THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Simon Tyers discovers the new weapons that Sky's Andy Gray has added to his artillery

As seasons change and Alan Shearer’s hair recedes at a rate unseen since Ray Wilkins, we can at least rest safe in the knowledge that from year to year some things never change. David Beckham will make a fleeting visit to his coaching school and be interviewed on every single TV outlet, the Football Focus panel will attempt to grapple with a big concept underpinning a major news story and completely fail, and Sky will have a big conceptual technological idea that only they think works.

This season the options on the interactive service have been slimmed down and on Super Sundays the alternate camera angles have been dispensed with altogether in favour of “Sky Cam”, otherwise known as the blimp shot. Surely few people are still excited by blimp shots – when did Goodyear stop putting their name on the side? – and especially so when, as on this option, they’re positioned some way away from the ground and end up showing a tiny part of the opposite top tier for the duration of the game. During West Ham v Aston Villa the operator, or director, evidently became so disillusioned with the scheme that they started swinging round and picking out random bits of London, eventually alighting on a ground they couldn’t identify no matter how closely they zoomed in on the exterior.

While on the subject of Super Sunday, keen students of Andy Gray’s command of body language on The Last Word – essentially the computer-aided tactical analysis he used to do on Monday nights, but with twice the attempted in-depth consideration and half the time slot – will notice that his new flat-top monitor with effects has allowed him to add a new string to his bow. Andy already has a range of mannerisms – the furrowed brow; the half-smirk at some imagined Allardyce slight to come; the indignant double-handed point at an imagined player doing his team, and by extension Andy’s own mind, wrong; the resigned slump known as his “Honestly, Richard, You Can’t Tell What Is Offside And What Isn’t Any More” pose. Now we get to see him in the reflection off the monitor, intently staring into the middle of the picture he’s about to inaccurately place a circle on with the determination of an expert surgeon. Although his subsequent tone when discussing defensive positioning suggests he’s set to throw in the towel with Sky in favour of working on the forecourt of a builders’ merchant.

Over at ITV, the season has begun with a controversial presentation reshuffle. I don’t know if Steve Rider presented football in his Anglia days, but I’m fairly sure he never touched the specialist stuff while a BBC employee, perhaps not even on Sportsnight. Yet here he is winning promotion to the top job on the ailing commercial channel, showing the same complete autocue command, not quite oily poise and total rejection of any of that punning nonsense he mastered under verandahs at the side of practice ranges at various golf events over the years.

Last season’s two most worked football presenters have been banished, Gabby Logan to the wilds of UEFA Cup coverage, Jim Rosenthal to the ITV4 Champions League matches and ITV1 highlights packages. Surely a failed Saturday night prime-time quiz show is only months away. Even the lesser names have suffered. Trevor Harris, surprised-voiced doyen of many a Champions League goals round-up, has been spotted presenting live greyhound racing on Eurosport. He kept it low-key but, as with so many of those cut adrift as television moves on, there was a look in his eye that suggested a yearning for dark VT suites in preference to a small box room in a stadium near Sittingbourne.

At least Matt Smith retains the arduous task of chummily introducing another Andy Townsend interview package on Sunday mornings, although a deputising appearance on Radio Five Live’s drivetime show one Friday at the start of September did not go unnoticed. That doesn’t seem to be the most solid of exclusive ITV Sport contracts for their most genuinely likeable host in quite a while. The campaign to train him up as Phillip Schofield’s holiday replacement on This Morning starts here.

From WSC 237 November 2006. What was happening this month

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