We sports lovers live in a golden age. There is a surfeit of sport going on in the world and modern technology renders it available to viewers and listeners in a manner of which previous generations can only have dreamed.
When it comes to presentation, things have changed much in the last seventy years. The balance between straight journalism and what I might call punditry has evolved over time. The old adage “Those that can, do … and those who cannot, teach” has expanded to “Those that can, do … those that cannot, or cannot any longer do … talk about it”. One of Britain’s great sports broadcaster/journalist/editor/producers Bryan Cowgill was fond of advising those seeking a career in broadcasting to “learn the grammar of the trade first” – this was in the days, of course, when most top sports presenters and anchors had all begun in local newspapers or radio. Back then the idea that an enthusiast – let alone a former player or athlete – irrespective of how talented or charismatic, could simply walk into a studio and anchor a programme was regarded as ridiculous.
Around that time my brother had been expressing interest in sports journalism/presenting so I wangled him an afternoon ‘behind the scenes’ for a Saturday afternoon programme ITV’s World Of Sport presented by Dickie Davies. At the time both programme and presenter were generally regarded by my peers as very much BBC-lite and second best.
After what he found a very positive experience, the headline of my brother’s feedback was that he would never criticise Dickie Davies again. Watching Davies operate in the studio for the four hours’ worth of a ‘live’ broadcast – with chaos reigning from the outset as successive outside broadcasts had technical difficulties, data went missing, events were rained off and occasionally Davies was left on his own for minutes at a time ‘filling the air’ because he had no television coverage to switch to as simultaneously his producers screamed contradictory instructions in his ear from a panic-stricken control room – all the while talking to the viewers calmly as if at a vicar’s tea party, giving the impression that everything around him was happening as it should, had been a real eye-opener.
Frank Bough, David Coleman, Des Lynam, Steve Ryder – experienced journalists and consummate professionals all.
Nevertheless, when you think about it, and disregarding instances of what might appear to viewers as ‘incongruous’ pairings which did not work (e.g. Gary Lineker or Chris Evans presenting golf on television or radio, Barry Norman fronting BBC’s coverage of the Seoul Olympics), at the end of the day – surely – all that matters is whether the presenter can do the job well.
When you think of coverage of cricket, football, rugby, tennis or indeed anything else, we viewers all have our favourite presenters and pundits … and those we love to hate.
There’s also the aspect that for many, including myself, if the punditry is knowledgeable and insightful, the fact it’s being spouted by a former playing great (or even possibly ‘not so great’) adds something of a premium. There’s an echo of the “Those that can, do …” theme in this. Take Geoff Boycott, for example – he’s forgotten more about playing cricket than I ever even dreamed of knowing and he’s not afraid of criticising when he thinks it necessary, or indeed of being controversial.
Yesterday, staying with friends in the depths of the countryside who do not have a Sky subscription, with the weather gloomy and windy I was ‘reluctantly reduced’ (well, let’s be honest, only too happy to resort) to watching – with breaks – nine solid hours of sport on television from noon onwards.
Channel Four was showing an afternoon of horse racing from Royal Ascot; BBC1 was showing the men’s tennis semi-finals at Queen’s Club in Kensington – at least when the weather permitted; Gabby Logan was anchoring four hours of ‘live’ coverage of the European Team Athletics championship taking place in Russia on BBC2; Channel Five had the England v New Zealand ODI highlights from 7.00pm; from 5.30pm BBC1 had 75 minutes of highlights of the qualifying session of the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix; and, from 7.30pm, BT Sports 2 was showing ‘live’ the (England v New Zealand) Final of the Under-20s Junior World Cup rugby union.
Yup – you could say I did not a lot yesterday, but I sure as hell enjoyed it!