IF SPORTSCENE were to shy away from moments of controversy, it would be the equivalent of a player shirking a tackle during a game, according to former player and BBC pundit Pat Nevin.
St Johnstone’s James McFadden has been punished retrospectively by SFA Compliance Officer Tony McGlennan after television footage showed the former Scotland striker making an offensive gesture as he headed down the tunnel in the aftermath of his red card during Sunday’s match between the Perth side and Hamilton Academical.
It prompted his manager Tommy Wright to voice irritation at what he described as “trial by Sportscene”. But, despite claiming he is “saddened” that McFadden has been punished for a moment of silliness highlighted on Sunday night’s highlights programme, Nevin has defended his broadcast employers.
“Both of us who were on it said that it was unfair that he was sent off,” said McFadden’s former Motherwell clubmate when discussing Sundaynight’s punditry.
“I do think it’s important to underline that we said that James had been harshly treated and, in that specific instance, regarding the gesture, I think we actually made light of it and I certainly mentioned that it had happened on two other occasions with other players earlier in the weekend.”
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But, during the programme, Nevin predicted repercussions, warning that the video evidence could precipitate the intervention of the compliance officer: “The cameras caught him, so he could be in a wee bit of trouble.” But, following Wright’s outburst, he insisted the matter had not been flagged up with the aim of stirring things.
“Perhaps we might not have shown it and then James might not be in trouble but you can’t really duck these things. That would be like shirking a tackle.”
And he said the BBC should not be singled out for criticism.
“It’s not trial by Sportscene, it’s trial by television and, by that, I mean every single television company would do that. They won’t try to cover it up or hide it, and I don’t think it is their job to do that. But I don’t think they do it to cause players or managers problems either. We are just reporters and covering the action and all the main talking points is what we are there for. There have been times when it has been difficult to discuss things but you still have to cover them. What is Tommy trying to suggest? Is he trying to suggest that the television companies should hide things that might get players in trouble?”
McFadden’s gesture appeared to be directed at the jeering away fans as he was about to disappear up the tunnel following his second yellow card and subsequent sending off. Captured on camera, it prompted the SFA to hit him with an additional two-match ban on top of the automatic one-game suspension for the red card.
Considering the damning TV footage, it was no surprise to learn yesterday that the McDiarmid Park club will not appeal, but Wright believes his team are being unfairly targeted. He is angry at the pattern he sees forming, with McFadden the third of his players to be sanctioned by the football authorities after incidents were highlighted by the BBC highlights show. Previous victims include Brian Graham and Lee Croft.
Railing against the latest SFA punishment, Wright had said: “The compliance officer no doubt takes his information from all sorts of sources and, quite rightly, television is one of them, but it seems that some things and not others are highlighted by the BBC and I would hate to think the cases taken on by the SFA are essentially down to what the BBC editor thinks is fit to show.”
But, stating that the BBC has a remit to “inform, educate and entertain”, Nevin said that there is nothing sinister in the way the programme is edited and says that he, along with others, has a say as to what passages of play or incidents should be highlighted for analysis on Sportscene. “If there is a talking point, we can’t duck it. It’s the same for all journalists. Reporters write about these incidents in the papers and television companies show them in their programmes, and on the occasions they aren’t shown, my guess is that is simply because the cameras didn’t get the right angle on it or the incident happened off camera.”
But, while he defends his employers, Nevin does admit to a degree of sympathy for Wright and McFadden, calling for the compliance officer to deploy some common sense before imposing retrospective punishments. “I do think James’ bookings were harsh and we did say that on the programme and I don’t think we made a big thing of the gesture. He was one and a half seconds from disappearing up the tunnel when he made the gesture. He wasn’t standing in front of the away fans and trying to incite violence. So I am sorry if James is suffering more because of what was shown on Sportscene, but I think Tommy should be complaining about the SFA, not the BBC.”
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