The Soccer Saturday pundits enjoy a bundle at Reading. Simon Tyers enjoyed watching them

How joyous the sight of men on live TV completely losing their composure. Phil Thompson was allocated Reading v Sheffield United on January 20’s Soccer Saturday, so got to relay unfolding events as Keith Gillespie and Wally Downes – who, it transpired from the highlights, had chosen the moment to push Neil Warnock at which he would least have expected it – took the game a sufficient distance from repute. Thompson’s and Jeff Stelling’s harmonic shocked “ohhhhh!” at the replay of Gillespie’s swung arm was only topped when both benches kicked off, Stelling in particular trying his best to level out his unruffled image with his clear wish to urge everyone on like a ringside punter.

It wasn’t until the post-match analysis that broadcast decency fully collapsed, a wide-angle studio shot showing everyone watching them intently except Alan McInally, who was concentrating on reading his own notes, and even he had noticed by the reshowing of the technical-area handbags. The result saw all five break all sorts of unwritten codes of conduct that instruct those commenting on such scenes to treat them with the sort of condemnation usually reserved for South American goalkeepers. Jeff did eventually regain enough composure to declare these “disgraceful scenes... he said piously”, but had already been damned by his own onscreen dissolving into barely controlled giggling seconds earlier.

The Match of the Day team held it together rather better, but had other fish to overfry. The analysis of James Milner’s goal against West Ham, with Scott Parker offside as the ball went through his legs, harked back to the glory days of second phases of play and the like.

It wasn’t that the referee was at fault for making a poor decision by ignoring his linesman, you understand, it’s that the wording of the rule is too complicated. Gary Lineker chose to demonstrate this by reading out the offside subsection, which is worded with no more complexity than those for substitutions or the period allowed for half-time and indeed gave up at least two reasons why the goal should not have stood, both of which Alan Hansen, who apparently therefore has no knowledge of an incident he is employed to decode as a specialist expert, chose to ignore. But it’s FIFA’s fault, you see.

Now that the WSC letters page has played host to the annual discussion on whether BBC commentators are actually at the game, it’s time the obviousness of the delivery on dubbed Football League highlights commentaries was addressed. I may be doing the team who work on ITV’s The Championship and Sky’s Football League Review a great disservice and their commentators are instructed to be over-informative and repeat “x minutes gone, a good crowd here at y – these fans have seen their team win/lose a of their last b games” at least once a minute until the first goal, but that would have to involve levels of concentration that often seem beyond such second string.

Unlike, say, Ian Darke, who seems to have spent much of the last couple of months working through his collection of MOTD videos. His “Look at that! Look at that!” commentary on Didier Drogba’s winner at Everton in December echoed John Motson’s famous effort on Liam Brady’s celebrated north London derby curler. That could have been put down to momentary exuberance, were it not for his declaration, as Liverpool put Watford to the sword on January 13, of “Crouch two, Bellamy one, Liverpool three, Watford none”, taking after David Coleman’s 1974 FA Cup final quote. We’re holding out for a “Look at his face!” before February is done.

As for this season’s Cup coverage, there’s the extra frisson of a new “official partner”. While presenters work towards a unified pronunciation of “eon”, this column is obviously more interested to see how “the UK’s largest integrated energy company” would approach Sky’s promotional break bumpers, given that Axa’s stirring “FA-mous Cup” efforts of the last few years are a hard act to follow. What transpired was that Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush, flanked by Liverpool fans, attempted in necessarily piecemeal style to kick a ball through a hole in a large corporate sign. The thought persists, writing ahead of the fourth round, of whether more than one team will be involved over the season, and whether over the last couple of weeks their advertising agency has been looking up contact details for Lee Sharpe and Denis Law, while another researcher drives around Islington looking for a sufficiently photogenic side street.

From WSC 241 March 2007. What was happening this month

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