The World Cup battle of the broadcasters – day one

Date published: Friday 15th June 2018 12:20

Over the next month Johnny will be listening and watching the radio and TV and each week asking who is winning the broadcasting battle? He starts with Thursday’s opening game between Russia and Saudi Arabia…

On screen…

The opening game was snaffled by ITV for television, leaving the BBC with a half hour of highlights at bedtime. On the radio both 5live and Talksport had their teams in the Luzhniki Stadium and covered the action live, hosted by Mark Chapman and Mark Saggers respectively.

ITV’s studio is impressive. It looks like someone on LSD made a honeycomb into a cathedral and filled it with Tizer. It’s supposed to have taken 18 months to build it, but that tells us nothing until we know how much work was done each day. It doesn’t betray a year and half of graft but it looks tremendous.

On duty today are Mark Pougatch in the presenters chair with Gary Neville, Slaven Bilic, Ian Wright and Lee Dixon. What struck me about their 90 minute pre-game show was how low key and classy it was. It’d have been easy for them to come out the traps in cheap block caps and let the bantersaurus loose but no, they didn’t. This was non-hyperbolic chat from the get-go. There could have been a more in-depth discussion of the home player rule that exists in Russia and its effects on the national squad, but I felt all concerned where not confident to talk from a position of knowledge. Gary Neville was a little more subdued than he is on Sky, perhaps being part of a four-man panel is a whole different dynamic to having to do it all yourself.

There were clips of old World Cup action, nicely shunting Gerd Muller up to Thomas Muller.

The low key and serious interview with Raheem Sterling and his youth coach was a triumph of taste and insight. The perfect rejoinder to all the tabloid crud. Human, thoughtful, adult.

Then it was on to the stadium with Jacqui Oatley and Eni Oluko for some excellent, articulate insight into what it’s like to play at a big tournament and the pressures on the home nation side. Ryan Giggs was also there but tends to project a strange sort of emptiness that is a little unnerving to watch. All three were a little shiny, as though lightly varnished.

ITV then showed some lovely graphics to illustrate where games are being played across Russia. Again, these were not flashy or crude, they were lovely low-key tones of rusts and golds: chocolate for the eyes.

Talking of eyes, here’s Mark Clattenburg in some sort of revamped Andy Townsend Tactics Truck, surrounded by machines with screens, with his big oval peepers peering out of the screen at us with a very Consett accent to tell us about VAR and why it’ll be great.

Gabriel Clarke is embedded with the England camp and delivers his report in his usual no-nonsense fashion. There’s some nice footage of Gareth Southgate laughing and being nice. Aw.

Seema Jaswal is outside the stadium and interviewing Morrissey look-a-like, Robbie Williams who is showing why getting a neck tattoo when you’re young doesn’t pay off so well when you’re 44, making even the richest man look like a jailbird. Robbie is also the colour of my 60-fags-a-day granddad’s fingers. Again, like Giggs, it’s all a little wince worthy.

But the game is the thing. On duty on comms is Clive, Clive. Alongside him is Glenn Hoddle. “This is going to be a close call, this game,” he says, thankfully clearing things up.

Clive gave a traditionally strong performance with plenty of quips about oil and Putin and giving it the Full Throat when goals went in. But it has to be said that he was let down by the co-comm. Hoddle is a hangover from a day now gone: the say what you see tendency. As slow motion footage shows a player taking a touch, then a second touch, Glenn says “look he takes a touch and then a second touch” watching it along with us. At one point Hoddle says during a replay of a goal “look he just guides it.” We. Can. See. Glenn. The TV co-comm job simply isn’t to tell us what we can already see. However, this is what he always does, so presumably it has the tacit approval of management. Imagine how much better it’d have been in they’d given, say, Danny Higginbotham, the gig.

ITV’s first show was, by and large, excellent and superior to previous efforts. It’s all seems as easy as falling off a log to Pougers. This was quality football broadcasting that was also a feast for the eyes.

The BBC had the highlights show for half an hour at 10.45pm. There’s always a little bit of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ about the short form but it did at least show us the BBC studio for the first time. Basically it is Star Trek Deep Space Nine only with more alien lifeforms, or Phil Neville, as we more usually know him. Set in Red Square, it is very impressive and colourful too. Given ITV are in Red Square as well, they must be have to avoid filming each other’s boxes!

