Thursdays on channel 5

wsc300 Cameron Carter looks at the stature of the Europa League’s coverage on Channel 5, while Roy Keane tries to make it as a pundit

Some job descriptions change so gradually, the subject barely notices they are being exploited. This phenomenon, known in business circles as “task curving”, explains why the ashen-faced train manager punching your ticket is also the voice telling you “carriage haitch will not platform at Dawlish” and the figure humping boxes of Carlsberg onto the buffet car at Exeter. Channel 5 make the most of their staff in the same way.

Midway through Fulham’s Europa League tie with Odense, Dave Woods broke off from his commentary to tell us about the film that would follow on the  channel. “Blood and Bones,” said Dave, as Odense won a throw on the left, “is a martial arts thriller starring Michael Jai White and Julian Sands.” A model employee, Dave did not clangingly leave it there like a sulkily executed contractual obligation, but instead displayed a willingness to chase this subject down, conjecturing cheerfully as to whether the actor Sands had played a small part in another film, Privates On Parade.

A hefty silence followed, underscored lightly by crowd noise as Fulham pressed forward, within which the viewer could only speculate as to the expression on co-commentator Graham Taylor’s face. Taylor, you sense, is not a man to dandle a handkerchief and talk theatre at the drop of a hat, especially when there is a game of football being played under his nose. Woods’s solecism defines the problem with Europa League coverage  while all its presenters tell you it is important, they have trouble believing it themselves.

Partly it is the name “Europa”, which could easily be the Esperanto for “cheers”, and partly it is because people like Clive Tyldesley give the game away every so often. On ITV1’s coverage of the Champions League the previous day, Tyldesley briefly forgot himself, downplaying the stature of the sister-channel in the scheme of things: “As it stands, Basle will go through and Manchester United will go to Thursdays on ITV4.”
Of course, just as a head teacher would not wish to be spotted by a pupil rifling through the Fray Bentos pies in Poundstretcher, so Thursdays on ITV4 and Channel 5 are not the place to be for the big clubs. The spell that Tyldesley carelessly broke, though, is the fragile pretence of the Europa League’s relevance, which should be maintained throughout the transmission and adhered to by all ITV employees, even the hoity-toity ones that cover the Champions League.

Just prior to the Basle game, little ITV4 got in on the Champions League act with its own feeder programme, UEFA Champions League – Countdown to Kick-off. Here, Adrian Chiles, behind a portable plastic podium, spoke of the forthcoming game for a few minutes with Gareth Southgate and Roy Keane, the three positioned on the pitch thrillingly or embarrassingly close to the warming-up United players. While the more experienced Southgate blithely reeled off key Basle players, Keane referred to “the boy there” when describing footage of their previous match.

One must assume Keane smiles at some point in his life, perhaps just to pick his teeth after eating raw sheep. There is a comic strip in this: Roy, the Wolf-Boy Pundit, in which our hero, previously denied social integration and lacking human empathy, struggles to make a living in the powdered, middlingly-articulate world of the football panellist.

Football Focus, on December 17, went too far this time. Eager as ever to show how at home they are in their new Salford location, Dan Walker and the boys presented the show from the Salford Lads Club, made iconic by The Smiths’ group portrait, preceded by Dan cycling past the club as Morrissey. You had been warned they went too far this time.

The show employed a part-Question Time, part-roadshow format, with a live audience providing earnest questions and dutiful laughter. Mark Lawrenson immediately began playing to the gallery, while the microphone-interference noises emanating from his right testified to Robbie Savage’s high nervous energy levels. It makes one fear for what the Football Focus production team have next up their sleeve – a Coronation Street special perhaps, with Lawrenson and Lee Dixon costumed as Rita and Len Fairclough and Walker turning up in a hairnet to pick an argument on zonal marking at corners.

As a post-script to Alan Hansen’s description of “coloured players” on MOTD, surely, you might think, someone who has worked in television for as long as Hansen has would have received the odd email headed “Words to Avoid”. Maybe Hansen missed a few meetings, but it is hard to believe he remains unaware of the imperialist and subjugating connotations of the word “coloured” in this context.

The public reaction, though, while partly understandable, contained, amid the righteousness, an element of buoyant relief. The bad news for all of those who immediately complained about Hansen on Twitter is that branding someone else a racist does not, I’m afraid, make you any less racist yourself.

From WSC 300 February 2012