Ian Wright: You wot?

I’ve read some pretty baffling comment pieces, but Martin Jacques claim that Ian Wright’s departure from the BBC was due to racism and cultural apartheid at the Beeb is possibly one of the strangest columns I’ve read in a long time.

Wright had a good on-screen persona that works well with entertainment shows. I’ve no doubt he’ll be a decent presenter of Gladiators. But the court-jester aspect of his persona was one he seemed to play up to, no matter what show he was on. Wright always comes across as a reasonably forceful personality, so if he had a problem with his role, why didn’t he raise it before now?

This is without even touching on the fact Wright was simply not a good pundit. He rarely had anything insightful to say and much of his comments were at best naively jingoistic and at worse downright xenophobic. If he’d managed to produce some good punditry when he was starting out, he could have happily balanced the jester/pundit role. As it is, although he often articulated the tabloidised opinions of plenty of England and Premiership fans, when you contrast his opinions with those of Hansen, Lawro, Marcel Desailly, and Gavin Peacock, to name a few, they were ill-thought through, added nothing to the programme and dragged the general tone of the broadcast down.

The assumption often goes that good players make good pundits, when often the opposite is true. Wright’s certainly no worse than Alan Shearer, Jamie Redknapp, or, on the occasions he’s asked to comment on a game, John Terry. But he pails in comparison to those players who can see beyond the idea that the game is all about passion and don’t describe what everybody else can see.

The Beeb’s dropped some pretty awful pundits before now. Graeme Le Saux, Peter Schmeical, and Tony Adams spring to mind. But, and Jacques notes this, they also employ Marcel Desailly, whose input in the African Cup of Nations was excellent, and Ruud Gullit. Both have outside interests, and it may have escaped Jacques notice that Gullit’s actually now employed by LA Galaxy and probably doesn’t have time to pass comment on Middlesborough v Reading. More’s the pity.

Pundits should be judged on their performance, regardless of the colour of their skin, and Ian Wright was simply not good enough. Jacques comment on his skin colour reads as somebody who had a belief and tries to shorn-horn in an example that doesn’t fit.

Where he’s probably more on the money is that lack of black football managers in the British game [1], and he highlights Paul Ince as an example. It’s certainly worth asking why the likes of Roy Keane, Bryan Robson, and Gareth Southgate, all of whom have had equal playing careers, have reached top level jobs before Ince, who’s had to ply his trade in League 2[2]. Jacques might also want to ask why there are so few Asian players in the league.

But neither of these are the fault of the BBC. And once they find a pundit who is as good as Alan Hansen (nigh-on-impossible) or better than Mark Lawrenson (ok, that should be achievable) then he should be there on merit, and colour should have nothing to do with it, just as the same is true for players on the pitch.

In fact, if the BBC want to be really brave, they should stop signing big names to act as pundits and push forward those who have something to say, and say it intelligently. Gavin Peacock for one, and poach Don Goodman from Sky as another.

UPDATE: An analysis of Wright’s performance as a pundit:

“BBC have two choices, they can either hire Bradley Wright-Philips to provide such groundbreaking analysis in between serving time, or BBC may see this as a time to shift focus and give disproportional coverage to another England fringe player. Perhaps Jermaine Defoe’s father would be interested.”

Also, Martin Jacques really has pulled a Max Gogarty judging by the hammering he’s getting in the comments. 316 last time I looked, and about two of them were complementary.

[1] I lost respect for Ince when he went to manage Franchise FC.

[2] Although this may not necessarily be a bad thing. There’s a lot you can learn from the lower leagues.


5 Responses to “Ian Wright: You wot?”

  1. 1 David North April 18, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    I can see where you are coming from, Wrighty wasn’t the best pundit in the World but was possibly the most passionate when it came to England games. Nothing like watching Wrighty to get you fired up before a match against some unknown country (probably just to lose)!

  2. 2 Matt April 18, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    Hansen’s an ultra-bastard.

    Good post, mind.

  3. 3 Gary Andrews April 18, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    Wright definitely did the jumping around like a nutter, firing the crowd up, then getting miffed when England failed to stuff a side 10-nil rather well. In that respect he probably connected with a large amount of Premiership supporters. But I’m struggling to think of any time he added anything to the coverage. I still remember when he said he’d rather England spend years in the wilderness than employ a foreigner manager.

    Incidentally Martin Jacques is getting a Max Gogarty-esque kicking in the comments. Having re-read his piece, all are completely deserved.

    Anyway, my favourite pundits: Martin O’Neill, Gavin Peacock, Don Goodman, Alan Hansen, Jeff Stelling, Chris Kamara (now that’s a lesson in how to play the clown AND still make good analysis), Stan Collymore, Graham Taylor, and Lawro, although he’s better as a co-commentator.

    Alan Shearer, Graeme Le Saux, John Barnes, Jamie Redknapp, Peter Reid and Paul Parker are among the worst. Of those, I think only Le Saux came anywhere near Ian Wright’s level of awfulness.

  4. 4 Will April 19, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    Isn’t this just cheap PR for Sky before Gladiators begins? The hidden message is BBC bad, Sky good, and the timing also suggests that is what it is. Don’t you think Wright’s people, who are probably also Sky’s people, might have suggested it was sensible for him to say this in public at this time? I reckon so. Just more churnalism, with promotion as the hidden agenda.

  5. 5 Gary Andrews April 19, 2008 at 7:09 pm


    Anyway, I wasn’t too bothered with what Wright said or what journalists churned. I wouldn’t have even bothered blogging about it had it not been for Martin Jacques utterly ridiculous piece on a quiet Friday afternoon.

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