Football’s Faults: #1 ‘Clem’

I’ve been moonlighting this season as editor of the Rossington Main matchday programme, Main Issue. In that publication I’ve run a series called ‘Football’s Faults’ highlighting everything wrong with the game. Rather than keep those articles exclusive to the hardy souls who head down Oxford Street I’ve chosen to share them here, beginning with this critique of the Football League Show‘s ‘Clem’ which also recently appeared in When Saturday Comes magazine…

In my childhood football was a simple game, played by twenty-two men and narrated by John Helm. Growing up in Yorkshire, Goals on Sunday was my football fix, and it delivered all I needed from a football highlights show. Extended coverage of the region’s main game (ie. Leeds) before the break, goals from all the others after it, and hope that Helm made it through Division Four before mum called me to set the table.

But in the years since, the simplicity has departed. Someone in a glass walled office has gathered suits round a flip-chart and decided I need more than just football highlights from my football highlights. I need interactivity, I need new angles, I need a man eating a pie on the halfway line as the teams come out behind him, and the result of this ‘blue-sky thinking’ is Mark ‘Clem’ Clemmit.

My first engagement with Clem, like many of you, was through the Football League Show’s Potted History feature. A vehicle in which he would flit around a club’s empty stadium, popping up behind seats and trophy cabinets as if he’d somehow escaped from the hand of Matthew Corbett, to read us extracts from the club’s Wikipedia entry.

Inevitable 'Clem meets his public' caption.
Inevitable ‘Clem meets his public’ caption.

Mercifully, the feature was withdrawn, but Clem soldiers on attempting to engage with football folk in what middle-management perceives to be their language. Everyone is a mate, ex-players are ‘legends’, players have great ‘tekkers’ and try to score ‘worldys’. Whenever I hear Clem speaking football I’m always put in mind of Arthur Bostrom’s Officer Crabtree in Allo Allo. Like Crabtree’s French, Clem’s ‘banter’ may do enough to convince those in power he’s the real thing, but the rest of us can’t believe he’s getting away with it. You need only view Twitter during a broadcast to see that in his pursuit of this banter Clem has become football coverage’s equivalent of The Texan from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22; a man so happy and good-natured that ultimately no-one can stand him.

Holding enthusiasm for the Football League is no bad thing, especially given much of the media’s tendency to portray it solely as an alternate dimension where Premier League clubs cease to be; like when Eastenders characters move to Manchester. In that sense Clem’s sincerity is a welcome break from cliché and patronisation. However, too often the enthusiasm is over-played, and instead comes across as the sort of faux-jocularity displayed by someone you vaguely know as they lead up to asking for a favour; “Here he is… Gaffer, the Gaffer, eh? Look at you, check the suit out. How you settling in? Yeah… hey, look… mate… you couldn’t lend us a fiver could you?”

Perhaps I’d have more time from Clem if it looked like his nickname really annoyed him. If every time Manish handed over to him we were greeted by a shot of a man grinding his teeth and fixing the lens with a stare that contained dark thoughts of revenge, I would be able to take him at face value, possibly even sympathise as he tried to be taken seriously.

But he doesn’t. He remains Clem by his own choosing and an insistence so resolute I had to look up his actual name whilst penning this piece. Instead of gaining empathy Clem is the kid at school trying too hard, hanging on the edge of the incrowd; laughing too keenly at the other kids’ jokes, particularly the ones at his expense. He seems all too happy to play the part of the fool – the office joker – the guy with Yackety Sax as his ring-tone, the bloke who spends each and every December with mistletoe hooked through his belt buckle.

In Clem lies the crux of the Football League Show’s failings, in that it endeavours so earnestly to please, ultimately it disappoints. For all its attempted features and interactivity, by this time, post-midnight on a Saturday, and with any sense of perceptiveness already dulled out of us by Alan Shearer’s punditry come narration, we don’t want whimsy, nor do we want to think. We just want goals and maybe the odd red card. Nothing more.

Poor Clem. Because unlike a large amount of people presenting and opining on football on television he is clearly knowledgeable about his subject, and his features do offer insight. But in their current slot, they serve only as something we have to get through in order to get what we came for, like time spent with relatives to get to the Christmas presents. Perhaps, for all our sakes, it is time for the BBC to kill off the over-eager mauve clad Jim Henson character gone sentient that is Clem, and give the football journalist Mark Clemmit a chance instead.