Simon Tyers on Tim Lovejoy and other presenters switching jobs

After years of being downplayed as a near‑unnecessary calendar filler, the Carling Cup is finally being seen as a competitive target for the big clubs once again, with members of the modern Big Four lifting the trophy in four of the last six seasons. Sky Sports are keen to act as cheerleaders for this unlikely rejuvenation, to give the impression of holding a greater nap hand of live football coverage. So they’ve given a Carling Cup presentation job to Tim Lovejoy.

It’s a few years since Lovejoy was everyone’s idea of the next big name to emerge from satellite, since when he seemed until recently to have slipped into a ­self-­perpetuating Mobius strip of broadcasting that has led to three years of having next to no new ideas for Soccer AM. However, over the last couple of months he’s turned up on BBC2’s Sunday morning food-based magazine show Something for the Weekend – everyone presumably turning a blind eye to the regular Soccer AM sketches at the start of the season mocking weekend morning food-based shows – as well as Five’s Fifth Gear. Now he is becoming a proper football presenter.

You can pretty much guess his style – high on the louche mateyness, with one elbow on the round table Sky often insist separates studio host from pundit. It doesn’t instil the viewer with much confidence in the importance of the competition at hand. The man you have to feel for is former Carling Cup match presenter Ian Payne, who abandoned superb stewardship of BBC Radio’s Sport on Five to host Monday Night Football, but has now become stuck in Sky Sports News chumminess hell.

Such casting highlights how the traditional image of the live football presenter as avuncular yet authoritative is being eroded by the apparent desire to make all frontmen into jocular, punning pub mates. Some will always remain immune to attempts to dumb down the noble art of asking the studio pundit whether discipline will be a factor. Paradoxically, given the level of most of their output, this applies to the main presenters employed by ITV1, in part a result of Jim Rosenthal possessing perhaps broadcasting’s least sincere smile.

Most tend to strike an uneasy balance, just because Des Lynam did. But for all his self-effacement and indulging of the pundits’ gang mentality, Des was always in charge, an attitude Jeff Stelling has adopted on Monday Night Football by ensuring the serious/comic gene remains only for Saturday afternoon use. Gary Lineker may try to portray an “all golfing mates together” image with Hansen and Lawrenson, but he can’t help but retain a direct blood link to Ken Wolstenholme in his autocue skills, while Ray Stubbs has spent the last few years attempting to mark himself out as a bit of a jack the lad but will always be stymied by having to work alongside Garth Crooks and his default starting position of one finger extended up the cheek in a faux-serious pose.

Meanwhile, on Five, Colin Murray has had a studious makeover that just makes him look more like a student; deep questioning of Pat Nevin only gets your image so far when an advert for your Radio One show appears between every other BBC TV programme, showing you being blown across a hall by hairdryers.

With Manish Bhasin, who would rank comfortably as authoritative if he had any of the nous, away on Ashes duty, Football Focus has been passed for two months to Jake Humphrey, and not even he knows what category of presenting he’s supposed to be filed under yet. A long-standing CBBC face, Humphrey has worked his way up via the occasional Focus voiceover and Final Score 30-second Championship report. Though there’s nothing particularly wrong with his breezy style, it still lacks gravitas, especially when he was called upon to introduce a feature on German domestic hooliganism on his first show. Though it’s hard to compete when Gavin Peacock, in providing an appreciation of referee Howard Webb, ends with perhaps the most inconsequential compliment ever made by a pundit: “He’s got a good record of getting the distance to the wall right.” When referees are being talked up for their ability to take ten paces, there’s something seriously wrong with the standard of punditry.

From WSC 239 January 2007. What was happening this month

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