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By any standards it has been a pretty amazing summer of sport. The Euros, Wimbledon, the Olympics, the cricket, the Paralympics and more.
This summer we've seen so many pundits commenting on so many sports and, with few exceptions, they have been both illuminating and entertaining. Alas, we know this is all too often not the case when it comes to football. The contrast as the season kicked off, with the usual suspects doing their usual sub-standard job, was painful. It is high time football TV people learned from other sports.
Watch Iwan Thomas on C4's Paralympic coverage. He's a regular guy who was at the top of the sport, he has done some research and he conveys his knowledge with wit and passion. He uses his personal relationships with some of the athletes in order to illuminate what life is like for them. His knowledge helps us enjoy it more. For example, when a blind woman sprinter, accompanied by a guide, ran the 100m in 12 seconds (incredible to witness), he said an able-bodied club athlete would be very happy with that time. Now, we wouldn't know that sort of stuff, so this is where the informed pundit comes into his own. He has been a pleasure to watch.
We are not the biggest fans of tennis, and even less so the frumpy middle-class home counties women who seem to make up the crowd at Wimbledon, but we will always stop to watch John McEnroe do his thang. A bona-fide sporting genius, he has the professional insight to illuminate, but more importantly, he's a wild card. He has devilment in his eyes and this creates a frisson of excitement when he's on screen. He can be argumentative and blunt but always fair and always cogent. In short, he's a cool dude. Football's equivalent idea of a character? Robbie Savage.
Cricket has a rich tradition of using erudite and intelligent former players as pundits alongside much-loved personality broadcasters from Arlott to Agnew. Sky Sports Cricket's continuously superb coverage has gone explicitly down the road of only employing former players - and usually the very best ones, at that. It's hard to see a new Charles Colvile coming through their ranks, but given that regulars such as Ian Ward and David Gower are able to carry a broadcast on their own, there seems to be little drive to do so. You could argue that trained, natural journalists could do some of the more newsy stories better than retired sportsmen, but the gulf in the class of punditry from former England captains Hussain and Atherton, versus former England captains Lineker and Shearer, is embarrassingly wide. Even someone who knows a hell of a lot about cricket can learn new things from the analysis, and how often can you say that about football on TV?
If you had the pleasure of listening to the Olympic rowing on the radio, you'd have heard co-comms from James Cracknell. A gold medallist himself, he was everything the man who rides shotgun for the commentator should be, in this case Alan Green. Articulate, knowledgeable and utterly caught up in the action, he brought a burning passion to the races. His post-race declaration "don't panic, the rowers are here" after GB won their first gold medal was worth a thousand Mark Lawrenson miserablisms. When the people with the microphones are enjoying themselves and intimately know what is happening and can convey that, it is infectious to witness and makes sports that might otherwise be dull very enjoyable.
Incidentally, the TV commentary for the rowing featuring Garry Herbert & Dan Topolski, with Sir Steve Redgrave was also magnificent.
Anyone watching the women's football at the Olypmics would have seen Faye White and Sue Smith. We wrote very positively about them at the time. They brought articulate inside knowledge as recent internationals as well as that most important characteristic, passion, to proceedings. There was no "here we are again, same old sh*t" drone about their work. They looked like they were enjoying the sport and themselves. This makes TV enjoyable.
Swimming pundit Ian Thorpe brought a unique flavour to the Olympics coverage from what we still like to call The Baths. Expressively rubber-faced, funny and never short of insight, he helped us understand and enjoy the sport. Other excellent pundits and commentators have included Chris Boardman, Denise Lewis, Michael Johnson, Brendan Foster, Steve Cram, Tanni-Grey Thompson, Clare Balding, Mitch Fenner and Christine Still in the gymnastics, Barry Davies doing the hockey, Gail Emms in the badminton.
These are just a few examples of great pundit work. Sadly, when we get to the football, so much of this quality goes out of the window. Men are employed to talk about football who are unable to construct a meaningful sentence on anything like a regular basis, who have done little or no research, who appear to have turned up and busked it. They are rarely amusing or even charming and when they are it is often a chap from overseas such as Jurgen Klinnsman or Clarence Seedorf.
Every other sport this summer has expected or demanded their pundits be good. Football seems oblivious to this requirement. Look, the BBC have just employed Harry Redknapp. What does that say about their ambition or originality?
We have seen how good pundits can be, surely those who direct football programmes can see the difference in quality between, for example Ian Thorpe and Paul Merson. It's obvious. Will they ever learn from these top top performers though? At the end of the day, we think we'll be disappointed.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
Alan has ghost-written a book for Premier League legend Ronnie Matthews. It is called 'I Kick Therefore I Am' and you can check it out here.