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Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Outside the Box – Football on TV: An Olympic hangover means Dixon’s debut fails to inspire


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It’s been a gruelling few weeks for fans of sport hasn’t it? Ever since Spain cemented their place as football’s frontrunners at Euro 2012, there has been a disorientating vacuum of sport on television and no amount of frantic bashing of the Sky remote has been able to render any nourishment for sport-starved supporters. If only there had been an all-consuming, widespread sporting event with seemingly limitless spectacles going on. An event that enabled the BBC to dedicate TWENTY-FOUR specialist channels to broadcast each and every discipline meaning competitive sport was essentially on tap for any discerning viewer. If only.

Because I’m largely a joyless and cynical grouch, I was among that self-indulgent whining set before the London games began who were moaning about everything from cost to Seb Coe’s hair. However, even my soulless contempt was distinguished by the sheer magnificence of the Team GB heroes as the Games strode from strength to strength. The splendid exploits of Mo, Jess, Sir Chris and the rest were a sight to behold and almost without exception, London 2012 was a storming success for Great Britain. Ironically, the only event that proved underwhelming was the football in which Pearce’s men limped their way through the tournament with the same bumbling shuffle that we’ve come to expect from our home nation teams.

It was perhaps fate, or more likely sound legislative planning that the traditional football curtain-raiser The Community Shield took place on the very same day that Boris was sweeping the last of the athletes from the various nooks and crannies of his City enabling him to get on with whatever buffoonish tom-foolery he usually fills his days with. Sunday’s meeting between league champions Man City and FA Cup winners Chelsea was wisely moved away from Wembley and instead took place at Villa Park; presumably this was to ensure the jubilant spirit whistling around the capital was not soured by having John Terry around.

It was to ITV then for the first time in weeks for the Community Shield Live and boy, there were some changes. First of all, no Adrian Chiles – the three sweetest words in the English language. I did harbour hopes that his absence would be a permanent alteration; that Roy Keane had finally snapped out in Poland and shoved Chiles’ banal-filled script down his jowly gullet. But alas no, I was informed that he is in fact still on holiday, which means only one thing: the staff and patrons of a small foreign holiday resort somewhere are enduring the most irritating fortnight of their lives.

The big change in ITV’s 2012 coverage is their newly acquired signing from the BBC, that football shaman Lee Dixon. Yes, the ITV top bods executed phase one of their cunning plan to assemble the finest pundit team in sports broadcasting by securing Match Of The Day’s seventh best analyst and his debut on Sunday gave us a glimpse of the authoritative discourse they have obtained. Asked by stand in host Matt Smith whether the imminent match up between City and Chelsea had him salivating with anticipation, Dixon wandered off message by shrugging off the titanic match up and declaring that he was too “wrapped up in the Olympics at this moment in time”. Spectacularly indifferent then, to such a degree that the personification of grey sitting next to him, Gareth Southgate looked like an overwrought cheerleader in comparison. We’ll forgive him this time, perhaps Dixon’s bewildered daze was just the realisation of his predicament being rammed home: ‘Jesus Christ, I’m on ITV!’

Elsewhere it was the homely familiarity of domestic football coverage. Clive Tyldesley over-emphasising every facet of the game, and Andy Townsend’s homespun and at times nonsensical expertise, in particular his steadfast refusal to accept that Branislav Ivanovic’s reckless hacking down of fellow countryman Aleksandar Kolarov was a red card offence. The game itself was a fairly tempestuous affair, Ivanovic’s challenge was one of many stinging tackles flying in resulting in a refreshingly buoyant game as opposed to the usually placid Community Shield matches of the past. Possibly inspired by the events in East London, our footballers have a lot to live up to in this coming season if they are to wrestle back the public’s adulation from our Olympic heroes and Sunday’s pre-season spectacle was their first opportunity to do so. As for what the game might’ve told us about what the coming season holds in store; hard to tell. A couple of definites though: Yaya Toure will cement his reputation as the plundering midfield dynamo that he is; Eden Hazard’s name will be the most interesting thing about him; and John Terry will continue to attract scorn and detestation everywhere outside an SW postcode.

It will take a little while for the feel-good euphoria of London 2012 to subside, although watching Chelsea always dampens the mood a tad. The rousing events of the past few weeks have certainly set down a marker for the footballers to step up to, and it won’t be easy for them to court their much-needed attention as the shadow of the Olympics fades; just ask Lee Dixon.

 

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