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Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Outside the Box – Football on TV: Youth vs. experience at Wembley as Sky take on the BBC in a battle of broadcasters


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So, it was a giddily exciting weekend as the competition that ranks just above the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in most clubs’ priorities came down to its final two contenders; the mighty Merseysiders from Liverpool and the Championship underdogs of Cardiff. 

As is customary in these circumstances, the cup final was simultaneously broadcast on terrestrial TV and, for posh people, on Sky. So as you sat in front of your television, nicely podgy and satisfied after the hearty Sunday roast, the noisy grandkids dispatched back to their parents and a nice glass of Shiraz at your side, you had one more crucial decision to make: would it be Sky’s Live Carling Cup Final coverage or the venerable Match Of The Day Live? Well, being the anally retentive dullard that I am I watched both (although not at the same time you understand, that would require me to have some sort of X-Men style special power that allows me to have multi-room pumped directly in to my brain).

No, for your benefit and at the risk of eroding my sanity, I watched the match twice in a row, once on the BBC and once on Sky. So, in the spirit of a certain big-collared comedian known for his TV Burping… I liked the Carling Cup coverage on the BBC, and I liked the Carling Cup coverage on Sky, but which was better? There’s only one way to find out…  An intensive point-by-point analysis of the relative merits of the competing broadcasters interspersed with whimsical drivel and stinging derogatory barbs at Jamie Redknapp’s expense.

Lets begin then with the old-stagers at the BBC. Well-seasoned in Cup Final day airings, the stellar MOTD team were dressed up in their finery and armed with their A-grade punditry. Lineker headed a troupe that included the two Alan’s - Hansen and Shearer, and everybody’s 54th favourite Welshmen Chris Coleman. Presumably Coleman was in attendance to represent the Bluebirds, if only to counteract Hansen’s teary-eyed eulogies to his Anfield glory days. Unfortunately, getting Coleman in on behalf of Cardiff to take the gallant fight to Hansen, was a little bit like getting Gareth Gates to argue with Paul McCartney over the best way to write a song. Coleman’s unerringly close proximity to senility meant that his contributions to studio discussions were a series of slurred consonants and matter of fact utterings such as “he’s put his sshtamp on it!” and “I’m the Wales manager you know!” Fortunately this didn’t detract from the overall prestige of watching the BBC on final day, Match Of The Day really comes into its own on these showpiece occasions and it would take more than a slightly mad Welshman to ruin it.

As opposed to the weathered prog-rockers of the BBC, Sky’s studio analysts had the sheened look of an X-Factor boy band, albeit with the customary rehab-bound ‘rough one’ (Robbie Fowler). So joining that fella who used to present GMTV was Fowler, Jamie Redknapp and representing Cardiff, Jay Bothroyd. It’s perhaps unsurprising that the image-conscious Sky would lurch so far the other way to distinct itself from the curmudgeonly BBC but a quick comparison of relative football experience reveals what they were lacking with their youthful line up; the total number of international caps amongst the BBC pundits totals 201 whereas the trendy Sky team mustered just 44 between them, although let’s be fair, one of them isn’t even a footballer and anyone who has watched QPR this season may argue that Bothroyd barely qualifies as one either.

Yet, whatever the youth team at Sky lacked in experience, they more than made up for in not being Chris Coleman. That and having Robbie Fowler at their disposal. Not content with being the most gifted English striker of the last couple of generations, Fowler has now taken to broadcasting in a similarly mercurial fashion. His apparent ease in front of the camera and streetwise insights into the intricacies of the game make him a potential new superstar in Sky’s post-sexism utopia. He was certainly the standout performer during Sunday’s festivities although admittedly that’s not the most arduous of tasks when measured against the monosyllabic Bothroyd and Redknapp’s tenuous grasp on rational thought. The biggest compliment I can give Fowler’s broadcasting worth is that he wouldn’t have been out of place alongside his fellow English striking legends at the BBC.

So who really won on the day? Well Liverpool obviously. But in terms of the Carling Cup final coverage and the battle between the old warhorses at the Beeb and young pretenders at Sky, I’m going to have to give it to Lineker’s mob. Despite Chris Coleman’s attempts to convince us that he’s a nutter and his blatant effort to alienate a part of the Northwest (“I never had a good time at Blackburn”), it was the BBC team that took the spoils. Although the actual moment of the day for me, and I suspect for many others did in fact come in the dying embers of Sky’s coverage. Jamie Carragher, growing weary of Sky’s sleazy boss-botherer Andy Burton’s post match suggestions that this would be his final curtain call for the Reds, decided to turn the tables and put it to Burton that “you were lucky to keep your job at Sky after that Wolves stuff”. Carra was presumably referring to Burton’s part in the unseemly discussions with Andy Gray about female ref Sian Massey at Molineux last season, culminating in Gray’s dismissal amid the sexism scandal. Either that or Carragher knows about Burton’s peculiar twilight visits to the wolf enclosure at the Safari park.

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