Will’s Wild And Wacky World Of Television

9 Aug

(An occasional series where I blog about stuff I saw on telly ‘n’ shine.)

The Football League ShowBBC One, Saturdays after 11ish, also on iPlayer and the red doobry.

Yay! The footer’s back. It seems like only 2 and a half months ago I was at Wembley Stadium cheering on the two teams I support (Millwall and Shrewsbury Town, cheers for asking) to utter abysmal and abject failure in their respective play-off finals. Dejected and down, I thought about packing it all in, and finding a new sport to follow. I briefly thought about throwing my lot in with that French game, petanque, until I remembered that it would be more fun attempting to connect my ears together with a seven inch rusty nail, using a cute little puppy as a makeshift hammer. Nope, once football’s got you, I’m afraid there is no known cure.

There are, however, ways you can minimise the pain. The evasive action I took was to move approximately 420 miles north of Millwall’s ground, The Den, to minimise the practicality of getting to matches, and to minimise the amount of media coverage I could recieve. Yes, moving to Scotland for any lower league football fan is very much on a par with nicotine patches, a soccer-methadone if you will. You still get the initial “hit”, but your exposure is strictly limited to Jeff Stelling on Soccer Saturday and the internet, the latter of course being mainly conjecture and speculation, so nothing there to really worry about. There was an added bonus in that the networked Football League show, “The Championship”, wasn’t shown in Scotland, so us football exiles saved ourselves from the utter tedium of sitting through Plymouth v Derby, Watford v Barnsley and similar tripe waiting for all 15 seconds of coverage of that weekends exciting Millwall v Huddersfield match.

Well guess what kids and grown ups?

That’s all changed.

As of last night (and all this week via the interweb), the BBC are bringing us an hour-and-a-bit long program dedicated to all the teams outside the top-flight, and what’s more, they’re showing it in Scotland as well! Hurrah! Nothing like a bit of cultural imperialism, that’s what I say. No such coverage of the lower leagues up here; if you’re lucky you’ll get a live match on BBC Alba every now and then, but the commentary’s in Gaelic, a language relatively few speak, especially in the central belt where the majority of lower league teams are based. No highlights packages exist ever since STV decided they couldn’t be bothered, yet an Elgin City fan could, if he so chose, to tune into BBC One on a Saturday night and see how Yeovil Town got on. It is, as Bernard Manning famously said, a fooking dizzgrace.

Anyhoo, what of the show itself? The title sequence is about as far removed from it’s sister show, Match of the Day, as can possibly be imagined. Rather than a montage of nicely edited clips of fast paced football to the memorable MotD theme, the Football League Show instead focuses on fans dressed in matchday clobber, dicking about and kicking some balls, to the tune of… actually, I have no idea. It’s instantly forgettable. It creates the idea that somehow, whilst fans of Premier League teams are well adjusted, supporters of lower league clubs are somehow mentally deficiant, possibly emotionally stunted clowns who like dancing around and waving frantically. There’s a word of warning for you, fans of West Brom, Boro and Newcastle – on account of your recent relegation to the Championship, you’re all now cretins. Bad luck.

Onto the show itself, we are seemlessly segued from the titles to the man with the unenvious task of holding it all together, Manish Bhasin. Promoted from daytimes “Football Focus” show, it seems he should have no trouble handling the links and keeping the show ticking over. And, to be fair, the format of the show is not his fault. However, and this is no exaggeration, my jaw dropped literally over nine thousand feet when he told the viewers that “they could get in touch with the show” and passed over to Lizzie Greenwood-Hughes, who did exactly that. That’s right, if you have an opinion on the days games, your e-mail or text message could be read out! Fantastic! Not only can fans of lower league football dick about in front of a camera, they can also dick about on the e-mail and texts and tell they world exactly how they feel the days game went, in one snappy soundbite. Why stop there? Why not set up a twitter account and have blathering fans tweet in their critical analysis of the days action in 140 characters or less? Furthermore, Ms Greenwood-Hughes seemed a little too happy to be doing it, manically grinning whilst asking Norwich City fans to text in their thoughts on a game, it turns out, they lost 7-1.

Moving on to the actual games themselves, and Sir Steve Claridge and Ian “Olly” Holloway were introduced as the pundits. Declaration of interests: Stevie Claridge is one of the best strikers I have ever seen wear a Millwall shirt, and he does a fairly decent column in the Guardian focusing on up-and-coming players. He is an immensely articulate man, and always has a good word to say about the subject at hand. Today, therefore, I’m willing to put down as a bad day at the office. When questioned about the up and coming season, he said that the season had the potential “to be interesting”, as League 2 has Sven, League 1 has some big clubs and the Championship, well, “only three teams won their opening day fixures”. I’m sorry to disagree with your optimism here Steve, but if we consider that if out of 12 opening fixtures, 3 resulted in a polarised result and 9 didn’t, then if anything, going by this weekend, the Championship season has the potential to be skull-crushingly mundane. That said, for the sake of football I hope you’re right. Ian Holloway provided some slightly more critical analysis of teams, for instance he threw his oar in on the subject of the ongoing crisis at Newcastle, suggesting that they should get their house in order. Nothing like getting your mind games in early, as Blackpool host Newcastle in the league in a months time.

As for the highlights themselves, well, nothing special. 5 minutes or so for your main matches, and the goals/key moments from all the other games, so similar to the old Football League Extra they used to show on ITV in the late 90s. The in-game commentary teams are pretty much what you’d expect to hear on Match of the Day, and what’s more, they sound genuinely interested in the game in front of them, and the voiceovers on the goals pretty much the same as it’s ITV predecessor – step forward Dave Beckett, the ITV man now doing his stuff for the Beeb.

Fans of light entertainment won’t be disappointed with this show either – along side those wonderful e-mails is a Mr Mark Clemmit, whose contribution to the show was to visit Meadow Lane and the new Cardiff City Stadium, and to give us some valuable insight into the big news of the weekend. From those interviews, I found out that Notts County may or may not have invented the offside rule, and that Peter Ridsdale has a Chairmans lounge that he doesn’t use. All very well for a programme like Football Focus, or dare I say it BBC Regional News, but on a serious programme?

And there in, dear reader, may lie the problem. It is, in all but name, Football Focus, but instead of providing a lighthearted preview of the days matches, it’s reviewing them in a manner which might not be entirely appropriate. If MotD is a top-drawer football highlights programme, and MotD2 it’s slightly more rebellious teenage bastard son, then one can only presume that the this is MotD2’s younger brother, insanely jealous of all the attention big bro gets. However, rather than try to copy him, the Football League show has taken different bits from different formats, and gotten a little bit confused in the process. Despite all of the above, we can’t change the fact that the BBC have the rights to show these games, and we must also consider that the BBC have every right to change and tinker about with it until it becomes comfortable viewing. It is, also worth mentioning that this is all my opinion, and I’d be the first to say well done if the BBC stick with the format and it all clicks after a few weeks. One things for sure though, unless they give Millwall more airtime, the nail and the puppy will be bought back into play.

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