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Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

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The new Premier League season has barely started, but already I feel I’ve boarded an emotional roller coaster. As a lifelong Chelsea supporter, I should be feeling pretty smug about the fact that we’ve won each of our opening two games by a resounding score of 6-0 — albeit against modest opposition in the form of West Bromwich Albion and Wigan.

On the down side, Chelsea’s trio of England internationals — John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley (aka “Cashley”) Cole — are currently about as popular as a new, antibiotic-resistant hospital superbug. After this summer’s World Cup debacle, it looks as though their every move will be loudly booed by opposing fans for the remainder of the season. Still, if you’re going to pick up a salary of £150,000 a week as JT does, you have to expect that lots of people are going to hate you.

Talking of people you loathe, this brings me to the real source of my discomfiture. Usually, a new campaign signals the resumption of those post-match rants in which Arsène Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson rail against referees and fail to give credit to those opponents who (occasionally) manage to cut Arsenal and Manchester United down to size. I firmly believe that only a weekly dose of “Wengerisms” — plus a hatful of Didier Drogba goals — sustained me through the long and bitter winter of 2009/2010.

So, it’s pretty disturbing to have to admit that just days into the season I’ve actually started to feel a twinge of sympathy for, and perhaps even empathy with, Sir Alex. His war with the BBC over a 2004 Panorama documentary about his son, Jason, may be entering a new phase. I didn’t see the programme, but the United manager was upset at what he has called “a horrible attack on my son’s honour” and the unfounded suggestions that Fergie Jr. exploited his father’s position in his dealings as a football agent.

Never one to bear a grudge, Fergie was still fuming in 2007 as he accused the BBC of being “arrogant beyond belief”, declaring “I think the BBC is the kind of company that never apologise and they never will apologise.”

The upshot of this feud is that after today’s 2-2 draw away to Fulham, Sir Alex is maintaining his strict policy of refusing to give interviews to the Corporation. In other words, he is going to sulk until someone there says sorry. Unfortunately for him, the Premier League has tightened up the rules that compel managers to communicate with the broadcast rights holders. If he doesn’t start talking, he’ll be fined, though the sums involved amount to chicken feed — or perhaps in Sir Alex’s case a few boxes of his favourite chewing gum.

You’re probably thinking that a Chelsea fan should be reveling in a situation that so clearly winds up the notoriously combustible Manchester United manager. His penchant for giving underperforming players the “hairdryer treatment” is, after all, the stuff of legend. But regardless of the rights and wrongs of the Panorama show, I find it admirable that someone is prepared to stand up to the BBC. That’s because I believe that as a corporate body they do regard themselves as beyond reproach.

I can see where Fergie is coming from because, in my own small way, I have tried and failed to get an apology from the BBC. In the late 70s, I was a budding film buff with only a black-and-white television and no video recorder for company. The movies I really wanted to see were Humphrey Bogart vehicles, or rarely shown gems from directors like Truffaut, Godard and Buñuel. I spent many evenings with my eyelids glued open, squinting at the subtitles and trying to understand why some sadist in the scheduling department always put these films on after midnight.

Finally, I wrote to complain and received the most patronising response imaginable from someone within the bowels of Broadcasting House, who claimed that the antisocial scheduling was all about trying to accommodate people working late shifts, who weren’t at home earlier in the evening. Yeah, right. I wasn’t buying that back in 1979 and I’m not convinced now. I still have that letter somewhere and when I find it, I shall forward a copy to Sir Alex as a gesture of support.

Around the same period, I wrote again, this time about biased coverage of a tennis match at Brighton between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. For reasons that still escape me, perennially youthful popster Sir Cliff Richard had been allowed into the commentary box to offer his not very interesting views on the wondrous Chrissie and why she was going to win. As a Martina fan, I found this detracted from my enjoyment of the game. As it turned out, Sir Cliff is the purveyor of lousy songs and inaccurate predictions: Martina trounced Chrissie.

Martina got the trophy and, if memory serves, a Daihatsu car. I had to be content with a placatory letter from BBC tennis correspondent Gerald Williams that definitely wouldn’t have satisfied Sir Alex’s criteria for a decent apology. I remain convinced that unless you can nail the BBC with a libel suit, or something of that magnitude, they are very bad at admitting that they’re wrong about anything.

Thirty years ago I was just another earnest and overly articulate teenage viewer with a pen and an attitude. Now I’ve got a blog, a rudimentary knowledge of HTML and, like Fergie, a burning desire to see some serious grovelling from BBC management.

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