Football on TV: The lovely James Richardson

Date published: Friday 2nd October 2015 9:20

John Nicholson breathes a sigh of relief and has his mind expanded by BT Sport’s James Richardson. We think they should probably date…


Fashion police
Soft but well-tailored jackets in the Italian style are his default mode. Fashion always secondary to style. Shirts are always open-necked and look expensive, but undemonstrative. Colours are always muted. One of the rare breed of men who suits being bald more than having hair. An iron filings-style beard always kept well-groomed. Eyebrows appear to be stuck on, having being bought from a joke shop. Seems ageless, somehow. Looks like the sort of man who would smell of limoncello and almond biscuits during the day, Barolo and pecorino at night.


Lingo bingo
Always seems calm, in control and unflustered, as though chatting to us on the TV is the most natural thing in the world. That reassures the viewer that no intense moments of anger or carpet-biting are going to ensue. A natural grasp of his subject matter gives him a relaxed authority. His under-stated style relies on the revolutionary idea that the viewer is not an idiot and can understand things such a puns, double entendres, quite possibly a tautology or two and a dash of litotes. Work on BT this year has expanded from the excellent European Football Show to include a new all-encompassing watch-eight-matches-at-once Champions League show alongside the journalists from that show. It is predictably huge fun. Even Howard Webb is enjoyable.


Hits and misses
The legendary Football Italia show lives long in many of our memories. The Saturday ‘Gazzetta’ show was the first intelligent, erudite, informed and funny show about football on television. Very classy. Ever since, he’s mostly worked on the lesser-viewed channels whilst people in the mainstream with a tenth of his talent pulled in millions of quid for squinting at the camera and talking rubbish. I’m sure I once saw him presenting darts with Dave Gorman, of all people. This may have been a hallucination brought on by over-consumption of intoxicants. This aside, James is all hits and no misses. In fact, it’s remarkable the degree of consistency he’s brought to presenting gigs over nearly 25 years. Even now, seeing him fronting up a show feels very like the spirit of Football Italia is still present.

The Sunday European Football Show is, by some stretch, the best thing on football telly, being a perfect combo of clips, facts, figures, daft stuff and well-informed opinion. Has deployed the innovative idea of not relying on ex-players too much, but rather have writers present who know things. Who knew employing people who were educated in the subject they’re called upon to talk about would be such a top, top idea? Yet, the writers involved couldn’t be further away from the Sunday Supplement template.

Richardson presents but also, perhaps uniquely, contributes equally. No mere talking head, the dude knows his football onions, or possibly, its banana shallots fried with chorizo.


Big club bias
The European Football Show covers everyone, and even has clips from the Australian and Swiss leagues, so the whole BCB concept with its inherent narrow-mindedness is alien to him. Is as likely to discuss the latest goings-on at Carpi or Verona as he is Bayern Munich. This is, of course, why so many of us love the show.


Loved or loathed
There those who mistake his intelligence for smugness, but they are few and far between. His fans think he is consistently, by a country mile, the best presenter on football television. Then again, he isn’t appealing to a broad audience. Fans of European football are probably culturally predisposed to enjoy his work and tend to be less in thrall to the Premier League hype. It’d be interesting to see how he was viewed by the masses if presenting Match of the Day, where there has been less of a tradition of being witty and well-informed. However, there is a feeling that in general, styles of presenting have moved very much in his direction. How yer Garys and yer Jakes do the gig owes a huge debt to the informality that has always been Richardson’s modus operandi.


Proper Football Man
You know the answer to this already. The alpha male PFM can’t be doing with men like Richardson with their fancy words, articulate expressions and knowing stuff, and that. The PFM would no doubt put imaginary glasses to his eyes, in the Jonjo Shelvey style, to critique Richardson for talking about Belgium football and give him the moniker ‘Professor’.

The PFM prefers any degree of intelligence to be expressed as crass stupidity and preferably while destroying an expensive suit with a pair of scissors. Not relying on cliches also marks James out as clearly not PFM quality. The ability to think for yourself and not as part of the football hive mind will always disqualify you, as will chatting nicely with well-informed friends who won’t try and humiliate you or make you lick dog poo off the end of a stick.

Being a sentient human means that, for James, a night supping from Reidy’s bin wagon of fermented potato peelings until clinically blind, holds no attraction, nor would the attentions of Miss Rawtenstall 1988 in a club called Gussets. I mean, what’s a PFM to do with him? Anyone who might, even just occasionally, prefer to spend a night in, reading, is looked at with scorn and bewilderment.

Actually knowing about red wine would also annoy the PFMs and also, he hasn’t even played the game, so, obviously, can know nothing at all about it. The PFM would be overheard in a green room wondering “who the Professor bummed to get this job?”

In short, no less a PFM is there on television.


Beyond the lighted stage
One assumes he has a cultural hinterland that involves listening to Italian progressive rock (there actually was an Italian prog band called PFM. Sam Allardyce didn’t play drums for them, no), opera and possibly watching interpretative dance with a fabulously sophisticated and glamorous woman called Celestina. However, he probably just sits at home reading books on the history of Frosinone whilst rubbing expensive, finely scented moisturiser into his head and waiting for a call to present a programme about the Finnish third division.


John Nicholson

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