Neville, Wright and Dixon win ITV the broadcasting battle

Date published: Friday 6th July 2018 11:39

Johnny’s been eating up World Cup broadcasts like they’re chocolate cheesecake, which he’s also been devouring like a psychotic pig. So, who’s been any good this week?


It was a week which inevitably revolved around the England game. ITV had the TV rights, so let’s start there. It’s been a better, more fun, more lively week for the commercial broadcaster, perhaps not unrelated to the disappearance of Patrice Evra, but also possibly because they knew they were going to have at least one massive audience this week for the England game. And so it proved with over 24 million people tuning in. Everyone seemed to up their performances as the knockout games introduced real jeopardy. I say everyone, but I must introduce a caveat: Ryan Giggs. I think even his biggest fans would say he can be hard work to sit through without drifting off and thinking about butterflies and oatcakes.

At one point in the week, the always enthusiastic Jacqui Oatley was standing on the pitch with Ryan trying to coax something insightful, interesting or entertaining from the Welshman but without massive success. He must know more than he’s managing to communicate. He must. But he just can’t seem to articulate his thoughts in anything other than well-worn ways. It all feels very entry level, especially when compared to top-rank performers like Slaven Bilic who is at his absolute best when he is given a long leash and can really bring the wild and roll-of-the-eyes crazy to the gig.

There’s only two basic ways to play the pundit gig: you go in armed to the teeth with factual and anecdotal insight; or you bring out your armory of jokes and quips and entertain us that way. And remember, it is all supposed to be entertaining. I just feel Ryan falls between both those stools somehow. Also, he just looks like he doesn’t enjoy it one bit and if he can’t, why would we?

The only other negative on ITV this week was the long-standing unpopularity of Glenn Hoddle’s co-commentaries. However there were two interesting insights to suggest why Glenn is always on TV. The first was a photo of Dion Dublin and him on Twitter, with Hoddle a couple of rows in front of the ex-striker, both grinning and shaking hands warmly. Glenn left Dion out of the 1998 England squad but he talked affectionately about him on the radio all the same.

The second was this clip posted by Jacqui O and shows the two England players going over to the ex-Spurs shorty-shorts wearer to warmly shake his hand and meet him for the first time. It shows the respect he’s held in, and in truth it is quite a moving few seconds.

Even though we all inevitably have our likes and dislikes, we do need to be careful not to paint people into a corner and ignore anything that disproves our own prejudices. I’m telling myself this as much as anyone else, by the way.

And so we come to the England game which was hosted by Mark Pougatch, featuring Gary Neville, Lee Dixon and Ian Wright as the panel. There was a really lovely, soft-spoken, very unmacho interview by Gabriel Clarke with Gareth, who does this sort of chat better than any England manager ever. He always comes over as thoughtful, gentle, firm and warm, but not in an ingratiating way.

Many were hoping Jon Champion and Ally McCoist would be given the commentary but these things are decided long in advance, so it was Clive, Clive and Glenn. I was listening on 5 live but dipped in and out of ITV as well.

My favourite moment was when Hoddle said of a free kick: “This will either be a left footer or a right footer.” Well thank goodness he didn’t hit it with his middle leg. Clive was rattling his tonsils in fine Clive style. Glenn called England’s free-kick tactics (surely copied from Lincoln City) of having a four-man lineout ‘The Love Train’, which, if you don’t know, was a hit by the O’Jays. I wasn’t sure if this was brilliant, cringeworthy or just plain odd.

At halftime, Mark Clattenburg, who has been locked in Andy Townsend’s Tactics Truck, parked up on an abandoned retail park for the duration to give us the lowdown on VAR. He stared into the camera with the sort of wide-eyed desperation of a hostage who has been chained to a radiator and told us that “England is not getting VAR justice”, which was basically a perfect, if unconscious, argument against the whole sorry business.

When it came to penalty shoot-out time, Gary Neville noted that it was “like an out of body experience”. Lee and Wrighty were both positive, Dixon making a very good point that if the psychological approach taken by Southgate has been valuable, then we’d soon find out.

During the pens, Clive’s desperate “Ooohh nooo!” when Henderson’s was saved, and a low and guttural “Get in!” as Trippier scored his, were delivered with the sort of real feeling and passion that you can’t fake in such moments.

But all was well.

“We’ve suffered too much as a nation,” said Gary afterwards, in the heartfelt manner of man who has in small part caused that suffering. “There’s been a calmness about [Southgate] that has rubbed off on the players,” added Lee, correctly.

But this probably summed it up better than anything anyone said


I wanted to check out talkSPORT‘s commentaries but it wasn’t possible because for some reason, there doesn’t appear to be any commentary playback option for any of their World Cup broadcasts. I wonder why. One must presume they’re not allowed to archive them but it seems a bit strange. I did message them to ask about this but hadn’t heard back at the time of writing. I’d have liked to hear how they dealt with the whole psycho-drama. I did enjoy two KickOff discussions with Mark Saggers later in the week which were more of a return to their normal, more considered evening broadcasting vibe.

BBC had the highlights which is obviously rather after the Lord Mayor’s show but they made a really good editorial choice for Gary to say England were victorious at the start of the show. No point in not doing so. Absolutely great call to sell it as a celebration of the win. And his end piece to camera was sweet.

And that just leaves us with 5 live who had John Murray and The Waddler on duty with Mark Chapman presenting. As usual it was a winning mix of laughter and emotion. Waddler was apoplectic at the South Americans for their fouling, groaning and growling off mic: “Colombia are a disgrace to the game!”

