THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

After ITV failed to broadcast a Dan Gosling's goal against Liverpool questions were raised as to the why the error occurred. Simon Tyers examines the history of football on the channel.

Until the start of February my favourite ever football related onscreen cockup was when the scrolling graphic on Soccer Saturday announced that a player had scored their “9YJ GOAL THIS SEASON”. Trust ITV to take football on television’s standards into the hitherto uncharted depths of high farce in their coverage of the Everton v Liverpool FA Cup tie. Pity Dan Gosling, who might have come off the pitch hoping people would ask each other if they’d seen his goal only to find they were instead asking who hadn’t seen it. Such was the timing, such were the circumstances, that if you’d written it as an ITV sitcom punchline it wouldn’t have been any more credible.

It’s all the more galling because the third channel knew how to conduct itself once. ITV4 has been running highlights from 1978-79 in its current run of The Big Match Replayed, featuring pitches covered in snow except for neatly brushed lines and solo pitch invaders in three piece suits. This was also a time when Manchester UnitedITV. against Arsenal was so low down in the list of broadcasting priorities that a young Elton Welsby was sent there, not as presenter but as commentator. While never explaining the large phone that appears occasionally on his desk, Brian Moore is in imperious form, a sort of sergeant major of football, even when neatly detailing the full addresses of every correspondent or hosting The Big Match Personality of the Month competition. This was won in January 1979 by the manager of Sparta Rotterdam, whom Moore was keen to emphasise was actually a Welshman, for blowing a party hooter at an opposing manager and then turning to camera to milk the moment, even though his adversary clearly hadn’t noticed.

YouTube has also been serving up a fair share of old football highlights lately. Of particular note is a segment of the last ever Match of the Day Friday live game, West Ham v Manchester United from March 1985. This kicked off at 7.15 but we joined 15 minutes in, luckily goalless, as Wogan still had priority. (Incidentally, so important was Terry to BBC1 at that time that two months later there was a special five minute edition shown before the European Cup final, Tel and Bruce Forsyth chummying up before handing over for Jimmy Hill to tell the nation that it was already known there had been fatalities at Heysel. If the press had been as attentive to “broadcasting standards” in those days the debate might still be raging today.)

Since the advertising interruption during Everton v Liverpool, ITV wisely have played it safe, or at least as safe as ITV Sport production standards allow, which involves employing charisma black hole Teddy Sheringham and working single obsessions into the ground. The Derby v Manchester United FA Cup match was preceded by a group of films which might have confused the casual viewer as to which member of the Clough family was managing the home side. The angle being worked for the little it was worth was that this game constituted the continuation of the glorious Clough-Ferguson battles. This scarcely compares with a rivalry like Clough-Revie, given it lasted for six seasons, the first half of which saw neither of their clubs challenging regularly for the highest honours, unless ITV were counting the ZDS Cup, and which ended with Brian Clough’s team being relegated. More recently we have seen Champions League coverage in which a Jose Mourinho interview basically consisted of Gabriel Clarke finding new ways to tell him that his sides kept beating Manchester United, after which Peter Drury didn’t even get ten seconds into his commentary before calling the San Siro an “assault on the senses”.

Meanwhile, a week later on the BBC came the ever reliable Manish Bhasin attempting, through the medium of talking to him as he would do to a child, to get Claudio Ranieri to either badmouth his forthcoming Champions League opponents Chelsea or take all the credit for their success. The embarrassed giggles and exasperated body language indicated that Ranieri was prepared to do neither. “He’s so dignified,” Bhasin summarised when safely back in the studio, before bizarrely declaring that Mark Lawrenson was “brave” to predict that Inter wouldn’t win the Champions League. We must assume then that Bhasin sees Lawrenson as a proud man of principle, standing up for what he believes in – which seems to include making wildly inaccurate score predictions.

From WSC 266 April 2009

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