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Tuesday, 08 November 2011

Outside the Box – Football on TV: ITV begin to repay their debt with a feast of Man City delights


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Sqf Chris Pettitt

It’s the 12th June 2010. Seven thirty-four on a warm summer’s evening. My friends and I are huddled around my television, just as a million more expectant eyes are doing at the same moment up and down the nation. Then pffft … nothing. A moment’s darkness was followed by some guff about Hyundai cars before another flash, and our bewildered faces were greeted by a beaming Steven Gerrard, wheeling away after scoring England’s opening goal of the World Cup.

That’s right my friends, I missed England’s first (and as it transpired, only) moment of unbridled joy in last year’s otherwise dismal World Cup due to ITV’s more inept than usual football coverage. As I’m sure you have detected, I am still a little bitter over that incident and it is not the only misdemeanour I have endured in a chequered history with football on ITV.

However, there are instances when I put aside my chronic repugnance to all things ITV and last week was one of those rare occasions. Manchester City have been, by far, the most dazzling team to watch this season and the promise of a Champions League jaunt to Villarreal was a tempting prize. The decision to indeed tune in was spectacularly established when I found out that jowly-faced Adrian Chiles’ guests for the evening were the dream line-up of Roy Keane, Martin O’Neill and … er, Gareth Southgate. That was just too tantalising to resist, O’Neill and Keane. Two of the most unstable and unpredictable personalities in football. Having to endure a night of Chiles’ inane rhetoric and Christmas cracker-esque jokes? Throw in Michael Barrymore and you’d have the most unhinged collection of cranks since ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’.

In all seriousness, it was quite a coup by ITV to coax O’Neill out of his year-long disappearance from football. His breathless analysis and forthright opinions always raise the calibre of pre and post-match chat and he is a sorely missed character in the daily rigmarole of domestic football. Dare I say that a fairly prominent seat at an East Midlands club he knows well is currently without an owner and could be his passage back into the game? For now though, he had enough spark to keep me interested despite Chiles’ repeated failed attempts at a) humour, and b) saying anything remotely interesting. Then there’s Keane too, who utters everything with a subtle touch of menace that leaves you enticingly hopeful that he may just take exception to the fact that Southgate has turned up wearing the same shoes as him, bawl obscenities into his face, wrench his mike from his jacket and run onto the field of play to take a swipe at Mario Ballotelli. Didn’t happen as it turned out, more’s the pity.

There were other entertaining moments during the game; City sweeping aside their poor opposition at a canter and the continued joy of watching David Silva play football, were just two. Most of all though was another uncomfortable night for Mancini in the dugout. Not a moody Argentine this time however, the short-tempered Italian suffered an almighty clonk to the bonce as he rose to issue some instructions and hit his head. Even more astounding was that Chiles resisted the urge to make some crack about Villarreal giving Mancini a headache. Amazing.

ITV continued the Man City theme after the game when they showed the 2010 documentary Blue Moon Rising on ITV4. Documenting the heady times surrounding the takeover by Sheikh Mansour and following a group of diehard City fans as they slowly (VERY slowly) realise that the fortunes of their club have drastically improved. Among the Gallagher-lite Mancs following City around were ‘James The Face’ (the pretty one apparently; he’s not), ‘Pete The Brains’ (has none) and ‘Steve The Driver’ who … drives the van. This is essentially the level of wit and intellect the film works at; if you go in expecting an in-depth exploration of the intricacies of life at the club at the time, then you may come away a little disappointed.

However, it is a rollicking good ride as the fans recount the growing optimism they felt as their team began to attract bigger players and produce wonderful performances. Indeed it is difficult not to get caught up in the excitement of the new dawn the club was enjoying and it serves as a timely reminder of the strides the club has made in a relatively short time. Interviews with key participants such as Mark Hughes and Emmanuel Adebayor add a credibility that contributes to an overall enjoyable film.

A good week for Man City then, and more surprisingly, a good week for ITV. It’s going to take a hell of a lot more to restore my faith though. Perhaps start with getting rid of the X Factor eh? And Jeremy Kyle?

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