Simon Tyers takes a look at Setanta Sports News, Sky's unthreatening rival

Watching Setanta Sports News, you are reminded of the scene in I’m Alan Partridge where, on being told by the BBC director of programming that the glut of regional police shows he has listed suggests there’s too many, Partridge suggests “that’s one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is, people like them, let’s make some more of them.” Sky Sports News is delivered by a combination of an authoritative father figure/elder brother type and a power-dressed blonde while information scrolls around them. Setanta has decided that the only way to improve on this is to have a go at it itself and hope nobody makes the connection.

Sky has one left-to-right scrolling news bar, so Setanta has two, going at different speeds as if developed as a neuro-linguistic aid optical illusion. Where Sky has dimly lit people in the background working, Setanta has slightly better lit people in the background seemingly just standing around. Sky, on other sports channels, has phone-ins, which whichever way you slice are still a presenter struggling to look fully attentive at a disembodied voice; Setanta Sports News employs someone who you’d imagine has more problems than most in this area, Steve Claridge.

At least Claridge has knowledge and can produce a certain cock-eyed intensity. If nothing else, he can be glad he’s not an employee of Nuts TV, a spin-off from the uniquely cloying weekly men’s magazine and generally as welcoming and inclusive as that suggests. The latest in a long and undistinguished line of digital channels to attempt to leap on to the football bandwagon with the grace of Ashley Cole, its flagship sporting talking shop is entitled, with the help of carefully focused sponsorship, The WKD Shed Sports Show.

Even its title suggests the whole channel is stuck in a half-remembered thought of Johnny Vaughan on The Big Breakfast ten years ago, when he based his whole persona around being a bloke with a shed. The show itself is practically unwatchable, being a programme in which unidentifiable and on this evidence deeply dislikeable men argue about football for no purpose and to no conclusion other than for the sake of the channel being able to say that they have a football debate programme. The level of such debate is best expressed by the show having a Rantline, which the host urges viewers to use to “leave us a furious message telling us what’s got you wound up”.

How different from Sky Sports, the sort of channel that has enough experience and clout not to have to rely on such one-hit concepts to attract an audience. Or so you’d think, but then there’s the war of attrition that constitutes a Grand Slam Sunday. “What will we learn about the title race? Nothing, probably,” Richard Keys had admitted the previous Sunday. He liked the line so much that he waited only three minutes before repeating it. A week later, he was resolutely on-message, declaring it “the biggest day in the domestic football calendar – will it settle anything? Well, it might.” Keep telling yourself that, and we’ll all get through this together.

It was in this context that Jamie Redknapp ended up as the expectation-damping voice of reason. Martin Tyler had referred to Ashley Cole’s strop in the previous Wednesday’s match at White Hart Lane three times in the first 15 minutes of the Man Utd v Liverpool game. At half-time, Andy Gray decided that Javier Mascherano’s dismissal was a reason to abandon his recently acquired principle that the referee always makes the correct sending-off decision one way or the other. Gray announced that Mascherano had merely been trying to “talk” to Steve Bennett, asking rhetorically: “Can you not do that any more?”

Not only did Redknapp disagree with some force, but Sky’s VT team cued up a lengthy montage of Mascherano “talking” to Bennett throughout the first half to undermine Gray’s words as they emerged. After the day’s action had been completed, they underlined Gray’s folly with a slow-motion replay of some men talking. Even Tyler later referred to “Andy having an opinion on Steve Bennett”, wisely waiting until his usual commentary partner was safely preparing for the next game before casting aspersions on his neutrality.

On a day of supposedly controversial talking points, the most unwise decision of all was made by Tony Adams, who matched a purple waistcoat with paisley-patterned tie and pink shirt, thereby looking like he’d just come from a middle management meeting of the masons. If it was meant to distract attention from the Portsmouth employee’s references to Arsenal as “us”, it seemed to work.

From WSC 255 May 2008

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