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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Outside the Box – Football on TV: Failure, hope and horror – just another weekend in the lives of Leicester City and ESPN


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Despite the fact it has reached the ‘business end’ of the competition, I have so far abstained from reviewing ESPN’s FA Cup coverage; this is for two purely righteous reasons. Firstly, I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to watch England’s foremost domestic cup competition and I am deeply opposed to the shameless sullying of the FA Cup’s ‘everyman’ image by the cretinous half-wits that run our national game as they habitually indulge in a grubby game of self-seeking profiteering and prostitute the ‘people’s trophy’ to whichever broadcaster offers the largest bucket of cash, all to further massage their own comet-sized ego’s. Secondly, and more pertinently, I don’t have ESPN.

However, my televisual limitations as well as my wafer-thin principles were put on the back-burner for FA Cup quarter-final weekend as it was my own team, Leicester City, that had defied all conventional logic to somehow find themselves in the last eight of the competition. Therefore, I had to put aside my chronic repugnance of the pay-to-air ESPN, and so I packed my City scarf and searing sense of futility and resentment and made my way to my mum’s (who, as a Virgin subscriber, receives the channel for nowt) for the Sunday afternoon spectacle at Stamford Bridge. I really shouldn’t have bothered. I should have stayed stewing at home watching Wolves continue to try and convince us that meekly surrendering the football and abolishing defending is a viable method of playing.

Because, as a Leicester City fan, I should be well versed in the art of glorious failure, and having to sit through a couple of hours of questionable broadcasting by the boys at ESPN only compounded my day of misery.

The signs were ominous from the start. A late finish in the Hearts/Hibernian game that preceded Live: Chelsea V Leicester – FA Cup meant that I almost suffered that most excruciating of experiences – yes, I was dangerously close to watching Scottish football. Not only that, I then suffered a bout of confusion as that Wonga advert came on and I was faced with those incredibly annoying puppets of elderly and decrepit people wandering around - for a second I thought it was the Chelsea squad warming up. I, of course realised my error soon after when the plastic puppets selling dodgy loans demonstrated far more humanity and soul than John Terry and Ashley Cole.

There was further woe for my weary eyes as ESPN then revealed their presenting team for the afternoon: Ray Stubbs, John Collins and my old nemesis Mr R. Savage. I have to say though, the sight of those three standing behind that weird plastic table at pitch side was something different I suppose, always the chance of them getting hit by a stray attempt on goal from Fernando Torres during the build up. Ah, speaking of which; as a fairly seasoned supporter of the mighty Foxes, it was with a numbing inevitability that as Jon Champion helpfully pointed out to us repeatedly Torres had not scored for five months, and of course Leicester being the kindly purveyors of enhancing opposition players’ games – he went on to break his 24-game duck with aplomb. The relief was palpable inside Stamford Bridge as Torres scored his two goals as the Leicester fans felt safer in the knowledge that they wouldn’t have to fork out for another trip to London in two weeks time and have to pay £18.50 for a cheeseburger.

You see, following Leicester City is a bittersweet life in which a fleeting moment of joy briefly sparkles in amongst the dull, monotonous pain of normality. And this is a little like my experience of watching ESPN. There’s a lot that needs work; the lack of atmosphere coming through the TV is strange, perhaps if they turn the microphones up in the stands it may generate a greater sense of spectacle; either that or get some lunatic with a drum to stand next to Jon Champion in the gantry like at Bloomfield Road.  Also, the team of pundits could do with a sprinkling of charisma and charm, dare I say a phone call to the future star of broadcasting Robbie Fowler wouldn’t go amiss.

Where ESPN does deserve credit however, is in the way they handled the heart-breaking situation an evening earlier in the wake of the abandonment of the match during Live: Tottenham v Bolton – FA Cup. The desperately horrific scenes as Fabrice Muamba collapsed in the 41st minute of Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final were as disturbing as they were unexpected, but the assembled guests for ESPN’s coverage dealt with the uncertainty of the unfolding drama with tremendous solemnity and maturity. John Barnes, Kevin Keegan and Rebecca Lowe should all be applauded for their insightful and respectful comments in what must have been a very difficult and unclear situation, yet their words really set the tone for the colossal outpouring of kind words and fraternal kinship amongst the football world since. I would like to offer my own thoughts and prayers, as well as those of everybody at SquareFootball, to Fabrice Muamba, his family, his friends, his teammates and his club. Get well soon Fabrice.

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