Monday, December 08, 2008

Bobby McMahon on the EPL and more


Bobby McMahon is the analyst for the Fox Soccer Report, a nightly soccer news show on Fox Soccer Channel. For many of us here in North America (and around the world), McMahon is an authority when it comes to what's going on in the world of footie.

With a lifetime of experience playing, organizing and studying the game, he's a valuable voice in the coverage of world soccer. He can be seen on the Fox Soccer Report on Mondays and Fridays at 10 pm EST, and regularly updates his blog on Fox Soccer's website.

How did you get started as a Soccer Analyst?

As in life, it’s one of these things, where it’s a series of happy accidents. When the Canadian Soccer League was formed in the middle 80’s, I was still playing for a pretty good amateur team. That formed the basis for the Winnipeg Fury, and I’ve got a finance background, so I kind of got pulled in to help with the organization of that. I did a couple of years with that, and during that time Joe Pascucci was the head of Global Sports in Winnipeg. They were doing some games of the week, so Joe asked me to sit in on a few things. I talked well enough about the game, and because I played locally, he thought I’d be a reasonably credible analyst. I did a couple of games, which was fun, but you kind of just put it to one side and think, “yeah, that was fun”, and that’s one of the things you get to do in life, and it’s something you can look back on 20 years from now.

A couple of years after that, I went to work at a radio station, and there was a show on every night from 6-8 pm called Prime Time Sports. The World Cup came around in 1994 in the US and the week before the tournament started, the guy who did PTS asked me one afternoon, “What’re you doing tonight?” I said, “Going home, I hope,” and he said, “No you’re not, you’re doing PTS with me. We’re doing something on the World Cup and you’re going to talk about it.”


So I went on to do about half an hour, and by the time the World Cup had finished, I’d done PTS, and I’d done two bits a day on the FM station, and also the morning and afternoon talk shows when they started wanting to talk about soccer. So that stopped me from doing my normal work for the 4 weeks of the World Cup and I started doing that stuff, which was nice.

There was the European Championship a few years later, and then the 1998 World Cup came along, and I did it again. At the same time, I got approached by one of the local newspapers to write a World Cup column. It was supposed to be just about the World Cup, but that lasted for about five years.
I was up in Edmonton, working in the 2001 World Track and Field Championships as VP of Venue Operations, and I was ready to come home, and Joe Pascucci tracked me down and told me to give him a call. I had no idea what he wanted, and when I called him, he told me that Global had just been given a sports station license, and they were going to focus on soccer, rugby and cricket. He told me they’d need someone to “fill in now and then”.

And that was the start of the Fox Soccer Report, but back then it was the Global Sports Link. I did a piece for them every Thursday, about a five minute piece on soccer, and I answered a couple of questions. The show was re-branded, and sold to the States to Fox Soccer Channel. Dermot McQuarrie (FSC executive) looked at the show and basically said “You’re not on Thursdays anymore, you’re on Fridays and Mondays”. And from there, I just kind of kept on going.


I think one of the keys to your appeal here in North America, is your ability to decipher the media, to cut through the BS.

It’s very easy to get suckered in by the media. I try and put some context to it, and try and separate the bullshit, which makes the headlines, from the things that are really important. The first book I ever read was a football book. I never read a novel until I was well into my teenage years. All I read were football books and all I ever cared about was football. So I don’t just bring the EPL with me, but some 40 good years of solid history, and that kind of helps to show the context.

The EPL seems to be the league worldwide at the moment, do you see that changing?

As long as they keep delivering the money in terms of TV deals, they’ll be tough to match. This is the Fabio Capello question. Does England produce enough good players that Capello can turn into a World Cup-winning team? It’s nice to say English football is successful in Europe, but they’re essentially just England-based clubs. It’s always been this way, but it’s certainly to a different extent, at least in the last five years. There’s always been a foreign influence in football, but the globalization of the game is personified in the Premiership. It’s become the United Nations.

Going back to your earlier question, when we were talking about the 16-team league. If we had a 16-team league, you’d still see the pace of the English game, but with the high technical ability of the top teams.

Did you see the Sunderland-West Ham game? It was terrible, really awful. And that’s why there’s a question mark over Richard Scudamore’s 39th game. There’s a perception that the EPL is followed around the world, when in reality, 95% of the followers follow Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United. If you take out the magic of the big four, you haven’t got much of a league.


For the rest of our interview with Bobby, click here.

-bl

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