THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Simon Tyers watches ITV and Sky attempt to outdo each other in the calamity stakes as television football coverage slowly becomes a parody of itself

The comedic songwriter Tom Lehrer once said that satire died on the day that Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. Seeing Neil Ruddock cast as an expert on a show entitled England’s Worst Ever Football Team, I knew exactly how he felt. At the other end of the scale, ITV’s commentary is the satirical equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.

In May their leading commentators were confused by the possibilities of video evidence being used on goal-line decisions. At the FA Cup final Clive Tyldesley adjudged that Didier Drogba’s free-kick that hit the underside of the bar had gone in. “How long did it take us, the dreaded television, to prove that it had crossed the line? Fifteen seconds?” he crowed, imagining Blatter and Platini cowering. ITV’s production team, clearly students of comic timing, then found the camera angle which showed the ball landing square on the goal-line. “Maybe 30 seconds to prove it wasn’t,” Clive had to admit. That didn’t stop him going on for the rest of the first half about the need for instant replays to be available to officials, on the basis that without a monitor nearby and a professional outside broadcast unit the assistant referee would never have known he’d made the right decision.

Nine days later, England v Mexico doubled up as a live debut for Adrian Chiles, who will have to stop leaning to look down at his script if he’s going to make a go of his new role. Meanwhile, Peter Drury was wrongfooted by the visitors scoring. “Off the line, and again, Leighton Baines...” he said confidently, then went silent before Andy Townsend broke in with: “He’s give it!” Robert Green was still rolling around well inside the goal with the ball still in his gloves like a comfort blanket, but that somehow didn’t stop Drury calling it a “tight, tight call”. The replay proved Franco wasn’t offside, which with Baines rooted to the line was impossible anyway, but Drury chose to not so much as offer apologies or explanations. Maybe he thought nobody would have noticed.

It’s on big European nights that ITV know their place. That is to say, looking squarely at the dugout. They set out their intentions for the Champions League final from the start with a loving slo-mo montage of José Mourinho, a theme they returned to at half-time in place of any clips of the goal or on-pitch action. In fact there wasn’t a single mention of any Inter player until Tyldesley – who reflected on the Premier League’s chances for next season in his second sentence – read out the teams.

Matt Smith made the most tenuous link of the night in recalling the last European Cup final at the Bernabéu, won by “Nottingham Forest, over German opposition, Brian Clough in charge – which may of course remind you of someone”. Well, we all have fond memories of that famous longstanding Clough-Mourinho rivalry. “Time for the players to reclaim centre stage,” Tyldesley reckoned as the game kicked off, which was big of him given that if they weren’t centre stage it was only because his employers had decided such. Smith rounded off by resetting the priorities – “the evening belongs to Inter, the foreseeable future to José”.

Sky started pitchside, not having thought through the implications of attempting to conduct a conversation in front of thousands of supporters in an enclosed area. Sky are proud of their team for Euro nights, promoting Richard Keys, Jamie Redknapp, Ruud Gullit and Graeme Souness in their trailers. They can’t hope to come out well, though, if we can barely hear them. Gullit could barely hear Keys despite standing three feet away, and had to repeatedly ask for a question to be repeated until Keys gave up with the Fawlty Towers-esque explanation of: “He’s Dutch!”

Keys had already placed himself squarely in national cliche mode when suggesting “plenty of beer, sausage and efficiency from these Germans here today” so we should be glad he left the admonishment there. Though Sky were more even handed than ITV, they still racked up a high reading on the José-ometer, Keys mentioning the possibility of his winning and then leaving three times in first seven minutes. Redknapp related everything put to him about Mourinho back to Football’s Next Star, Sky’s Inter-based reality series he co-presented. Spotting potential danger to José’s image, Keys did the only thing he could in the face of debate and cut to an ad break in mid-sentence.

Steve Coppell previewed the Championship play-off final while not at any point addressing the camera, which made him look like the subject of a hostage video. Asked to comment on what promotion would be worth to the victors, he sighed that “it was only ten million when we did it”. Nineties nostalgia could catch on, unless it means Neil Ruddock getting more specialist work.

From WSC 281 July 2010

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