Johnny And Al's New Boys On TV

With various new pundits and potentially fresh ideas appearing on our screens, will the BBC, with Hansen, Shearer et al, be left behind? Our boys think they might...

Last Updated: 03/05/13 at 14:15 Post Comment

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We're a couple of dudes who know that the future is always in the distance and honking on the saxophone of now is pretty much the only joy we have in life. But if you run a TV football franchise, you can't afford to be so metaphysical.

The future of football on our TV, at least for next season will involve BT broadcasting 38 Premier League games. ESPN, despite a solid performance this year, have not secured any rights to live games. Our favourite panda-eyed presenter, Rebecca Lowe is going up in the world in a big way. She's off to NBC in America, based in Connecticut to anchor five live Premier League games across the weekend.

If you've been paying attention for the last half a dozen years that we've been writing this column, we have championed Rebecca's talent from early days on Setanta and latterly on ESPN. This huge promotion is well-deserved for a presenter who has always had a relaxed but enthusiastic approach and seems to have been fearless whether doing mid-game pitchside interviews - a stock in trade of Setanta's Conference football coverage - or interviewing Premier League managers.

BT were also reportedly interested in securing her services, but have gone instead for Jake Humphreys, whose stock had risen after a good Olympics on the BBC. We would all probably like to see some radical new angles to football on TV but, as ever, that seems unlikely to happen. However, it would seem that BT have taken notice of the fact that Gary Neville's work on Sky has shaken up the complacent analysis status quo. Except on the BBC, whose football coverage continues to ossify in its own airless, self-congratulatory mediocrity.

And thus there is talk of BT getting a Neville of their own and that Our Philip may be performing a similar role to big bro. Gareth Bale has been signed up as a pundit in order to represent the modern day dressing room, which is in itself a worthy aim. Bale has not struck us as a man who can say something in anything other than that flat, blank-eyed manner that footballers learn in their hive mind, but we shall see. Can a current player really criticise anyone without consequence? It seems unlikely, but the signing is in and off itself at least evidence of a desire to offer something a little bit different.

Better news comes in the hirsute, extravagant form of David James, who seems set to lead BT's pundit team. James just needs to avoid the "just because you're smarter than most footballers doesn't mean you're necessarily actually smart" trap. If he actually delivers something with proper wit and insight he could be a lot of fun.

There is more good news from BT in that they are also interested in Owen Hargreaves, whose nice floppy hair and exotic hybrid accent should bring some more colour to proceedings, being as he is a footballer who can walk and talk at the same time. Danny Murphy is also touted as one of their pundits and Steven McManaman as a co-comm. These all sounds grand, these are all people we like and the personalities involved suggest that BT are going for an approach that is neither the high glamour big name bombast of Sky Sports or the old boys' network of the Beeb.

However, BT will need to be good because of GNEV2's new standard and with the addition of Jamie Carragher to Sky's team, the levels of analysis and punditry look set to be raised again. Carra seems cut from the same cloth of Gary Neville in terms of insight and blunt language. Well-known as a keen student of the game, this is a tremendous appointment.

And what about the BBC? As far as we can tell, they're sticking with the status quo. No change. Consequently, if BT's new package and Sky's changes bed in as well as we hope, the BBC are going to look off the pace. Not just old-fashioned - after all, fashions come and go - but slipping a long way adrift in terms of quality and relevance. Even ITV have actually tried to upgrade by signing Lee Dixon and Roy Keane in recent years and to a degree, it has improved things, or at least made it more entertaining in the short time spans they have to work in. For what it's worth, we thought the criticism of ITV for the truncated Mourinho interview this week was on the harsh side. Special though the Special One may be, they can hardly jack up the whole night's programming and extend the football just to get his words of wisdom.

So yes, the BBC are in danger of being left behind. And it's not as if the BBC's presenters and pundits come cheap with Alan Hansen famously on a reported £40,000 a show at one time. The mismatch between quality and expenditure is something the BBC needs to address on a wider platform.

TV has to cater for the mainstream football fan, not the expert and the ubernerd, so it will always disappoint someone, but BT look set to be an interesting new player.

John Nicholson and Alan Tyers

Read Johnny's book, 'The Meat Fix' here

Alan's football and cricket books are all in one place here

Follow Alan on Twitter here

or Johnny here
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