Terry Butcher was also there, standing behind one of the goals throughout, doing his last game before going home. He’s been an unexpected hit this month. It’s important to have a lot of different voices from different generations to paint the whole cultural rainbow and Butcher has been an important contributor to that. Later in the week they played his non-broadcast comments as the game unfolded, or at least the ones that didn’t contain expletives. His whooping and cackling at England’s win was most amusing.

At half-time Chappers read out a Tweet from Tino Asprilla (hardly a man one would look to for rational, cogent argument), saying the referee was playing for the Queen of England. This annoyed the hell out of Waddler. “Why do you read tweets like that out?” he said, very pished off. It was a good question. Should a broadcaster read out tweets that are idiotic to represent what is being said, or do you ignore them on the basis they’re the droolings of fools?

“Why do they do this to us?” said Butcher before the shootout. But it all turned out well. Murray’s “…and he scorrrzzz” as Dier did just that has been on repeat every since.

Then it was on to a phone-in with Kelly in the hot seat along with Chris Sutton. As ever there was someone who wanted to be the Big Man by saying how rubbish England are and that they should drop Harry Kane. In fairness, they kept him on and tortured him, ripping apart every stupidity he uttered. It was excellent entertainment with Sutton especially rapier-like. He remains a big star of this tournament and his combo of travelogue info and football observation has garnered many, many fans who were previous agnostics.

Steve Crossman summed all things England up very nicely with this tweet:

But it wasn’t all England this week. For the France v Argentina game, I listened to alternate 15 minutes stretches of commentaries on BBC and 5 live who were both carrying it live. The contrast was remarkable. On 5 live it was Alistair Bruce-Ball and Sutton, with Guy Mowbray and Danny Murphy on telly. The difference was best illustrated when Griezmann hit the bar. On the radio it was so exciting with both commentary and pundit yelling out, as we all do, when the ball crashes against the frame of the goal. On TV, Mowbray didn’t even say anything until it had rebounded out, so much so that I wondered if he’d missed it. And Murphy is just too downbeat for my personal taste. I know it’s two different artforms but one was exciting and entertaining; the other wasn’t. I don’t know why, really. Mowbray is a good, knowledgeable commentator, but there was just something not quite fizzy enough on that occasion, at least when I was watching.

Speaking of Bruce-Ball and Sutton (“the Laurel and Hardy of football commentary”, as Kelly Cates called them) they’ve been great value all week. ABB has been using a lot of translated Russian aphorisms such as “Don’t share the bears’ fur before you shoot it”, which is their version of ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch’. As I said last week, the art of great broadcasting is to make it entertaining beyond what the actual football has to offer.

My fave Sutton comment of the week was about Roberto Martinez: “He was known as a bit of a waffler, I’m afraid.” That was uncharacteristically understated!

And their producer Juliette Ferrington posted this odd clip. Safe to say, I think, everyone is having a good time.

Tim Vickery was on to talk about Brazil, saying “individual talents deployed for the benefit of the collective,” to which Terry Butcher, impressed added: “you should take this up full-time.” TV on the radio is a worthy successor to the original TV on the radio, though I doubt he knows as much about heavy metal.

Talking of Brazil, 5 live also got the Brazilian press officer on, a man called Ricardo who is utterly fantastic entertainment. “We call Neymar the kid that dives. If the prices are going down in Brazil, we call them Neymarised because they’re going down!”

Another good 5 live team this week has been Conor McNamara and Dion Dublin who appear to be treating the whole tournament as one long party. This just looks like two fellas having a great time:

As Ronaldo hitched up his shorts to take a free kick, Conor, purring with excitement, said: “Dion, what a pleasure it is to be here at a World Cup, seeing this.” The importance of the situation was clearly flooding his synapses. That’s the great thing about their broadcasting; I don’t think there is a drop of cynicism from anyone. It’s all a celebration and it lifts the soul from the dark times.

There was a nice discussion on Wednesday with Kelly, Chappers, John Murray, Vicki Sparks and Waddler in a hotel lobby, pulling in contributions from all the other commentary teams, recounting all their experiences on the road. It sounded nothing less than like a big group of mates meeting up in a bar, laughing, taking the mick and simply having a great time. Jonathan Overend’s Tweet rather backs this up.

It was also odd for one other reason, at least to us 5 live regulars, in that it had both Mark and Kelly on. I can’t recall hearing them broadcast together and they actually seemed to find it a bit odd too, both used to being the one to lead discussions or do the sport headlines.

5 live’s coverage of the World Cup continues to be little short of superb, and to hear John Murray speaking Russian (“it sounds like playing Sgt Pepper backwards to find the hidden messages,” noted Chappers) or uttering the sentence “right back atcha”, was reason enough to tune in alone.

Talking of superb, Gabby Logan’s interview this week with Southgate was just beautiful. She’s brought some gold from her interviewees and none better than this about his waistcoat, not least because Gareth is so self-effacing and yet comfortable and I suspect that is as much due to the talent of the understated interviewer as anything else.

And that’s just to skim the surface of what has been an incredible week of football broadcasting. There were many other golden moments across all broadcasters that I don’t have space to note and with so many hours of programmes you’re always going to miss something.

So who won the broadcasting battle this week?

There’s been fun everywhere you looked this week but I’m giving the award to ITV for their post-penalty shootout celebrations, as much as anything else. But there’s been tremendous work from everyone. What a time to be alive.

John Nicholson


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