go out to try and injure a fellow professional."
Impressive (But Previously Under-Fire) Team-mate
Praise of a match-winning team-mate is bread and butter for the interviewee:
"He's a quality player and he showed that today."
If said player has been on the end of media criticism, reference to his performances "in training" may be necessary to lend further support.
Manager interviews perhaps offer a greater sense of self-awareness regarding the use of cliches. While their young players come across as rabbits in the media spotlight, the older, wiser managers are well-versed in the art of the post-match interview. Media-savvy bosses (or, at least, those who very obviously like to think so) use cliches so readily and so smugly that it is impossible to countenance that they aren't fully aware of what they are saying. The Alan Pardews, Alan Curbishleys and Stuart Pearces of this world use the post-match interview, usually the first opportunity to communicate with the fans, in a manner normally associated with a slimy MP, all spin and shameless grovelling. Pearce, for example, regularly abuses the phrase "football club", which should really only be used sparingly at the end of statements at add some profundity.
Post-match interviews can separate the magnanimous winners ("[The opponents' manager] is a good manager, and his team was well organised today") from the bitter losers ("The best team lost today, for me...") and the gracious, if a bit cowardly, losers ("Looking through their teamsheet, you can't compete with the quality they've got"). The referee is more or less protected from criticism nowadays as the managers bite their lip and "don't want to say too much, because I'll get into trouble [with the FA]", but the odd one can't resist and doesn't "care if I get into trouble".
The smuggest post-match interviews, where a smiling manager will gleefully spout the cliched answers expected of him, come when he reaches some sort of landmark, be it a certain number of games or years in the profession. Asked if he is "still enjoying it", the veteran boss can be relied upon to make a flippant remark about his wife or his blood pressure.
With manager's positions more precarious than ever in the modern game, many of them rely on the post-match interview as a desperate method of staying in employment. Ready-made, vacuum-packed cliches are called upon when the going gets tough. The nearer the manager gets to the axe, the more desperate he becomes. The Managerial Axe Desperation (MAD) Spectrum is exemplified as follows:
The process begins quite accidentally, when a bored tabloid "journalist" glances at the recent Premiership results, and sees that one team have not won in eleven games.
"Speculation [about my future] comes with the territory."
"Football is a results business."
"Ultimately, I will be judged on results."
"Both myself and the board want what's best for this football club."
"I've never walked away from anything in my life, and I'm not going to start now."
"The fans were magnificent today. They deserve better."
"The fans pay their money and they have every right to make their feelings known."
"All I'm interested in is preparing for the next game on Tuesday."
The manager leaves the club "by mutual consent".
Of course, sacking a manager without adequate forethought can always backfire. When a suitable replacement cannot be readily found, a struggling club search for answer within, an a caretaker manager is appointed. A sacrificial lamb to the hungry dogs of the media, the Comedy Caretaker emerges about once a season. A few brave post-defeat interviews later, and the Comedy Caretaker (conspicuous by his distinctive markings - his initials on the tracksuit) is also out the door. The Premiership has seen (to name but a few) Steve Wigley (Southampton), Chris Hutchings (Bradford), Frank Burrows (the flat-cap wearing no-mark at West Brom a few years ago) and Kevin Ball (who, at Sunderland, could at least plumb no further depths than Mick McCarthy), while England were forced to endure Howard Wilkinson for a short period.
The post-match interview, be it with a player or a manager, serves to perfectly encapsulate the painting-by-numbers nature of football coverage. Pre- and post-match, football (if we are honest) just isn't as interesting as Sky's hour-long build-up would have us believe. Therefore, television's bloated balloon of hype must be supported by the scaffolding of the football cliche.
But the signs are, however small, that players and managers are becoming more and more aware of themselves going through the motions. The Angle... awaits the post-match interview's continued progression into postmodernity.
For an example of when the football cliche handbook goes at least partially out of the window, however, look no further than Newport County manager Peter Beadle, after his side's controversial FA Cup 1st Round tie. What a twat.