ESPN v The Toothless Burley: Who's the Fibber?
It's quite apparent from his carefully cultivated public persona that Craig Burley has certain ideas about his station (if not above). At first, his grumpy disposition was very much in the fashion of an Andy Gray Lite: but without the charm and occasional warmth Gray has often snuck in over the years. In recent times, despite the setbacks, he seems to have developed an almost Messianic complex. It may be prying to inquire but in the dark days of drink he admitted to post-Setanta – and coming so quickly after the Dundee debacle – it could well be the case that Burley reached a point of spiritual consciousness wherein he found himself (and was so drunk he couldn’t find his teeth). And, now, in the post-Gray landscape: he is the darkest of the doom lords. Gloria in excelsis Deo! So it was perhaps no surprise when the Scots terrier with the ferocious bite launched a quite extraordinary attack on Rangers’ new signing El Hadji Diouf, both on Talksport and then later on ESPN. The common theme – besides running through a list of incidents and a list of names to describe him including ‘despicable’, ‘disgrace’ – was Burley wishing Diouf would go home: "The sooner he leaves our little island here in the UK on a single ticket somewhere it will not come soon enough for me." "Sooner he leaves...back to where he goes...the better." He also intimated a passionate dislike of even the notion of having to commentate on the player: Not very professional, and certainly a very rare example of a co-commentator allowing his personal views to put at risk his credibility. “My job is to pass opinions on football.” In one sense, he’s quite right. The only problem comes when these self-insistent men begin to juggle the hats: one day it is the pundit’s peak; then the columnist’s cap; occasionally the co-commentator’s comfy headset makes for a less edifying sartorial pleasure. What is acceptable – actually, what can be expected - from a rent-a-gob style columnist, especially in such a morally repugnant organ as the NOTW is a little different from the expectations placed on a co-commentator, working alongside the professional example that is Derek Rae, for a company (ESPN) whose traditional high production standards have largely been met by their coverage of Scottish Football. Having someone ranting and raving and displaying all the partiality of a pub barfly is not what is required of a co-commentator. There’s an interesting parallel with the work of Davie Provan, whose NOTW column over the years has operated at a slightly higher level than Burley’s, but who too has found problems in the commentary gantry if only over slight issues of favouritism toward a team. For all Provan’s occasional cheerleading for the team with which he starred, he has rarely taken personal grievances into his other job – you couldn’t tell, for instance, he despised certain ex-managers or players from his words across the Sky platform. Although they sit opposite each other in the pages of Murdoch’s sex-weekly, and both were happy to take the Punt despite their boyhood allegiances, there may not be much love between Messrs Burley and Provan. Craig this past week told us: “There are far too many people who do my job for TV companies, take the money, and never venture a serious opinion.” Perhaps he means someone else. “I’ve got the skin of a rhino and I’ll continue to call it as I see it.” There can be little doubt of the contempt Burley feels for the people who pay his wages. He helpfully pointed us all in this direction at the weekend: “If people don’t like it (my opinion), my advice is to emigrate” followed by “If I’m popular with football supporters I’m not doing my job properly” all topped off with a reference to fans using internet sites dismissed as “masturbating monkeys of cyberspace” and sent off to think again with this rejoinder ringing in their fluid-filled simian ears: “if I’ve upset that lot, then tough titty.” Leaving aside Burley’s suspiciously short hop from self-love to breast-related imagery and language (perhaps it’s been a prolonged dry spell?), his conceit and notion of self-worth is flabbergasting. Were he in with the bricks at the BBC – despite playing for Celtic it’s unlikely Craig would fit the standard recruitment criteria for the Pacific Quay sports department – you could almost understand the arrogance but last I checked he is a hired hand in the commercial world, punted from his last job when the going got tough. ESPN reacted to complaints against Burley with a widely-circulated response: “We understand that Craig Burley's comments caused offence to some, and that is never our intent. The comments were intended as commentary about the on-pitch behaviour of a player, something he could have more clearly outlined. We have spoken to Craig about this, and he understands the responsibility to do so in the future.” By Sunday, the bold Burley had erupted and presented us with the FACTS: “Let’s get something straight. I was not carpeted by ESPN. I was not bollocked and I was not warned about what I’d said about El Hadj Diouf.” At least one reader found this a little strange and wondered if, perhaps, Burley had protested too much in denying his bosses’ displeasure, so they asked ESPN for a less generic follow-up, which kindly arrived today: “We have handled this as an internal disciplinary action, which per a company policy, we do not discuss publicly. However, we can assure you that the importance and seriousness of this matter, and the responsibility that Craig has to ESPN viewers has been made exceptionally clear to him.” And all this before the microphone has reached his lips during a game with EHD in a Rangers jersey. The pressure is building. The cracking monkeys on Facebook and Twitter clearly doesn’t include his co-commentator @RaeComm but we can at least be glad that @NarcissusComm won’t be joining the zoo. Probably for the best: such environments tend to encourage the chimps to chuck their crap. Burley would be better off down the pub (just for a few, mind), or in a nice restaurant (though not his own as it failed) leafing through the Book of Genesis, Chapter 38, though he should be sure to avoid any costly spillages. Failing that, perhaps a night in with the tins in and the cans on. Hopefully Craig is a fan of Bob Dylan: “Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool, and when he sees his reflection, he's fulfilled.”
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