Dan Walker presented with Matty Upson and Phil Nev in the pundit seats. First comms was Guy Mowbray and Jermaine Jenas. Always hard to make judgements on performances from highlights but it was certainly a solid start from all. Upson has been an excellent performer on 5live all year and seems likely to have got this gig off the back of those. After a report from Gabby Logan in the England camp, a clip of Kieran Trippier’s presser during which he appeared to be wearing a swimming cap made from the hair of an Airedale Terrier, and a report on the Spanish managerial goings on from Steve Wilson, it was time to go. A clean, simple start for the BBC TV team, Dan Walker is always such a measured safe pair of hands who makes this broadcasting lark look easy.

To the wireless…

Over on the radio flicking from one channel to the other it was noticeable that talkSPORT’s sound was less zingy and dynamic, the crowd noise a little more distant. This can’t have been the case, but it sounded like 5live had better quality microphones which made everyone’s voices richer and more in your ear. By contrast talkSPORT sounded like it was on the radio, if that makes any sense.

Anyway, down to the action. The commercial broadcaster had Jim Proudfoot on comms and Stuart Pearce riding shotgun, while the BBC teamed Alan Shearer and Dion Dublin with Conor McNamara.

If you heard Wednesday’s World Cup Preview on 5live you’d have heard just what a good time everyone seems to be having already. There was a real clubbable atmosphere between all their presenters and pundits. Having teamed up specific comms and co-comms, this seems to be a BBC plan from the start and a good one it is too. There was a hilarious story from Terry Butcher about arguing over having to pay for ketchup in a restaurant and a great text from a listener asking if Dion would be doing Homes Under The Hammer & Sickle. Ha!

The fun rolled over to the game today. There was no doubt that everyone was excited to be there. Mark Chapman was laughing a lot and Dion was especially excitable throughout. Indeed, this may be an early trend. He isn’t a week-in-week-out pundit on 5live but so far he’s brought energy and irrepressible enthusiasm, a laugh never far from his lips. The fella is a joy-giver.

Alan Shearer was sharp and focused and didn’t struggle with any of the Russian or Saudi names. Seriously, that takes a lot of work to get right. As Russia knocked in the fifth, Dion was shouting ‘look at the fans!’ as they celebrated. This is what we want from the people on the mic: enthusiasm and excitement.

Conor is an excellent commentator and brought his usual emotive upbeatism to proceedings, interacting well with the both co-comms, declaring the fifth goal to be a five-star performance. Afterwards, one of Mark Chapman’s main points was to ask if Russia were not as bad as we’d all been led to believe, but it was generally agreed that they probably were and Saudi were just rubbish.

This was Conor’s upsum of the gig and you get a good vibe from Dion in this too.

Over on the commercial channel, Proudfoot and Pearce were working well in tandem. The ex-Forest man can deploy a very dry sense of humour. He questioned the point of using all Russian subs with 20 minutes of the second half gone when two nil up, only to see the last sub score two minutes later. ‘As we were saying, it was perfect substitution’ says Stuart, to wriggle out of the commentators curse. Very good stuff.

The fact they just used one co-comm meant that there was less variety of voice and observation to their coverage and there were occasions when Pearce could have benefitted from someone else to pick up the slack, but it was pleasurable nonetheless with Proudfoot giving it some serious lung work as the fourth and fifth went in. He wrapped the game up nicely too. “A five goal, five star performance to get the World Cup 2018 off and running.”

The oddest moment of the afternoon came on talkSPORT when presenter Mark Saggers had to do a short ad, in the old American style, for Just Eat. At first it sounded like he was just personally saying getting a pizza from Just Eat was a good idea and only after a few seconds did it become obvious to me that it was a bit of advertising. Nothing wrong with it, it was just unusual. Saggs signed off very nicely saying “Red Sky at night, Putin’s delight.”

From Twitter…


The Winner?

5live sets Everest-high standards and opening day was a good example of why with all concerned having a great time and exuding good vibes, as well as delivering all the facts and figures. But I’m giving the day to ITV for an consistently interesting and visually stimulating show. Not perfect, of course but a classy, classy start.


The odds?

World Cup Betting odds can be found using the Paddy Power site.


John Nicholson

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