Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Welsh Language Football Coverage

With the build up to the FA Cup Final, the media has gone into overdrive and as the local Welsh-speaking Cardiff City rentagob, I've been doing a few interviews, mainly for Welsh Language media. I did my cabbage-patch kid impression on Sgorio last night, and it got me thinking.

There is so much good Welsh language sport coverage that 75% of Wales misses out on. The language problem doesn't make so much difference for live action where the picture is all, but journalistic sports coverage suffers badly from the cultural divide in Wales.

There was an excellent dramatised documentary on S4C this week called Cwpan Caerdydd which used an actor as Bartley Wilson re-enacting events around the 1927 Cup Final. It was the best researched and most interesting programme on the event that I've ever seen. But 90% of Cardiff fans will never see it.

Regular football shows such as Sgorio, and Ar y Marc, on the radio offer general Welsh football discussion of a type that just isn't available on English language stations. Sport Wales is a very welcome and overdue addition to BBC Wales output, but it's format is more presenter-feature. There is no round-the-table discussion common on British National TV, like Jimmy Hill's Morning Supplement or You're on Sky Sports. Radio Wales at least has a post-match phone-in, but it is nothing like Ar y Marc on Radio Cymru which is a magazine programme aimed at hardcore football fans in Wales.

Non-Welsh speaking readers won't appreciate the difference in content offered by Welsh language football coverage, but there is a subtle, but important angle taken by S4C programmes.

Programmes like Sgorio and Ar y Marc take the approach that a language is just that. It's a means of communication. It doesn't try to make political statements, or concentrate purely on Welsh issues. The producers are fully aware that a huge percentage of Welsh speaking viewers and listeners follow the English Premiership. Rather than aim to convert these people, the programme has features and discussions about Liverpool, Man United, the Champions League, La Liga. They don't have a narrow brief like Sport Wales. Nobody pretends that pubs in Caernarfon are full of lads discussing the merits of Leighton Maxwell instead of Steven Gerrard.

What Welsh produced, English-language programme offers its viewers any coverage outside of Wales? The assumption is that we can get our football discussion from Jimmy Hill. But that's not a valid argument. There needs to be some coverage of Global football from a Welsh perspective.

This is not to say that S4C neglects the Welsh domestic game. Far from it. Clwb Peldroed offers a weekly round up of Welsh Premier matches on a Saturday evening. Why is there no English language coverage? It's bizarre?

Welsh Premier football is being ghetto-ised by the media as a Welsh language vehicle. The reality is that the Welsh Premier is just like the rest of Wales - starkly divided on the language issue. More people who watch Welsh Premier football each week speak English than Welsh, yet they are given no coverage by BBC Television, none by BBC Radio, and next to nothing in the National Press. The Daily Post despite its depressing obsession with Liverpool and Everton at least covers the Welsh game. The Western Mail is simply astonishing in its thick-skinned promotion of rugby at the expense of Welsh Football.

The result of the media divide is that I am given the impression that the knowledge of the domestic football scene is now far greater amongst Welsh speakers. It isn't impossible to have a bar discussion about the dietary habits of John Hulse, the big gob of Wyn Thomas, or Mike Harris's latest crackpot wheeze. Players like Marc Lloyd Williams are feted in the Welsh language community as local heroes used to be. Is Jiws's standing in Llanberis and Bangor reflected anywhere else in Wales? Does 400-game Hugh Clarke get as much recognition in Newtown? Marc Lloyd Williams was a guest on Sgorio last night. When did we last see a Welsh Premier player featured on an English language show?

It shouldn't be like this. Welsh-based English language (I hate the term Anglo-Welsh) coverage should be allowed to look beyond Wales for its stories. But at the same time, it should offer monoglots the same detailed assessments of the domestic game that is offered to Welsh language viewers. They've got about 4 digital channels to fill - there must be room for a football chat show live from Llandaff? I'd watch it.


Huw said...

You're right Eric. I've thought for a long time that a Wales should have it's own version of Football Focus at 12.10pm on a Saturday afternoon. Surely BBC Wales can do this as they have a different version of Final Score at 4.30pm.

Rhys Wynne said...

I agree that there's a lot of good stuff on S4C (not just sport) which is presented from a different angle as well as a different language, which I'm sure a lot in Wales would appreciate and enjoy.

Most programmes on S4C, even live ones have English subtitles ( I was recently offered a job which would have involved live subtitling of Sgorio).

I don't know how well S4C are advertising this service (or if it's being advertised in the right places), but as a former-non-Welsh-speaker, do you think people are prepared to have a watch things like this with using subtitles?

Reading Welsh Premier message boards, it seems that Y Clwb PĂȘl-droed does/did manage to attract a non-Welsh speaking audience - but then again they are desperate for any coverage.