I've no idea what the flagship football show on BT Sport will be called, but I think respect for their elders and betters demands it be something like BT Parvenu. Only the lexicon of 18th-century France can provide a suitably derisive label for such unmannerly upstarts, who dare to not pay full obeisance to the personages of the ducal pundits that grace the venerable established channels.
Thank heavens, really, for Gary Lineker, presiding over football's airwaves like some peevishly insecure prefect. It's an endless relief that Gary reneged on his January decision to leave Twitter – a departure he announced solemnly as being "for personal reasons", before returning eight days later. The arrangement had the flavour of an MP resigning to spend more time with his family, only for his family to realise after a week in his company that the former arrangement was infinitely preferable.
It is not for me to second-guess the quality of badinage in Maison Lineker, but the household's loss has certainly been the internet's gain, as his excellency dispenses a mixture of bon mots and regal carpetings. Gary's most recent piece of arriviste-bashing was meted out to BT Sport's Jake Humphrey, who displeased him by suggesting people wanted analysis by "current or recently retired players". "Be careful Jakey in your choice of words," warned Gary. No irreverence had been meant, Humphrey replied, only for Lineker to reply: "Apology accepted on behalf of those you know you would have offended. People with a lifetime's experience in the game and TV." Take 100 lines, Humphrey.
Happily, football's rigid social order is enforced just as stringently among current players. A few years ago, Frank Lampard underscored the imperative of knowing one's place after Joey Barton had criticised the England players who returned from their calamitous 2006 World Cup campaign and promptly released autobiographies, apparently unaware that a period of silence from them would have been most welcome. Lampard was appalled at the effrontery. "I don't think Joey Barton should even talk about me and Steven Gerrard," he opined. "That probably says enough." It certainly did. Not even talk about them, if you please.
I expect this says as much about my own school days as anything else, but for all its meritocratic posturing, I'm often struck by how often the Football Family in this country resembles an English boarding school whose glories are behind it – the sort of place immortalised as Greyfriars in the Billy Bunter stories, or St Custard's in the Molesworth books.
These school locations, of course, were partly chosen by their creators for what they said about England – a place of rigid, often Byzantine hierarchies which made even less sense now than in the long-gone better years when they'd been set in stone. They were places of endless, pointless law enforcement, where sport is prized beyond everything and is always war by other means. At these fictional academies, the end of the empire seemed to be happening almost before it did in the world they satirised. "It's a funny thing tho," reflects Molesworth, "your side always gets beaten whichever skool you are at. That is like life I supose." When conformity is venerated, the system always wins.
In football, it's funny how the game's hierarchies are replicated even among those who cover it. It's no secret that football writers share a lot of stories, and at its best I imagine this arrangement feels like a gentleman's club where chaps look out for each other. But at its worst, it feels rather like that – or perhaps like one of those fictional boarding schools.
On a summer tour once, I remember some more senior reporters explaining to me how they'd had to summon one of the newer members of the pack and inform him he'd been cut out of some informational loop, almost as if they were a bunch of prefects giving a rocket to the Fat Owl of the Remove. If memory serves, the punishment was being doled out because the offending newbie hadn't pulled his weight in sending round the quotes from the mixed zone or something equally sacrilegious. In short, he hadn't been a company man, and this was the traditional way of making him realise his place within the group. I felt rather sorry for him – I expect Bradley Wiggins might think me a bit of a girl for that – but apparently this was the way of things.
As for the pundits shoring up their own established order, are they truly as essential as they imagine? Their self-belief mostly feels as misplaced as was that of Richard Keys and Andy Gray, whose departure from Sky was marked by an apparent conviction that people had been tuning in to watch them as opposed to the football. I'd love to know the figures for how many people now start watching games 20 minutes or so after kick-off to enable them merely to fast-forward through every second of "unmissable" half-time commentary, even – dare I say it – if it's the sainted Gary Neville on duty.
And so with Humphrey, whom I can't reasonably describe as estimable, but who has certainly gone up in my estimation since having the temerity to offer what should have been an anodyne, generalised opinion against the grain of football's hierarchy. Doubtless the punditry will be as missable on BT Sport as it is pretty much everywhere else, but as an absolute point of principle I cheer all arrivistes – any arrivistes – who wittingly or otherwise expose the dreary pomposity of English football for what it is.