Siberian Soapbox

In his autobiography, Paul Merson recounts a visit to a rehab clinic in California. It the usual fare – not that we at Siberian Soapbox have intimate experience – of a round table of recovering addicts, although not exclusively alcoholics. Apparently, Merson’s eyes settle on an absolute stunner licking her lips suggestively in his direction. Even the definitive lads’ lad is mystified as to why he’s drawing amorous glances. As it turns out, the leggy blonde is a self-confessed sex addict. I mean she must be to be giving Merson the eye.

Our hero goes on to complete his course, enjoy an entertaining career and eventually end up on our screens. Next weekend we will be blessed by the sight of him trying to pronounce Alireza Jahabakhsh on Soccer Saturday. Most likely, he’ll end up sounding like he’s still on the sauce. Bit harsh? Probably. But then again, is it really?

Paul Merson the broadcast journalist

Whether we like it or not, he IS a professional broadcast journalist. Those gritty days slogging away to prepare for media law, public affairs and shorthand exams in college were clearly for nothing; what I should have done was knock back a few tinnies, run rings around opposition on the pitch and become a famous top-flight player. Sorted

I get the distinct impression he just strolls into the Sky Sports studios having just wolfed down a couple of bacon sarnies and stumbles into his chair a minute before the show starts. OK, I get it, the whole shtick around Soccer Saturday is it appeals to the ‘Weeeeeeeeyyyyy’ lads-on-tour brigade. It isn’t meant to be Newsnight or even that polished. There surely has to be a limit though; is it asking much to at least pretend to be a pro?

Look at his colleagues. Phil Thompson, nose aside, puts his opinion and bias into his coverage with some degree of conviction. Matt Le Tissier has a vaguely considered tone to his voice. Jeff Stelling is an absolute genius to knit the whole motley crew together, and has a genuine treasure trove of knowledge. Even the class clown Chris Kamara plays his role with excellent comic timing.

Media training or professional career?

Merson? He just fluffs every line imaginable and then chuckles to himself at how uncut he is. Bastard. Some of us spent a small fortune earning a journalism education, scrabbled around for beat stories on work experience and dedicated hours upon hours to producing crafted features, writing match reports, attending media training days at ungodly hours; all in the name of honing a skill to become a career. If you’re going to steal a dream career, at least try and look like you’re trying.

Take Stan Collymore. The guy is not universally popular for his views and previous misdemeanours. Two summers ago, a video of him shouting ‘Journaliste!’ in a French accent as he ran towards a victim of violence on the streets of Marseille was mocked in some quarters. Collymore? Pah, he’s not a journalist!

Erm, actually fellas, he is. For over a decade, he has slaved away tirelessly to build himself a journalistic career. I don’t agree with a lot of his views, and that’s fine. His relationship with producers and colleagues has not always been silky smooth. He has, however, put in the hard hours, and not always the most glamorous route. Radio, then his own RT television show, have been worked on, not strolled into. When Liverpool faced Spartak Moscow in Russia last year, Siberian Soapbox met him and watched as he worked outside the ground. Hard-nosed, determined, ruthless, and professional.

Professional standards

Once you set foot in a studio, there are standards that one rightly expects. I never forget my old man pointing out how even the red top journalists are incredibly well-read and can quote literary classics, despite also being able to appeal to the moronic Tommy Robinson fanboy demographic. It stuck with me; appearances can be deceptive.

Martin Samuel is another example. Remember, this is not about agreeing with the man, but appreciating his journalistic professionalism. He wrote in the language Sun readers can understand, before switching style completely when he moved to the Times. The laddish facade of his red top work still carried informed weight.

The many foibles of Paul Merson

My point is this: even allowing for the ex-pro appeal, Merson is an utter prat. He brings nothing to the table that isn’t already there. If awkward names are difficult to pronounce, learn them. At least try. There’s a world of difference between failing and not caring. Ah, call me a grumpy old humbug if you want. I mean you’d be right, but also missing the point.

Battles with depression, alcohol, drugs, and the pressures of being a famous footballer are not to be taken lightly. I will never criticise him for succumbing to those vices, as we will never truly understand the situation. There is little more distasteful than cocky pricks lauding it over such people from their moral high ground.

So Merson, eh? Let’s put aside the considerable vagrancies of his manner. His insight is about equal to a squashed tomato, so he’s not here to educate anyone. His personal views are verging on abhorrent; the flat-out dismissal of Marco Silva’s credentials last season ‘because he doesn’t understand the English game’ were embarrassing and flawed in equal measure. The ‘casual’ xenophobic undertones of Merson’s thought process are damaging, however hilarious they may seem to his cabal of pals at Sky.

Go to the pub, Merse. Not to sink another 10 pints; you might actually find your level of audience there.