26 June ~ The departure of Mark Bolton from Sky Sports after his contract was not renewed sums up much of what is wrong with much of the coverage of football on television. Bolton hosted the network’s Spanish football broadcasts, Revista de la Liga, with Guillem Balague for the past six years and the pair’s easy chemistry made watching the show a much more pleasurable experience than its Premier League equivalent, Match of the Day. Bolton, Balague and regular guest Graham Hunter had a depth of knowledge of their topic unmatched by the rest of the pundits on television.
There were no Alan Shearer-style “he’ll be disappointed with that” moments here, instead an unashamed delight in the minutiae of La Liga, from Barcelona on down. The conversation was intelligent, mature and at times – whisper it – genuinely funny, Bolton’s links a far cry from Gary Lineker’s show-ending puns. Compared to the increasingly nauseating 19th hole of the golf course that has become Match of the Day, Revista was something to look forward to.
You could reasonably expect to learn something from watching, be it the latest transfer news from the well-connected Balague and Hunter, informed discussion of a team’s tactics and selection or an opposing viewpoint to the consensus. Revista was a show for people who were genuinely interested in football outside of the screaming Premier League or soul-destroying Champions League, who cared about the game more than every four years during a dismal World Cup, and who wanted coverage to match.
Instead, while James Richardson is consigned to the Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast, we are left with Lineker’s smugness, the bumbling Adrian Chiles on ITV and a revolving cast of interchangeable Sky Sports News presenters. The monotony of the latter is broken only by Jeff Stelling, but even he loses some of his zest when transported from the Soccer Saturday boys’ club to a live Champions League broadcast.
Then there is Colin Murray, victim of a humour-bypass when swapping the Radio 5 Live studio for Match of the Day 2, and amiable old uncle Ray Stubbs on ESPN. Stubbs is the forefather of the bland Sky Sports News roster that now populates the airwaves. The vacuous horror of Ben Shepherd, meanwhile, is just too grim a prospect to consider.
Revista was a ray of sunshine in a dark world, a place to escape the inanity that has pervaded football discussion on television, as much the fault of the medium as the channels themselves. By chasing away the broadcasters that could offer a deeper analysis of events, the channels that cover football are perpetuating a banal status quo. Andrew Tuft