Johnny and Al's Primetime on TV...

Johnny and Al took a break from Sky and ITV's coverage of the Champions League to have a look at Primetime's Sports Tonight Live. It was all rather blurry...

Last Updated: 05/10/12 at 12:34 Post Comment

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You know what it's like, you've been listening to Andy Townsend talking about a football match for an hour or so and your head feels like it is about to explode into a million shards of frustration. Or perhaps Paul Merson has repeated the same statement for the fifth time in a single sentence and you feel like you are a patient wrongly interred in a hospital for the criminally insane, and that you must escape.

It is at time of such football stress that we reach for the dusty end of the dial; those numbers that you don't normally press but under which there is a whole host of weirdness. Not the naked channels, nor the hilarious religious channels, nor the shopping channels where someone is furiously talking about how these three brightly coloured plastic bowls are the key to happiness, enlightenment and killer glutes.

No, we're talking about the more obscure sports channels, channels which must be broadcasting to a tiny coterie of followers but to which most of us pay no attention whatsoever.

This week we tried out Primetime, which is 498 on our Sky guide. Take a look. It is owned by the unlovely duo of Kelvin MacKenzie and Lord Ashcroft, the former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party. Yum. The programme is home to something called Sports Tonight Live, and given that the budget basically stretched to three chairs, a telly and a Skype connection, it would seem that Lord A has not exactly dug deep. That said, we understand that five million quid was raised in financing, which just goes to show you how expensive furniture can be these days.

It's laid out on screen like Sky Sports News, with info bars to the side and bottom but everything has a furry fuzz to it in the same way that satellite broadcasts from Mexico did in the 1970 World Cup. In fairness it looks better on our laptops than on our 10 foot wide, intergalactic HD plasma eye-spasm inducing screen.

Behind the low resolution fuzz on the first night we watched sits Ian Payne; a man who used to work on Sky and still does stints of 5live on Sundays. We like him and he's a good presenter but he looks somewhat sad. His slightly pleading eyebrows project the air of man who is only doing this as part of his community service.

Other presenters are Darren Lewis and Ed Draper. Pundits include Nigel Spackman, Perry Groves, Leroy Rosenior, Luther Blissett and Gordon Watson. Ex Talksport shouter Mike Parry seems to be involved too, though it's hard to be sure as their website has broken links and appears to have been written in 1998.

Sports Tonight has no budget and thus no actual footage of anything to show. So its presenter sits there with a couple of pundits and talks for hours. When we landed this was the excellent Perry Groves who talked about the night's Champions League action as it was happening. We like Perry and he's never short of a word but why would you watch this instead of the actual football? The answer, we guess, is if you have access to a TV but do not have Sky Sports, for Primetime is free to air. You get the feeling that you're not really living life in the fast lane, watching this channel. Presumably advertisers must feel this too.

Occasionally various fans are called upon to comment on their team's matches. On Thursday, a Newcastle fan introduced only as Richard (no surname = meeja signifier that this is a muggle who will do it for free) was shown in front of a static backdrop of St James' Park and sounded almost exactly like Alan Shearer. He was absolutely no better or worse than Shearer, either, and certainly a great deal cheaper. We are more than happy for Richard to replace Wor Al on Match Of The Day.

Other fans or experts were interviewed via Skype connection, including a Scouse professor of football finance, apparently in his shed, and Andrew Miller, the affable editor of the Cricketer magazine, in his living room. Oh yes, there is room - albeit only a very little bit of room - for non-football stories. There is something slightly disturbing about watching someone interviewed over Skype, suggesting as it does that they might suddenly start stripping off for some webcam style pornography, or perhaps that they have been caught doing something despicable on CCTV. We are happy to report that both Mr Miller and the Liverpudlian academic kept their clothes on.

But the fun doesn't stop with this. Primetime also has exclusive coverage of the Polish Premier League, the Ekstraklasa, on Friday, Sunday and Monday nights. Yeehaw!

The pre-show for the games features the type of over-focused gentlemen who appear never to have known the sweet caress of a woman's hand. Again, we don't mind this at all. It gives the programme a wonkish studenty air. It's some distance from the shiny, HD world of football we normally see. It's more like one of those local community stations.

Polish football looked a bit like the second tier of Scottish football to us; not very good but with plenty of sweat and effort played out to modest crowds.

Sports Direct is on a loop so you can catch it a couple of times each day or online when you want. The Polish football must have a decent audience but as for the rest of it, despite it being painless, we had to wonder why it's on at all. With no visual input, might you not be better off listening to the radio? We suggest they ditch the suits and TV studio facade and just broadcast it from a pub. Celebrate its low-rent nature rather than pretend it is SSN's little brother.

It's woozy, six-pint blurriness makes it all a bit hard to take seriously, though in truth, it's no worse or better than any football chat you can find anywhere else.

While we watched on Wednesday, the Champions League played out on ITV & Sky and we felt like two boys who had been kicked out of the school disco. The sense that the real action was elsewhere and that we were missing out on it was all too much to bear and after 30 minutes, we cracked and returned to the arms of ITV & Sky, glad to have seen the grass on the other side but convinced that it is not greener.

John Nicholson and Alan Tyers

Read football legend Ronnie Matthews recent Daily Telegraph column on John Terry and Joey Barton here; his ghost-writer Alan Tyers helped with some of the punctuation.

And read Johnny's book, 'The Meat Fix' here

Follow Alan on Twitter here

or Johnny here.

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