NICK HARRIS: Business as usual – aside from no Gary Lineker – for MOTD

NICK HARRIS: Business as usual – aside from no Gary Lineker – for Match of the Day was exactly what football fans needed… last week’s ‘weird’ 20-minute version was surreal. It’s almost hard to remember the running order!

  • Match of the Day returned to normal on Saturday after last week’s weird edition
  • Last Saturday’s show broadcast without commentary, pundits or theme tune
  • Mark Chapman stood in in Gary Lineker’s place as had been planned for weeks 

Normal service resumed at Match of the Day on BBC1 on Saturday night as Mark Chapman hosted a regular 80-minute episode, that, unlike last week, contained a theme tune, a presenter, pundits and commentary.

Seven nights ago viewers endured arguably the most surreal 20 minutes of football highlights in the history of British television. Only a bit shorter than Liz Truss’s reign as Prime Minister, it also felt like a fever dream.

Chapman opened last night’s show with the words: ‘Evening. We’ve highlights from six Premier League games for you on tonight’s Match of the Day, and focus on the battle for survival.

‘With me tonight are Ashley Williams and Dion Dublin, and before you ask, I was booked for this weeks ago!’

Last week, of course, Gary Lineker should have hosted MOTD but Chapman was always scheduled to host Saturday night’s MOTD at 10.30pm as Lineker was long booked to be hosting the BBC’s FA Cup coverage of Manchester City versus Burnley.

Match of the Day resumed normal service on Saturday evening – though Mark Chapman was in the presenting chair 

Gary Lineker was at the Etihad presenting the BBC’s FA Cup quarter-final coverage 

Joined by Alan Shearer and Micah Richards Lineker made his return to BBC football coverage

A week ago, Chapman pulled out of his Saturday afternoon hosting slot on Radio 5 Live’s football coverage, in solidarity with MOTD’s regular host Lineker, who had been suspended after tweeting on the government’s new policy on migrants. Chapman also pulled out of hosting duties on last Sunday’s scaled-down MOTD2.

It’s hard to remember what last week’s MOTD running order looked like. ‘Football without fans is nothing’ became a common refrain during the pandemic. But the bizarre spectacle that was MOTD last week also showed that football without presenters, pundits or commentary is just … weird.

MOTD’s running order on Saturday night was topped by Wolves v Leeds. And it ended with business as usual, a league table showing that the bottom nine teams are separated this morning by just four points.

England’s top flight thrives on narrative, and drama. It thrives on upsets and anything-can-happen-on-any-given day. It thrives on playing and managerial talent (of course), but on people connecting supporters with the game: presenters, commentators and pundits who tell millions of fans who can’t be at the game, what it was like to be there.

Lineker will make his return to the Match of the Day hotseat following the international break

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