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FA Cup let down by coverage

Setanta and ITV fail to impress during their, let's face it, poor coverage of the prestigious competition. Cameron Carter watches 

Setanta are enjoying their first crack at the FA Cup Sponsored By E.on and it looks like they have pulled out all the stops, bearing in mind they don’t have many stops available. To reflect on the events of the fourth round, Sports Saturday brought together a nice young chairman, two ex-pros and a “betting expert”. Now, I’m all for ­different angles on the game and a change from a couple of old players saying “Like you said...” and “Like Steve said...”, but a betting expert is probably not going to add much to the debate other than a flurry of predictable odds and the faint aroma of Golden Virginia. 

The nice young presenter, plus Steve McManaman, Graham Roberts and the betting expert all wore a jacket and shirt with no tie. When did pundits stop wearing ties? Has there perhaps been a memo from the very top that, in the current recession, too overt a display of fat, expensive neckwear on football highlights programmes might goad the poor into bloody insurrection? To add to the informality of the occasion, McManaman and Roberts kept a weather-eye on a monitor that was showing the build-up and start of the Man Utd v Spurs game over on ITV1. This meant that every time they finished a contribution they would immediately look up and to the right, a jarring habit as far as the viewer was concerned, reminiscent of a fellow guest at a cocktail party who is keeping you company with small talk but has just seen someone more interesting enter the room.

“Less is more” is not an idea Setanta are willing to gamble on in this crucial year for the company, certainly in terms of personnel. For the Liverpool v Everton game on January 19, the punditry team consisted of the following: Angus Scott at the helm, Steve McManaman as Head Boy in the studio with Tim Sherwood and Gary Speed. A man called Dan Roan was “pitchside”, another nice young man called Darren was “with the fans”, John Parrott and Steve Collymore were in another small studio on a videolink, John Champion and Craig Burley were in the commentary gantry and Graham Poll was in a cleaners’ cupboard as the “fifth official”, planning to “sort out the contentious issues”. Like for example why were 11 people required to comment on a game that had a 90 per cent probability of finishing a draw? Surely they needn’t have stopped at 11. Why not have Christopher Biggins in the players’ lounge and Heston Blumenthal burger van-side?

Despite the cast of thousands, the whole set up still looked cheap. The studio at Anfield for the Cup game was cramped and almost luminous yellow, like the solitary confinement room in a more progressive type of borstal. Gary Speed spoke slowly, when prompted, his eyes half-closed, as if he had recently consumed a whole bottle of aspirin and was being fed questions about drawn Cup games just to keep him awake until the paramedics arrived. Setanta, a relative newcomer to the scene, have an excuse for not quite looking the finished product. ITV1, on the other hand, have no such excuse for their highlights show on the Saturday, which started with the biggest upset, Portsmouth’s home defeat by Swansea, inexplicably filmed from pitch level, by one amateur cameraman, for approximately 130 seconds. Perhaps the ITV van broke down en route to the game and they had to borrow footage from YouTube. That is just about the only way it would make sense.

On January 22, ITV1 followed the police operation for a recent Sheffield derby. It was mildly instructive to see the way a small phalanx of police officers earned an extra wedge frogmarching Wednesday fans from their favourite pub to the away end at Bramall Lane before they had quite finished their pre-match pints. There was a smoke bomb thrown outside the ground and a couple of arrests were made, which would have made the operation just about worthwhile for the producers. The only reason this innocuous programme gets a mention is that it was called Total Emergency. I really don’t think Sheffield United v Sheffield Wednesday is a total emergency. You could get away with including this item on something called “Total Routine” or “Potential Emergency”, but then that would involve understatement and ITV has never been very good at that.

As a post script, it was sweet of Football Focus to build up the FA Cup Sponsored By ­­  E.on when the BBC has no rights to show the games. The FA Cup Is Still Important was apparently one appeal the BBC felt it could broadcast this month without compromising its impartiality.

From WSC 265 March 2009

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