The cliche-driven, double-speaking world of professional footballers
You know the drill for pre-match interviews. Darkened rooms, punctuated by harsh industrial lighting, with seemingly randomly selected players filmed from creative camera angles, for whom some kind of narrative (roughly relevant to the forthcoming match) must be constructed.
Then, after the match, one or two exhausted, sniffing, barely willing players (win, lose, or draw) make very little eye-contact with Geoff Shreeves or Gabriel Clarke as they attempt the most neutral statements possible, before being allowed to shuffle off to the sanctuary of the dressing room.
Nowhere in football are its clichés more densely concentrated than in the pre and post-match Q&As. The traditional combination of witless, desperate interviewer and barely willing interviewee ensures a curious conversation-by-numbers that relies overwhelmingly (but not always deliberately) on football's stock words and phrases.
Such is the reticence of the average footballer that the interviewer frequently finds himself forced to provide the answer before the question has even finished. "How crucial was that win?," "How good is it to be back?," "How magnificent were the fans today?" he will prompt, near-rhetorical questions that require the standard opening of 'Yyyyyyyeahno...' (followed by its close cousin 'Yyyyyyeahasisay...') in response.
Depending on the individual and the circumstances, there are a number of different scripts available to help survive the torment of a post-match interview:
A fair and loyal bunch, strikers "don't care who gets the goals, as long as we get the three points," but they can't resist adding that "it's always nice to score." Their self-indulgence only stretches to when, at the behest of the brown-nosing interviewer, he contemplates whether his audacious 40-yard lob was "one of the best goals he's ever scored" or if he'll be claiming the goal that relied heavily on a wicked deflection off a defender's backside. It's only when they claim not to have known about an upcoming goalscoring landmark until "one of the lads mentioned it before the game" that they're really pushing it.
Goalscoring even has its own grammatical style. Any question about a goal tends to be answered in the awkward-sounding present perfect tense - "Yeah, I've just hit it and thankfully it's gone in" -- as if the player is living out an endlessly looping action replay. This is popular with goalscoring substitutes, so often asked to provide a retrospective commentary on everything that happened before and during their dramatic contribution, including what their instructions were on the touchline:
"The manager's just asked me to get out there, put myself about a bit, make a nuisance of myself and maybe nick a goal. And that's what I did."
There's a wafer-thin line between humility in victory and simply being patronising. Vastly inferior opponents, whatever the scoreline, have always "made it hard for us" while even the happiest of happy hunting grounds remain "tough places to go."
There are glimpses of self-awareness when it comes to the more tried-and-tested answers ("I know it's a bit of a cliché but...") as the skipper tries to maintain focus and "take every game as it comes." Even in moments of trophy-winning glory, he remembers to rank the occasion a comfortable second behind the birth of his children.
There's room, however, for embellishment and bare-faced revisionism. When inevitably asked after a heroic comeback if they had thought, at 2-0 down, that the game was over, a defiant captain resorts to bare-faced lying and claims, "Nah, we never stopped believing. We knew that if we got the first goal..."
Player returning from injury
Delighted to be back in action after a long injury lay-off, the more melodramatic players will recount how "there were times when I thought about packing it all in."
Faced with accusations of malice after a tackle that leaves an opponent injured, the guilty party (or, more likely, his manager) will attempt to construct a desperate defence of their character, which usually amounts to nothing more than claiming that they're "not that sort of player" and some mumbling about the things they'd never do to "a fellow professional."
Manager interviews perhaps offer a greater degree of deliberateness in their use of clichés. While their young players come across as rabbits in the media spotlight, the older, wiser managers are well-versed in the art of the post-match interview. Media-savvy bosses (or, at least, those who very obviously like to think so) use clichés so readily that it is impossible to conclude that they aren't fully aware of what they are saying. This perceived level of control over the effect of their own words has led to the curious media construction of "mind games," a post-1992 concept designed to inject artificial excitement into a title race that may be running low on natural suspense. Mind games can broadly be split into two types:
• Kidology: It may sound merely like praise for an opponent, but in the context of a title race, this should be interpreted as an attempt to derail them with their own complacency. In extreme cases, kidology can lead to claiming that one's rivals are indeed favourites for the title, a complex psychological ploy to transfer vague, intangible "pressure" on to them.
• Taunting: Rather more straightforward than kidology, since it involves directly criticising your adversaries. Specifically, questioning the track record of rival managers, in the hope of igniting an unsettling war of words, is the aim here.
The referee is more or less protected from criticism nowadays as the managers bite their lip and claim they "don't want to say too much, because I'll get into trouble," but the odd one can't resist and risks the curious-sounding spectacle of being summoned by the FA to "explain his comments."
The smuggest post-match interviews are when the manager has reached some sort of personal landmark, be it a certain number of games or years in the profession. Asked if he is "still enjoying it?," the veteran boss can be relied upon to make a flippant remark about his blood pressure, his greying hair, or his long-suffering wife.
With managers' positions more precarious than ever in the modern game, many of them rely on the post-match interview as a desperate method of staying in employment. Ready-made, vacuum-packed clichés are called upon when the going gets tough. The nearer the manager gets to the axe, the more desperate he becomes. And the more desperate he becomes, the more he uses the F-word: Alan Pardew's clubs become "football clubs," while Mark Hughes's matches become "football matches." For Sam Allardyce, the Premier League becomes "The Barclays Premier League."
Adam Hurrey is a London-based football writer and author of the book "Football Clichés".