The War On Hockey Ignorance: Picking Apart Jonathan Liew

So, an article has appeared in the Telegraph today about ice hockey. Written by Jonathan Liew, who judging by Google appears to be quite famous in the world of online journalism (well, he won Columnist of the Year in 2007 for the Guardian, anyway AND Young Journalist Of the Year in 2011-either they must have been lean years for quality or the award results were decided by Asian betting syndicates*), it considers ice hockey on TV.

So, is it positive? Um…no. But it’s also clearly written by someone who hasn’t looked beyond a football pitch for his sporting fix in all his life. Or, probably, darkened the doors of a changing room in any other capacity then maybe a twenty-minute session on the running machine.

Aside from the fact that a quick Google reveals fans across three sports (football, golf and cricket) being more vitriolic than anything about both his writing ability and knowledge of the sports he claims to write about, the whole article (which you can read in full here) is basically a journalist saying “I don’t understand a sport, therefore it’s crap”.

Now. if I were like Jonathan I’d respond in a manner he judges appropriate of someone who writes for a respected national newspaper, and just yell “YOUR MUM” at people on Twitter while occasionally making obscure references to show how much cleverer I am than the proles who I allow to read my nuggets of literary gold, even in the knowledge they won’t understand them because I WAS A YOUNG JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR IN 2011 and I’m WAGING WAR ON SUBJECTIVITY! (copyright my  Twitter bio), in between my hunting for the latest pirated mobile-phone conversations while whining about free speech and simultaneously hurling abuse at anyone who disagrees with me. And watching sport on TV, of course.

But since I’m merely an uneducated ice-hockey blogger, I’ll just have to look at his article and have a discourse about it instead.

Let’s look at some choice nuggets, shall we?

The first befuddlement was this: where was the puck? A hockey puck, you see, is just three inches in diameter and can travel at speeds of over 100mph. When it is not zipping across the rink like a photon leaping at superluminal velocity from the violent fission of a radioactive nucleus, it is lost in a whirr of flailing limbs and flying sticks, obscured by large angry men, padded and wadded as if carrying out essential maintenance work to the sun.

That’s just horrendous writing, in which Liew is trying to show off his science knowledge while at the same time use the fact that a playing implement travels fast as a genuine argument that hockey is unwatchable. I’d love to see him watch football-presumably he thinks it’s some sort of human chess game since the ball spends most of its time either in the air, “whizzing across the pitch” or, y’know, moving.

But then again, balls or pucks moving is something that TENDS TO HAPPEN in sport, my dear Jonathan. Given that hundreds of thousands of people all over the world seem to have no trouble locating a puck at hockey games both live and on TV at first glance even if they’ve never seen a game, maybe you should have tried harder.

Great Britain, meantime, were 3-0 down, which was predictable enough for a country in which ice denotes a potential lawsuit rather than a potential sporting surface. Perhaps they were having trouble locating the puck as well. Perhaps they were being distracted by the frequent blasts of funfair music that accompanied any break in play.

You’d have noticed, Jonathan, with those superhuman powers of observation you have, that Team GB were often in possession of said puck, which kind of destroys the argument you’ve just made. Had you done any research at all you’d also have realised that GB were playing at the elite level of international sport, which means that a) they might be a bit good and b) it might not be surprising that the other team (France, by the way, since you unaccountably failed to notice or mention who the teams involved were at any point, thus giving us no surprise that you may have struggled to locate the puck) were also quite good.

So I turned to the commentary for guidance. This proved equally baffling. I didn’t catch their names, but the main commentator was an American or a Canadian who had evidently been dared to use as many household objects in his commentary as possible.

American OR Canadian? The accents are quite distinct. Also, two seconds of Googling (I assume being a journalist you know how to use Google, just like I did to find out who you were) would have told you who the commentators were. It would also have told you the game and who the opponents were. Or can you win Columnist of the Year Awards without knowing how to use the Internet now?

The expert summariser was a Briton who clearly had long-standing ties to the sport, but was so devoid of insight as to be practically unlistenable — a sort of Niall Quinn of the rink, if you will. “GB have got to get themselves in this, and that means scoring a goal,” was just one of his many phrases that will ultimately fail to get printed on a commemorative tea-towel.

Because, of course, the football journalism you love is a veritable riot of unique and colourful characters with piercing insight into the game, isn’t it? Think you’re not making much sense here…

“Penalty to GB!” the commentator cried. Some good news at last!

