Last night I watched the latest round of the Champions League on BT Sport. I have never been that impressed by their presentation but having acquired the rights they have certainly invested heavily in presenters. When I first began watching tv football in the sixties there were only two channels, BBC and ITV. Their presenters were loyal to either. Ken Wolstenholme, David Coleman, Barry Davies and John Motson were BBC men; Brian Moore and Hugh Johns covered the games for ITV. Jimmy Hill – one of the few who did “cross the floor” – when faced with inferior sporting rights as Head of Sport for ITV brought in many innovations such as the panel of analysts, the camera behind the goal and the informed pundit alongside the commentator. Nowadays commentators and analysts are virtually all self-employed. Thus BT Sport last night was anchored by Gary Lineker and BBC radio and television commentators and analysts like Simon Brotherton, Danny Mills, Darren Fletcher were all contributing for BT Sport.
I began by watching Arsenal v Dinamo Zagreb. It soon became obvious that Arsenal weRe far the superior side and after the Gunners went 2 up I searched for alternatives. I turned to the show presented by James Richardson and found this a most satisfactory way of following the proceedings. James Richardson first appeared on our screens in 1992 presenting Italian football. His Saturday morning show became cult viewing and coincided with a migration of British talent after the 1990 World Cup to serie a: Paul Gascoigne, Des Walker and David Platt. Richardson was often in a cafe with a large ice cream sundae and a mass of football papers giving us the low down on serie a in a witty and fluent way. He presented for Setanta so he is a experienced anchorman. Interestingly his regulars are not the “faces” that the senior executives deem necessary (on Lineker’s panel were Steve Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand and Ian Wright) but rather vastly experienced journalists like Julien Laurens , James Horncastle and Rafael Honigstein who are deeply knowledgeable on French Italian and German football respectively.
The programme goes to the goals of all the games so you watch the dramas as it unfurls. It’s not unlike the successful Sky Saturday show hosted by that mine of knowledge Jeff Stelling though there is more visual action. Last year in the Champions League Roma were thrashed 7-1 at home by Bayern, last night Barcelona ripped them apart. Of course Barca have a trident up front as good as anything I have ever seen in Messi, Suarez and Neymar and unlike Real they seem to function as a team. This might be due to the fact that managers Pep Gardiola and now Luis Henriquez are ex-players wired into the club ethic whilst Real tend to import from the pool of managers that do the rounds at the highest level: Ancelotti, Mourinho and now Benitez. However I was curious why Roma fail as I admire their manager Rudy Garcia. Julian Laurens pointed out that though he achieved wonders at Lille with the double and performed capably in serie a, every time Roma are in the Champions League they are out of their depth. Some groups – like the Porto, Chelsea and Dinamo Kiev one – are rather complex to unravel as going into the final round each of them could qualify so again the analysis delivered as goals went in was instructive.
Channel 4 in the 90s was minority station. A visionary Head of Sport put American gridiron, Italian football and cycling on our screens, all of which proved popular. Now with BT Sport and Sky the BBC – but not its presenters – have been squeezed out. Sadly there is no such visionary but ideologues who promote woman’s football knowing that if you criticise the quality which is of conference level then you are quickly branded as male chauvinist and sexist. I was speaking to Bob Tickler’s p/a Polly, an accomplished equestrian, who observed that her sporting field is one of the few that sportsmen and women compete against each other, televises well and has some notable British achievers like Scott Brash and Christine Dujardin, both gold Olympians but this is covered on SKY. BBC could do with another Jimmy Hill, sadly spending his final days in a care home with advanced dementia.