Oh no: they killed Colin. The news that Colin Murray will be replaced as host of Match of the Day 2 at the end of this season by Mark Chapman is a development of some interest for anybody who relies on the BBC's twin highlights programmes to provide them with a glimpse – and some barkingly prosaic analysis – of the week's Premier League football. But it is perhaps not so much the disappearance of Murray himself that will be cause for widespread wringing of hands.
Television is a ruthless business. Fortunes rise and fall so precariously that in practice by far the most interesting thing about the business of actually being a television presenter is that reserve of fevered personal ambition that always seems to lurk beneath the veneer of chat and chumminess, the thwarted ambition, the knitwear-egotism, the sense of fragile heroism with which Colin Murray constructed his cathedral of chat, built it brick by brick with his own hands, only to see it today strafed to smithereens by the the whims of BBC sport executive management.
As a presenter Murray divides opinion. Some viewers have been irritated by the sense of relentlessly room temperature badinage, the feeling of being cajoled into a kind of flabby fixed grin banter-sphere, a strangely needy additional persona around the lighted punditry table. Adrian Chiles' popularity in the role - and this seems a long time ago now - was built on his own pre-ITV self-effacement, asking the odd authentically journalistic question and basically letting his studio guests get on with saying some surprisingly unguarded things.
Others will mourn the passing of a presenter who at least attempted to bring to terrestrial television something of the way normal people speak about football.
Murray has a style, a schtick, a sense of basic questioning intelligence that would not be silenced by the constriction that often clogs the veins of BBC sport output, caught between the beaming condescension of its interchangeable presenters and the sense of sullen celebrity entitlement evident in the lolling satin-shirted big hitters of the football couch.
And it is perhaps here that Murray's removal from MOTD2 starts to chafe a little. The story in the Daily Mail reporting his replacement by Chapman refers to a discontent among the in-house pundits, for whom the clubbable, professional and largely forgettable Chapman is clearly a more palatable alternative. If it is possible to feel genuinely infuriated by a TV football highlights show reshuffle it is here that the klaxons begin to parp and the machines to beep a little faster. This isn't about Chapman who is at least a professional journalist, even if for this viewer at least he remains no more than a haircut, a V-neck sweater and a diffuse but still oddly tenacious sense of irrepressible man-banter. And Murray, who brought with him additional layers of whimsy, has perhaps suffered with the recent overloading of weightier fixtures on Sunday afternoons.
Be this as it may, it is the unspoken reasons for Murray's removal, whether you happen to like his style or feel the urge to walk a thousand miles to avoid one of his smiles, that should grate here. Dig a little deeper, scrape beneath the operetta of conflicting cardigan-clad ambition, and there are some depressing editorial decisions being made. The Mail reports, with due speculative caveats, that a major source of Murray-friction is his habit of offering criticism of professional footballers from beyond the ranks of those who have actually played the game. This has seemed to anger Alan Shearer, in particular, who in turn sees no contradiction within his own practice of carrying on as a professional television analyst and de facto journalist while evidently lacking the basic forensic and communication skills to perform this role with coherence.
At which point it must be said that this view of professional capacity and the role of the critic is nonsense in any case. As Dr Johnson said: "You may scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table." And in any case the notion that only professional footballers are qualified to criticise professional footballers is back to front on many levels. Professional footballers are perhaps the last people who should be out there critiquing their peers, so deeply compacted are the many layers of barrack room omerta and vested interest. Plus these are people who have spent their lives perfecting physical rather than analytic skills. As communicators and thinkers they are amateurs, blokes off the street, punters, hobbyists.
This is not to say that the two can't combine brilliantly. When the chemistry is right there is nothing better than a journalist-practitioner who has mastered both elements. The ex-pro can tell you things you would otherwise never even come close to knowing. He just does not do it very often. But when he does it is a genuine pleasure. Gary Neville, current king of the earpiece, is a joy to listen to but plenty of other ex-pros working in the media – Lee Dixon and Graeme Souness spring to mind – consistently provide moments of illumination that would be beyond the personal experience of a career journalist.
And yet the BBC, which not only has some vague sense of responsibility to inform and educate, but is effectively free from the commercial pressure that drives the wider televisual obsession with dunder-headed celebrity for celebrity's sake, is content to let its enduring cartel of platitudinous Easter Island Heads - purveyors of a brand of punditry that isn't simply dead air but somehow strangely life-sapping, horribly entropic - have a back-channel say in who gets to present our only free to air top level football show.
This is the deeper sense of sadness that lies beneath the MOTD2 reshuffle: on its surface little more than a decision to replace a slightly waspish man with another slightly less waspish man, but beyond that indication of a malaise that creeps back up the arm and towards the vital organs. Clearly the axe is falling on the wrong side of the coffee table here. It is the leaden heavyweights of the punditry sofa who should be in the process of being swept aside in a long-awaited punditry annihilation, a mass-junking of all that old, gruelling heavy-furniture, weathered by cliché, slumped in an attitude of belligerent complacency, silencing rather than starting debate, hugely over-remunerated for a service that offers, essentially, no service.
And who above all seem to speak to an attitude that goes beyond simply television and the BBC, but which often has seemed to pervade the upper end of English football as a whole: the boorishness, the closed shop anti-intellectualism, the sense of incurious minds and of an overly complacent hierarchy. Colin will no doubt be missed by people who liked Colin. But it is those who survive him on the nation's show-piece sporting sofa that remain the most obvious source of sorrow.