Unfortunately, despite its ostensibly tantalising purport, “penalty to GB” meant it was Britain being penalised. Apparently one of the British players had been found guilty of “slashing”, whatever that meant, and had to leave the ice. Off he went to buy himself a toffee apple, and possibly a ride on the whirling waltzer.

Now, come on, Jonathan, son. You’re just trying too hard to be controversial and snarky now. You’ve already made it abundantly clear that if the sport doesn’t involve people running around chasing pig’s bladders you’re not interested, but I’m sure you’re aware of the basic concept of “penalties” in a sport beyond the ones that always seem to get awarded when a millionaire decides to fall over his own feet in the right part of a grass field. After all, you’re a Young Journalist of The Year. You SHOULD know these things.

(again, you should also know the importance of coherent, researched, well-written articles that don’t get verbose and try and show off the writer’s own intelligence by using big words, but maybe you skipped that lecture at journalism college. To watch a football match on TV and write a lazy snarky column about how crap it all was for the student paper, probably.)

Then Britain scored. It happened as abruptly as that. Such is the blinding speed of the game that the naked eye is often ill-equipped to keep pace.

All I can tell you is that they were playing ice hockey, just like normal, when all of a sudden the British guys started throwing their arms in the air and embracing. Even after the third replay, I was still none the wiser.

(pro tip. The puck went into the net. Try starting there. I’d love to read your analysis of football matches. “Well, they were running around, just like normal, and suddenly they weren’t any more and they were throwing their arms up hugging each other and it was a goal”. That’s Journalist of the Year quality right there).

I admit that I’m just a part-time unpaid writer and you get paid to watch sports on TV on a Friday afternoon, Jonny boy, so you probably have some sort of amazing journalist reason why you didn’t see the blindingly obvious which isn’t available to us mere mortals, but I’d venture that if you’re paid to watch sport on TV and you’re still not able to work out that GB scored because the puck went into the net after watching the third slow-motion replay and third different replay angle, then I’d tentatively venture that maybe it’s not the “blinding speed of the game” that’s the only problem here).

Likewise, I was content to plead ignorance of the sport as a whole. In an ideal world, I could devote hours and months to studying and appreciating the game: its nuance, its lexicon, its characters. Should ESPN continue its ice hockey coverage, I could even become a regular spectator one day.

Ah, you see? So you do appreciate that sport requires effort to watch, whatever it is? That’s the first coherent point you’ve made. It’s like an atom of burnished gold floating freely and lost in a storm-tossed sea of literary faeces**

But it will never happen, and for this we can blame the dizzying array of choice that modernity has provided us. In this cash-poor, time-poor, post-Olympic landscape, every sport claims to be the best possible use of our time. This has benefits. Never has it been easier to find sport. But by the same token, never has it been harder to discern the indispensable from the inessential; to tell the difference, as it were, between minced beef and minced horse.

I hear you, fella. But as long as most of that sport is indispensable football, that’ll be fine with you, right? It’s all those icky other sports that you don’t already understand that are the inessential ones.

And that, for a sports journalist, is an attitude so frankly tragic and embarrassing in a way that even British hockey can’t hope to match.

*hey, look, Jonathan-I can make snarky topical references that everyone else has already made to make me look clever in an introduction, too!)

**(I wrote that, Jonathan, because Young Journalists Of The Year like you like to use convoluted and unnecessarily complicated science metaphors to show how clever they are, and I want to show the judging panel for this year that I can play that game too in the microscopically likely event of me being nominated. Don’t tell anyone.)

3 thoughts on “The War On Hockey Ignorance: Picking Apart Jonathan Liew

  1. Methinks one could summarize succinctly as follows – The author pleads ignorance with respect to the game and chooses to remain so.

    Which is how the world outside of the UK, the Indian subcontinent, Australia and the Windies feel about cricket.

    That is also tremendously unfortunate because the short form of the game is all kinds of awesome.

    Being from Canada you will also permit me a small giggle at the author’s inability to follow the “blinding” pace of a France-Great Britain Olympic qualifying match.

    I would also challenge the author to show me ANY sports commentator who didn’t assume that viewers were familiar with what they were watching.

    As for the rules – the author may wish to consult the following video:

  2. You mock what you do not understand – the classic behaviour of the snotty little kid the world over.

    I grew up in Africa and as a result only discovered hockey when I worked in the US. It is fantastic (The Blackhawks have become a bit of a love affair).
    The laws of the sport are straight forward, for those prepared to give it a go. I tried playing but as I was already in my late 20’s probably left it a bit late as skating was a challenge in itself. Still thouroughly enjoyed and both fans and players were very welcoming.
    Anyone considering going to a game, my advice is do it. You will love it.

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