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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Outside the Box – Football on TV: A test of comedy quizzing is passed with help from the inspiring Irish

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Sqf Chris Pettitt

Ok, before we go any further let me first congratulate the Irish team on their impressive qualification for the European Championships next summer. There was the inevitable party mood for the second leg of the Republic of Ireland v Estonia match last Tuesday and I’m sure there are not many that begrudge Trapattoni’s men a place at the European top table in 2012, particularly after the outrageously-galling fate that befell them the last time they were vying for a major international tournament (and when Thierry Henry devilishly squandered a decade of built-up goodwill amongst British football fans).

If there is any justice at all, Ireland will be drawn in the same group as France next year and will be responsible for their humiliating exit from the competition. And the now-retired Henry, so anguished watching his nation’s degrading departure, will release his frustration by punching a nearby Renault Clio and break his big fat cheating hand.

So the party was definitely in full swing over in Dublin and two of the joyful revellers were John ‘Fenners’ Fendley and Bianca Westwood; the two hosts of Sky’s jocular sports quiz Take It Like A Fan. Now you may remember that this show was in my sights a number of weeks ago, but a combination of Manchester City’s demolition of their near-neighbours and the untimely departure of Sven from Leicester City meant that it evaded my scouring gaze. However, as Man City only won 3-1 this week and the mighty Foxes kicked off the second coming of Pearson with a win; the time is ripe for me to look once more at the relative merits of Take It Like A Fan.

The show’s format is fairly straightforward; each week Fenners, Bianca and an assorted crew roll up to Football grounds up and down the land, pick out a few of the punters that have arrived early for the game and test their footy trivia for cash while engaging in some playful banter. Hardly rocket science, but with a charismatic host and a few clueless fans, much hilarity can ensue. Fortunately, the mischevious-Manc Fenners certainly is a joker in the pack and his effortless wit and charm are what really elevate the show from also-ran to a good watch. You may recognise his talents from his years at Soccer AM; a stalwart of the crew in the heady Lovejoy years saw him play a central role in many of the show’s most memorable features, such as ‘Northern comedian Stan Hibbert’ and the mouthy ‘Barry Proudfoot’.

So it was the buoyant Irish fans that were having their football knowledge assessed this week and amongst the competitors were a clearly inebriated estate agent named Darren who unsurprisingly went home empty-handed, and another Irishman whose love of Man City was apparent from the multitude of tattoos adorning his body; it was like a scene from Memento if it had been directed by Noel Gallagher. As well as the fans, Fenners and his glamorous assistant Bianca also coax football personalities into taking part and Irish legend Ray Houghton stepped up this week, although he may have wished that he hadn’t when his knowledge of Trapattoni’s career was revealed to be less than impressive, despite him being on the interview panel when the Italian was hired.

An all round enjoyable watch then; Take It Like A Fan will not win any BAFTA’s for outstanding comedy, but in it’s Friday evening/Saturday morning slot it is the perfect appetiser for the weekend’s football action. Its uncomplicated, unfussy and whimsical charm is the perfect tonic to the more serious tones emanating from other parts of the Sky football coverage. None more so than on Sky Sports News’ weekly Special Report, the spotlight of which fell this week on England and Fabio’s Challenge.

Despite having just beaten Spain, Georgie Thompson decided to bring the nation back to earth by inviting on a load of people to tell us just how hard it’s going to be in next year’s Euros. The chief doomsayer was ‘Schteve’ McClaren, who, to be fair, is an expert in highlighting the worst traits of the England team, as he demonstrated so skilfully during his tenure as manager. Let’s be frank, asking McClaren about running the England football team is a bit like asking Steps to explain the art of songwriting. McClaren’s views on this programme did actually go some way to explaining his failure with England. For instance, he bafflingly claimed that, “most games are won in the build up”; perhaps that’s why we didn’t win more under him. We were all cheering them on during a cold night at Wembley, while he’s sat back with his feet up declaring “don’t worry about this lads, I wrapped up the three points in the press conference yesterday”. Yes, suddenly those two years under his stewardship are starting to make more and more sense.

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