Outside the Box – Football on TV: Neville looking sharp as Sky’s fantasy football begins
The beginning of a football season is always a curious period. Our much-cherished teams turn up at 3pm on opening day looking ever so slightly different from the last time we saw them. New kits, new colours if you live in Cardiff, new players and sometimes even new managers. Whatever misty remnants of May that still linger in our minds, begin to fade as excitement builds for a fresh start. Whatever has gone before is wiped clear – we all start on 0 points now. Well, unless you support Portsmouth, you guys will be on about -85 points I guess.
But what really concerns me at this time of the year, is not Robin Van Persie turning to the dark side; nor Joey Barton’s latest attempt to become the country’s greatest spanner. No I want to know what kind of guff the football broadcasters have got up their sleeves for us in the coming campaign. How much Chiles will we be able to handle? Will Mark Lawrenson ever be persuaded to join Twitter? How will Hansen counteract the dazzling light bouncing off Shearer’s head? All questions I will hope to find answers to in due course.
But first up, what about our good friends at Sky’s Live Ford Super Sunday? Ed Chamberlain was back, iPad clasped in his metrosexual grip alongside his sheened entourage of Jamie Redknapp and Gary Neville. And Red Nev has decided to build on last season’s solid broadcasting bow by having a bit of makeover. A sharp suit, a trendy new hair cut and the faint hint of a pencil-thin moustache gave the ex-United defender the air of a 1940s spiv: I’m sure before the game, he was outside the Etihad selling black market sausages to the punters. Elsewhere in Sky’s maiden live matches of the season, we were treated to the 856th, 857th and 858th viewing in the last fortnight of Aguero’s Premiership winning goal against QPR. As spine-tinglingly magical as that moment was for everyone barring Sir Alex, it’s dramatic punch has become slightly diluted with its chronic overuse and it is becoming as irritatingly over-familiar as tweets about One Direction and adverts with meerkats in them.
So 98 days after Martin Tyler almost exploded live on television with that ageless cry of AGUERROOOOOOOOOOOO, he was back in the commentary box alongside the coiffured Neville for Manchester City’s first defence of their title. And was inevitable, with the saturation of Aguero’s image over the summer months being inextricably connected to the buzz around the new season, that the man himself would limp off after only eight minutes of City’s opening game against Premier League new boys Southampton. A shame, as his early touches, and link ups with the newly svelte Carlos Tevez promised much for the season ahead. You could have excused Tyler for missing Aguero’s brief appearance though, as he may have still been reeling from Neville’s startling admission pre game that he “went the other way”. Ah, that explains the new hairdo then Gary.
Neville’s lifestyle choices aside, it was as you were in the Sky coverage in this opening weekend. Chamberlain, Niall Quinn and Neville all trying to paper over the epic chasms in Jamie Redknapp’s football knowledge; Tyler’s authoritative vocals soaring high above anything the teams at BBC or ITV can muster; and the continuation of the effortless proficiency of Sky’s live football.
However, the new season has brought with it a couple of other additions to the Sky armoury. One of these began on Friday evening in the shape of The Fantasy Football Club. Presented by cheeky chappy John ‘Fenners’ Fendley and ex-Arsenal and cerebrally challenged pundit Paul Merson, the show is an attempt to recapture some of the comedy glory of the nineties classic Fantasy Football League. Unfortunately, Merson and Fenners are no Baddiel and Skinner and the only ‘comedy’ came largely from Paul Merson’s unsuccessful attempts at talking any sense. Probably wise then, to lean more onto the actual fantasy football game, and that’s generally what Fenners did. The stat-heavy nature of ‘dreamteam’ games means that they can be slightly dour in a television setting, which is why the comedy slant was so important in the days of Baddiel and Skinner. The always watchable Fenners did his best, but he’s going to need some help if the show is to be a success. Having Noel Gallagher in a feature was certainly a plus, but Merson’s stunted ability to even speak English with any confidence left a large gap in the show. He’s a strange choice with some of the other ex-pros loitering around the corridors of Sky, many of which would be far more suited to a primetime Friday night comedy: Chris Kamara, Ray Wilkins, hell even Jamie Redknapp would offer more entertainment. It seems the pick of Merson was probably to be the butt of Fenners’ gags; unfortunately that may become stale fairly quickly and as the novelty of fantasy football inevitably subsides throughout the season, it will take more than a few cracks about Merson’s drinking to keep fans watching.
There was enough in this first episode of The Fantasy Football Club to suggest it could have a bright future; a valuable commodity to sit alongside Sky’s other football funnies Soccer AM and A League Of Their Own. A few changes here and there could hit upon a winning formula – like all teams starting this weekend, anything is possible if they get things right.