Monday, 10 August 2015

Bring back Manish

Be careful what you wish for. Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side; that other side being Channel 5 in this instance.

These phrases were just some of the things running round my head as I attempted my viewing of the new Football League highlight vehicle – Football League Tonight – which I’m afraid to say didn’t get further than approximately eight and a half minutes in. That was all I could take before I had to turn it off, which perhaps not co-incidentally was when one of the new hosts was ‘bantering’ with a rather boring bloke whose main item of interest was that he was wearing a new lime green Sheffield United away shirt that he didn’t even particularly like. #Hilariousbantz indeed.

In those eight and a half minutes I’d seen everything I needed. Yes that makes me about as knee jerk as an Arsenal fan booing my side off on the opening day of a season but I couldn’t take it anymore. At that stage I had already seen the fact that highlights of the ‘main game’ was going to last about four minutes, there was a *shudders* live studio audience - clearly leftovers from the BBC warehouse where the Top Gear crowd is currently being stored and Martin Allen in a pink polo shirt looking like he was waiting to be called in for his root canal surgery at any moment. Then again, perhaps if the first eight and half minutes hadn’t made me listen to Steve ‘whinging’ Cotterill moaning as usual about his ‘better team’ (©S. Cotteril) losing a match then I may have made it further.

For all those who used to criticise the Football League Show, moan about the late time slot, criticise Steve Claridge or argue that Accrington Stanley deserved more than the already quite generous 2 minutes they got then this is what you have created.

In the Premier League centric world of modern day British football I still like to watch the Football League and feel a connection to it. That’s mainly because as a Palace fan we’ve spent most of our time there and I would never feel arrogant enough to believe that we won’t return to it one day, otherwise I would have been a Charlton fan in the mid two thousands. I also liked to watch the Football League Show on the BBC and felt that while it got off to a rough start – indeed a highly gimmicked, audience participation based start similar to the new abomination on Channel 5 – the last couple of years it had settled into a nice little groove of a fine hour and 20 minute highlight programme.

Fitting 72 clubs into 80 minutes worth of show was tricky, but I thought that Manish and co did a great job. Even League Two games, and this is really trying not to be patronising, got a little bit of action outside the goals scored, often accompanied by an interview from one of the managers involved, especially if it was Ronnie Moore who was on more regularly than one of the main pundits Leroy Rosenior. I know every football fan thinks the world should revolve around their club, but looking objectively and rationally for a moment (not things I admit it’s easy for football fans to do) how much more time could you really expect? Yes, at least half of the program would be devoted to the Championship, but once again, this is only natural when you consider these are the biggest clubs involved. It worked this way.

The format was decent. Yes it wasn’t revolutionary, but it didn’t have to be. It showed football – that’s all that is needed. At the beginning it dabbled in excruciating social media involvement but quickly dropped this when it was realised that Lizzie from Newsround reading out tweets from ShrimperBabe69 and BantamsLad1988 was not what anyone wanted. Perhaps there is of course time for the ‘brains’ behind Football League Tonight to change things around accordingly and realise that.
Featuring a couple of main games, some interviews – as in with managers rather than gurning dullards looking excited because they’ve basically been allowed into an All Bar One setting in their Chesterfield kit – a little, admittedly limited analysis, a nice little feature on one club by the now dearly missed grey jumper/white shirt combo wearing Mark ‘Clem’ Clemmitt and a round-up of all the goals in league order, it all made sense. And was decent – genuinely decent.

By way of contrast the new Channel 5 version segued from the main Championship game randomly into League One goals from Gillingham through a link between the Sheffield clubs Wednesday and United. Maybe it was an attempt to make things less hierarchical, and of course different is not always bad, but any positive ‘give it a chance’ thoughts went out of my head as soon as it was clear that the goals from Priestfield were going to be talked through live by the presenters basically talking over each other so you couldn’t work out what they were saying. It would’ve been preferable to just see the goals going in accompanied by silence like at Old Trafford.

I sadly didn’t get further into the show from that point, it may have got better, but the excellent description from Carl Taylor’s (@NascarPlus) review here, doesn’t sound like it did. Unless you enjoy ex-Brighton and Celtic player Adam Virgo struggling with an iPad of course:

“Kelly Cates who at one point in her career was an excellent sports presenter on Sky giggled like a bad Blue Peter presenter whilst George Riley, a respected journalist gave out the wrong twitter account and didn’t seem to know which camera he was on. Pundit Adam Virgo looked lost holding his tablet which he never actually even used and poor old Martin Allen who was dragged on as a guest looked as if he just wanted to go home.
Channel 5 seemed to think they were showing Top Gear as the audience stood round picking their noses as the nonsense played out. Instead of showing highlights by the division the show jumped back and forth between leagues confusing everyone. The whole thing looked like it had been thrown together over a few pints at the local pub! There was even a weird lottery draw during an ad break meaning that the break was nearly 10 minutes long.”

The adverts of course mean that there is less time for all the fun and games, potentially a blessing, and that is something beyond the powers of the producers. Not to sound all Daily Mail, but all other channels don’t have the BBC luxury of being licence fee payer funded so we’ll leave that politically incendiary point alone, but one thing that seems to be getting praise is that it’s on before the middle of the night now. The old Football League Show did seem to treat followers of Leyton Orient as if they were insomniacs, sort of like deaf people, where only programmes on during the night are signed, but in the modern day of catch up TV, online streaming and also a Sunday morning repeat, was the timeslot really a massive issue anyway?

I suppose I should at this point say that I should not to jump to conclusions, give it a chance and let the new guys settle in – maybe it will turn out to be a good TV show – but it’s just worrying these days that we can’t let the subject matter, the sport, tell the story. Did nobody learn anything from 2day at Wimbledon?

Or maybe I’m just a bitter man, past 30, that doesn’t like change and isn’t down with the kids. Maybe I just don’t understand the banter of post footy bar speak. Or maybe it’s just because I’m sad and miss Manish and Clem. Either way, it’s making me more desperate than ever to hope that Palace don’t get relegated from the warming embrace of the Match of the Day pipe and slippers any time soon.

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