The best a man can get

Sunday, March 12, 2006 by

Simon Hattenstone has been eulogising Sky Sports’ Jeff Stelling in The Guardian this week, and rightly so. There simply isn’t a better sports presenter on British television at the moment, and Gillette Soccer Saturday never fails to deliver. Panellist Charlie Nicholas has been the star for two Saturdays now, first entering into raptures over Arsenal’s win at Fulham, then conveying at high volume the drama of Portsmouth’s last-minute winner against Manchester City.

It’s been said that Soccer Saturday is the closest thing football has ever had to Test Match Special, weaving the scores and statistics with bonhomie and humour. Stelling has made the name of Kenny Deuchar, a prolific Scottish lower-league striker who combines his football career with his day job as a medic, branding him “the good doctor” and hailing Deuchar’s granny Mae, a confirmed Stelling fanatic.

Meanwhile, over on the BBC, Ray Stubbs makes a serious face, frowns, and says, “Garth, what’s your take on the events at Middlesbrough this week?”

Which brings us to Gary Lineker. Having attracted a horde of admirers in his new career as a football broadcaster, he now seems intent on losing them as fast as possible. As Hattenstone says, he’s become obsessed with tedious jokes (“Why the long face, Ruud?” – unfunny and unoriginal), tiresome wordplay (“Crouch comes off the couch to prove he’s no slouch” – what?) and smirking innuendo (“England has gone Bent!”).

The nadir came at the start of a recent Match Of the Day, featuring several matches from the Premiership relegation zone. Introducing his pundits, Lineker announced, “two men who know all about their bottom – of the table, that is – are Alan Hansen and Lee Dixon”.

The prospect of a month of all this during the World Cup isn’t exactly an enticing one.


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