THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

The joy of the cup, Richard Keys struggling and a bit of time to fill. By Simon Tyers 

It may well be, as is often claimed, the greatest day in the football calendar, but FA Cup third-round day also provides its own frustrations. John Motson had run out of inspiration and gone dry during England’s defeat to Croatia, and now Aston Villa’s match with Manchester United provided further evidence that he might just be losing his edge. For stretches of the second half Motson seemed to be talking to himself. Although when he did get round to acknowledging his co-commentator, Mark Lawrenson offered the thought that Martin O’Neill “looks like a man who’s got nits and worms at the same time, doesn’t he?”, so maybe John had the right approach all along.

The Wednesday Cup replays were overshadowed by the TV event of the month, the return of Kevin Keegan, so the BBC’s live game, Manchester City v West Ham, was barely discussed. After less than a minute of half-time analysis, the panel were straight on to the job at hand and Alan Shearer’s position therein. Although comfortably the most animated he has ever been in the BBC’s employment, he actually managed to be even less forthcoming than expected. His claim that “if they’d rang me up I’d have spoke to them” came just after he’d described how Newcastle had indeed rung up, apparently to tell him that they wouldn’t be making contact regarding the top job.

When Man City did eventually deflect attention by scoring, Elano ignored five team-mates and a friendly word of advice from the referee and made a faltering attempt to turn his shirt around so his name and number were on the front. This took so long that by the time he’d achieved it he looked about as fed up as everyone else.

It would have taken something special, though, to detract from the real highlight of replay midweek – Richard Keys, who was at Liverpool v Luton, being required to commentate live on the penalty shootout between West Brom and Charlton. Even with live pictures, a feed of the penalty takers’ names and help from pundits Gary McAllister and Mike Newell, he was all at sea, completely failing to heighten the tension or recognise either keeper – Dean Kiely and Nicky Weaver, hardly unknowns to a Premier League-viewing veteran – and committing the cardinal sin of asking Newell if one of West Brom’s penalties would definitely be scored.

To compound his lack of grasp on events, after West Brom won he confidently told what was left of his audience that “Jason Ferguson’s Peterborough await”. Proof, should you ever need it, that Sky Sports is too geared towards Premier League personalities.

Keys was in a position of having to fill that time because Sky has committed itself to ever-increasing coverage, as have many other channels in the expansion of options on British TV. Now Bravo has given up on their various lad-tilted angles, there isn’t that much football-related programming on show in the depths of Sky Digital. Where there is, it’s clear that a good amount of effort and love has gone into it regardless of production budgets – The Greater Manchester Football Show on Channel M (Sky Digital channel 203 and based in the city) deserves credit in this respect.

Then there’s 1-0 To The Arsenal (Raj TV, channel 171), a programme that throws the viewer straight away by not being solely about Arsenal. This is a general football talking shop where two men of indeterminate qualifications sit either side of a table literally in a corner of a studio and talk about football for an hour – they seem to record one show a month and repeat it whenever they get the chance, so they can’t be too specific about events. Given that Sky Sports’ Sunday Supplement can barely keep up cogent chat for an hour between four respected football journalists discussing the day’s papers, simply having two blokes riffing on whether Reading can ever hope to attract major investment seems an odd way to go about building an audience.

From WSC 253 March 2008

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