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Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Outside the Box – Football on TV: England make it hard to watch, while Sky’s legend makes the game look easy


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Another week, another panic-inducing evening spent watching the England team then. This whole edge-of-our-seat, fine line between death and glory shtick that England have peddled out for years is now growing quite tiresome. Just for once, couldn’t we be like Germany and be ruthlessly efficient and predictable? It can’t be that difficult to stop Olof Mellberg scoring surely, he’s about 75 isn’t he?

But no, last Friday brought with it MOTD Live: Sweden v England and once more with it, the doomed-soul that dwells within… Mark Lawrenson. I’m assuming that the BBC plumped for Lawro as co-commentator for the England game to mirror the nation’s apparent apathy for the tournament in general. The guy sounds so morose, you wonder if all of those years winning trophies at Liverpool have left him indifferent to the glitzy world of European football. That or having to play for Ireland soured his football experience so much that he feels he has to sabotage international games for the rest of us. He does at least try to have a bizarre quip or two ready on the other hand; referring to Hodgson as “Uncle Roy” and calling the Sweden line up “a utopia for England” brightened things up a tad.

Despite Lawro and his whimsically strange banter, the BBC maintained their edge over their ITV rivals as we entered the second week of Euro 2012. Adrian Chiles was still working at his ambition to be the most hateful person on TV since Kilroy got cancelled; what really annoys me is why Chiles robs a living, we have to see that Carlsberg ‘Fan Academy’ advert every twelve minutes and are reminded how much better ITV would be with the peerless Des Lynam at the helm. For heaven’s sake ITV, get it sorted.

At least ITV have got something to do though. It certainly must be strange in the corridors and halls of the Sky Sports offices during these biennial festivals of football during the summer months. As the usually ineffectual BBC and ITV attract the prime focus of football fans, Sky are completely shunned and ignored. It’s a little like a school bully, who despite all of his strength and influence, has been told he has to sit out of PE; he stands there, glum-faced, watching two nerdy kids make a hash of the job he could be doing better. And like a school bully, Sky’s response to their snubbing during the Euros has been to nonchalantly act like they’re not bothered at all, while secretly planning to give the nerds a good kicking afterwards – they recently revealed the continuation of their multi-billion pound deal to show Premier League games live, and it looks as though we won’t be seeing any domestic top flight games on terrestrial channels for a long time yet.

So, while Sky are stewing through the summer and watching on as the BBC and ITV wrestle for the crown of ‘most inane coverage’; they themselves have to fill their own schedules with some guff or other. In between the many hours of cricket, rugby and aerobics, they occasionally give some of their other footy-themed shows an airing. One of these is the excellent Football’s Greatest; a series of short profiles of some of the most gifted footballers to have ever played the game. Among the esteemed list of previous subjects are Pele, Best and Cruyff. Last week however, the focus of the programme was a legend who will soon become far more recognisable, particularly if you are a Swansea City supporter. Danish superstar Michael Laudrup has just taken up the managerial reigns at the Liberty Stadium and this programme was a timely indicator of the pedigree he possesses. His playing career CV boasts the biggest names of European football; spells at Juventus, Lazio, Ajax, Real Madrid and Barcelona certainly suggest that Laudrup is well acquainted with the higher end of football – indeed it is difficult to recall many others with such an illustrious set of former clubs.

Swansea fans should feel excited about Laudrup’s arrival. This affectionate look at his career showed him to be a humble, self-effacing yet extremely talented man and if he can bring a tenth of the success he had in his playing days, as well as the early signs of promise in his managerial career, then he will be a worthy successor to Brendan Rodgers.

Aside from their subject matter, the other notable aspect of the Football’s Greatest programmes, is that it’s the only time you get to hear Richard Keys on Sky these days. That’s right, like a chauvinistic ghost, Key’s dulcet voice still haunts these shows in what must have been one of his final assignments before his now infamous departure. Presumably, Sky can’t be arsed to overdub Key’s narration; either that or the talent pool at their disposal just isn’t up to scratch: Neville’s now on England duty, Souness and Wilkins are monotonous and Redknapp can’t read.

Still, Keys and his Football Greats are more than a handy filler for Sky while Euro 2012 creates new legends (just think, one of these days there might be one of those gushing bios of another Danish legend – yes I AM talking about Nicklas Bendtner) until, like the schoolyard bully, they get their football back in August. Won’t be long now lads.


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Chris Pettitt

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