THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Every World Cup it seems that the pundits BBC and ITV choose are not favoured by the masses. Simon Tyers sees that yet again the likely lads and lasses have hung onto their places

This is the time of the year when the BBC and ITV heads of sport start planning out their World Cup coverage – booking commentary positions, working out who the stunt-casting studio experts will be, testing how many visual cliches they can get away with in location reports. Perhaps mindful of the forthcoming charter renewal, the BBC have moved decisively, casting Peter Reid off to Sky months after changing the locks on Peter Schmeichel’s dressing room, while ITV began their traditional mopping-up of former England personnel with Gareth Southgate’s presence on a Carling Cup night as co-commentator, which was deemed so vital he got a close-up at the start of the game.

Ian Wright’s survived the BBC cull perhaps with half an eye on his light-entertainment contract, even though his seated shifting and weaving is approaching attention deficit disorder proportions. Mark Lawrenson should retain his lofty position, too, despite contriving, with Motson, to cover the Liverpool v Manchester United FA Cup tie in as obtuse a fashion as possible. John opened with the curious gambit that Liverpool’s previous Cup win over United predated “the invention of Chanel No 5”, a connective milestone that I’m sure was at the forefront of everyone’s mind, then conceded that Peter Crouch’s goal “may have even hit the inside of the post” just in case we thought the ball had propelled itself over by means of voodoo. But they upped the ante with an almost bravura performance around Alan Smith’s injury, Lawrenson wondering first if he had “dislocated something with the force of the shot” before diagnosing from the monitor close-up a “sort of loose” leg and that it was his right. Mark Lawrenson is 47 years old. If he hasn’t learnt to tell left from right by now, there truly is no hope for him. The following night Aston Villa v Manchester City was saddled with an introductory film featuring supposed Pearce and O’Leary babies, which defied not only explanation but also actual televisual science and was met with a succinct “yes, well...” from Gary Lineker, which was surely the least he could do.

Of course, the general rule of thumb is that after two years of widespread complaints about BBC coverage everyone remembers that ITV will be showing most of the forthcoming major tournament and decides they’re not so bad after all. Real Madrid v Arsenal suggested business as usual, starting with Gabby Logan at the mercy of a production team who seem to have just noticed that she is female, getting her to cut a fashionable swathe through Madrid streets for no reason other than to show off her nice gloves. While it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that ITV’s one-track mind is going to be turned by glitz, Gabby grinning “I can’t wait to hear from David Beckham” in front of a big portrait of him suggested a real celebrity-centric shamelessness on her part. “He didn’t use to give much away in interviews – not any more!” was her actual introduction, not that the 90 seconds or so of chat shown gave him much time to give away anything. By the times she handed over to Peter Drury, Real had had far more airtime than the English-supported club. At least Ally and Andy got to lug their pitchside stand to Madrid, leading to Ally, not blessed with Andy’s tendency to bellow to camera where others would talk normally, being barely audible over the public-address system and crowd.

As a side issue, ITV Sport desperately need to do something about their new logo, which changed with the corporate image to an unappealing monochrome. Perhaps it acts as shorthand to demonstrate what sort of TV network still employs David Pleat, who when asked by Drury what he made of Cicinho replied that he was clearly Brazil’s latest hope at right-back.

Those with no worries about summer business are still carrying out some squad rotation of their own. Five, for example, have finally realised that nobody particularly admired John Barnes’s contributions to the art of autocue reading and replaced him with Radio 1’s Colin Murray. For many years football presenters were kindly uncle figures, latterly superseded by younger, sporty, chattier types. Murray may be the first of a new strain of frontmen who resemble apprentice brickies in look and deed, slipping in nicknames and pub jokes where possible. Surely calling Barnes (now reduced to a tunnel role, demonstrating much the same elan as before while talking at Sam Allardyce about exercise machines) “the reggae renegade” is stretching a point beyond snapping limit, though. Renegade to what, exactly?

From WSC 230 April 2006. What was happening this month

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