Cameron Carter casts his eye over the BBC's football presenters
With no summer tournament as a distraction the new season has been a long wait for all of us. Even so, it is still irritating of Gary Lineker to preface each Match of the Day with a promise of “enthralling” games and “high drama”, as if a significant amount of those watching were still debating whether to commit to the whole programme. Match of the Day is one of the few commodities left, along with milk and weapons-grade uranium, that does not require a hard sell. Lineker is dangerously close these days to resembling the kind of schoolboy no one ever liked until his parents invited all the neighbourhood kids to his birthday party with a bouncy castle (symbolically, Lineker’s 1986 World Cup goals) and a chocolate fountain (the 1990 World Cup goals). This makes the boy popular for a while, but not, as he mistakenly believes, forever. In other words, we’re not actually winking back at you, Gary.
In a cabinet reshuffle, Manish Bhasin has been appointed to The Football League Show, which follows Match of the Day on Saturday night, while new boy Dan Walker takes over at the helm of Football Focus. There seem to be a lot of Dan Walker types presenting on TV at the moment: young, personable men who have no discernible specialist ability other than a spot of patter and the strong suggestion that they are good at card tricks.
Nothing wrong with Dan of course, he can close a conversation and begin a new subject more seamlessly than Manish, who relied very heavily on a slow “Okaaay” and the turn to camera. More wince-inducing was our new friend’s attempts to be matey with his colleagues on Focus. When he addressed Lee Dixon and Mark Lawrenson as “boys”, one could sense the suppressed distaste of the older men. Calling Jonathan Pearce “JP” and John Motson “Motty” so early in the relationship was also gauche at the very least. Surely, as someone new to the tribal group, Walker should not be entitled to call Pearce by his nickname until they have made a kill together. Or perhaps every new presenter of Football Focus is warned that calling him Jonathan would cause him to weep on camera for a lost past life.
Much later the same day, Walker’s predecessor finds himself in a disused police station with Steve Claridge, Jacqui Oatley and a handful of chaps in shirtsleeves who stare wordlessly at a bank of monitors to no explained effect. There is an overpowering sense, when the camera catches him frowning in concentration at Claridge’s analysis of Peterborough’s back four, that Bhasin is doing community service for a crime he did not commit. But the programme rattles along well enough and he does appear to stay awake right to the end. For some reason, the BBC has decided that the Premier League should be presented as a cosy, privileged place, while coverage of the lower leagues should reflect austerity and an honest sense of community. While Lineker and chums sit in a well lit, tastefully appointed studio, Bhasin’s lot are made to inhabit a chill, twilight world, a place where they are the only few left awake and a backdrop made to look like a graffitied brick wall keeps things extra real.
Sky Sports, of course, is very real. Sky are using their own 12-year-old slogan, “Football, we know how you feel about it, because we feel the same”, in their new marketing campaign. And if you feel that football began in 1992, should be played at a time that suits a profit-making television company and consists of four teams ploughing through an uninspiring fixture list until they come upon each other on a Super Sunday, then, yes, Sky really does know how you feel about the game. Many fans will possibly reflect, as they race back home late Monday night from an away fixture on the other side of the country, that it doesn’t matter so much how tired they feel at work tomorrow, because the Sky corporation knows how they feel.
On a slightly different subject, the blood-red dress with plunging neckline Gabby Logan wore on Match of the Day 2 signals a woman with one thing on her mind and that is not Liverpool’s slow start to the season. Lee Dixon and Martin Keown are perhaps too literal and plodding of character to be influenced by an item of clothing but one wonders if, when they got home that night, they were uncharacteristically suggestive with their wives for reasons they themselves could not explain. If Gary Lineker is going to continue selling us Match of the Day as thrilling and dramatic, perhaps he should take a tip from Gabby and dress for it a bit more.
From WSC 272 October 2009