Tuesday 4 August ~
We may have heard the last of "Theory Henry" and "the Republic of Czechoslovakia" now that ITV have decided not to renew David Pleat's contract. No other football pundit seemed to divide opinion quite like Pleat, with those who disliked him driven to apoplexy by his mispronunciation of names and shaky knowledge of geography. But those of us in the pro-Pleat camp always felt that complaints such as these were missing the point.
The one thing you want from a co-commentator is an informed opinion on what is happening the match being covered, which Pleat provided. Jack Charlton was another expert who often got players' names confused – he even did it with his own team when he was Republic of Ireland manager. But he always offered a considered view of the game at hand, which still seems to be beyond some.
It's two decades or so since the TV networks began to use expert summarisers alongside their commentators. Yet, incredibly, many are still incapable of fulfilling the most basic aspect of their role. Instead, what we often get from the majority of pundits is a tired recitation of received wisdom and lame jokes from people labouring under the assumption that they are entertainers with a flair for repartee. Mark Lawrenson's performances for the BBC during Euro 2008 amount to a little more than a stream of sarky one-liners, an extended version of the performance he offers regularly on Football Focus where we are encouraged to think of him as "Lawro" the blokey bloke who calls it as he sees it.
ITV's new controller of sport, Niall Sloane, is the person responsible for dropping Pleat. He was previously head of football at the BBC which pays Gary Lineker enormous sums of money to preside over cosily banal coverage that is very occasionally enlivened by contributors who are actively involved in football, such as Martin O'Neill or Gordon Strachan. For the most part, though, bland blokeydom prevails.
Both the major terrestrial networks will be increasing their live football coverage this season. ITV have picked up some of the England games that would have been broadcast on Setanta while the BBC will be showing at least ten live Championship games plus the Carling Cup semi-finals and final. This would be an opportunity for both to reassess the way they present football. But that would involve a realisation that they often get it wrong. If ITV are set on a revamp with the new man in charge, dumping David Pleat is not a good sign about the direction in which they may be heading. Barry Duncan