“It’s Neil Warnock, live from Cornwall…”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009 by

I watched the BBC’s stab at covering the lower divisions of English football, The Football League Show, on Saturday simply because it was on after Match Of The Day. However, there was an underlying interest in what the BBC was planning in order to sex up a bit of the English game that had suffered in its image in recent years.

This lesser level of the beautiful game used to be my preferred viewing due to the team I follow, but a recent (surprise) elevation to the top flight meant that my interest in what fans of Morecambe and Walsall call ‘proper’ football waned instantly, as their results no longer affected my mood or hopes. So, as if to apply some punitive self-flagellation for ditching the game’s grass roots, I tuned in.

The issue the BBC always has, when it comes to any coverage of sport, is that the action on the pitch, the bread and butter, is never quite going to be enough for them. Sky did a fine job when it came to non-Premiership football – they put out the Football League Review every Sunday evening which showed every goal, red card and spicy incident with a hasty voiceover and nothing more. ITV, with the dependable Matt Smith at the helm, went a step further by doing one documentary feature in the midst of all the goalmouth action. Neither required a studio set, neither were live, neither felt as if the viewer was missing out through being so.

The BBC, however, are doing their coverage live, as if to prove that their commitment to the lower leagues is equal to that of the Premier League, on which Match Of The Day has cosily focussed in a live and livid manner for many years now.

Live coverage means, however, that dreaded BBC word – interactivity. I’m not certain just how many of the millions of fans from Carlisle to Torquay, Hartlepool to Gillingham, are going to be especially bothered about sending a text saying “Brian (sic) Gunn was always the wrong man, get Strackan (sic) in now” when all they ultimately require is the goals they observed at their game earlier in the day, especially as reduced coverage on satellite sports news services means that it represents the first time many will get a second look at the very dubious penalty decision or controversial red card which transformed their team’s match. But presenter Manish Bhasin, a likeable host but with absolutely no gravitas whatsoever, was charged with flogging the interactivity card as much as possible, while a rolling dot matrix trundled away above his head, reminding the tipsy or sleepy audience of the text number and email address (an email address which, being, will be misspelled by almost everyone thanks to the presence of three ‘l’s in a row).

The texts and emails, for what they were worth, were read out by Jacqui Oatley, the skilled BBC staffer whose previous status as Match Of The Day‘s first ever female commentator brought out the execrable chauvinism in the older, almost unemployable managers of today such as Dave Bassett. They’ve glammed her up for the cameras (one assumes she is still doing matches on Five Live during the afternoon though?) and made her read out the inarticulate snippets of correspondence that sound and impact no better than when similar nonsense goes to 606 on the radio. It’s as obvious an example of televisual turd-polishing as you could possibly muster. She’s also hindered massively by having no mic attached to her outfit, but instead one of those hideous ear-to-mouth gismos that, when in line with bright studio lighting, casts an oval-shaped shadow that makes her look like she has an unsightly wart on her bottom lip. Why she must wear this while Bhasin and his cohort Steve Claridge don’t is anyone’s guess.

The programme has to be careful not to concentrate on the ‘big’ clubs too much – it was notable that Bhasin introduced the first action of the day by rattling on about Newcastle United’s varying troubles, prior to announcing the commentator’s name at St James’ Park. Cue the action. However, for those of us with an interest that was no more than idle, we genuinely had no idea who Newcastle were actually playing until the first goal went in and the consequent scoreline graphic appeared on screen. This is because neither Bhasin, nor his autocue writer, nor the commentator, nor the in-vision person, had chosen to tell us, demonstrating an appalling but predictable focus on the ‘big’ club that too many media outlets are guilty of at the highest echelon of the game. Unlike the highlights on its elder sibling immediately before, even the featured games had no tiny scoreline in the top of the screen for latecomers to digest. Fans of Reading, for ’twas they, must have been mightily annoyed (although given that they lost 3-0, may even have been unusually grateful for the oversight).

The best thing by a mile about The Football League Show is Claridge, the great wanderer of English football who made more than 1,000 appearances for 20+ clubs, scoring goals with his socks rolled down everywhere, while laying bets at half time and brawling with his more idiosyncratic managers. Claridge, as Five Live listeners will know, provides a refreshing earthiness and fearlessness to his punditry, unafraid to criticise heavily in sharp contrast to most pundits resorting to inconclusive, uncommitted soundbites, while also proffering credit where it is due. He has clearly learned that his unique brand of stop-start punditry, which works so well on the radio as it humanises him, simply won’t wash when he is in vision, and so he speaks concisely and with brevity and it works an absolute treat. The presence as the roving reporter of the magnificent Mark Clemmit, a truly superb communicator on Five Live on the lower divisions for many a year, is also a major plus for the programme.

It was helped also by the large controversy at Bristol City, where an evident Crystal Palace goal was chalked off due to considerable incompetence form the officials, leaving the media-friendly but ever-hateful Palace boss Neil Warnock jumping up and down like Yosemite Sam on the touchline prior to a fudged, impromptu live interview with Bhasin “live from Cornwall” (according to the map of the UK taped to the camera which generously reminded us where Cornwall was) to tell us all again how unfair it all was. It made great television because a) Warnock is at his most entertaining when he has been hard done by; b) it was done with remarkable calmness by Bhasin, presumably on the basis that even a known outburst merchant like Warnock wouldn’t behave like a complete arse on national television; and c) you could almost hear fans of every club Warnock has managed to insult or alienate over the years laughing with great heartiness at their television sets.

There won’t be a controversial incident like this every week to discuss; indeed, many weeks it’ll have the air of Fantasy Football League‘s satirisation of the lower divisions, entitled Saint & Greavsie Talk About The Nationwide League – As If It’s Important, which will see Bhasin and Claridge gamely trying to find talking points from three dozen largely ho-hum matches. To fans gluttonously supporting Premier League teams, only the sponsors have altered since Skinner and Baddiel took the piss, but the lower reaches are still very important to those whose teams play in it, and the BBC should realise that by concentrating more on the action, making best possible use of their personalities, and reducing the gimmickry.


7 Responses to ““It’s Neil Warnock, live from Cornwall…””

  1. Steve Williams on August 18th, 2009 6:50 pm

    I noticed that Reading moment, not helped by the fact Reading were wearing a very unfamiliar away kit. I don’t know if the abscene of a scoreline is a deliberate thing as the second game had one, so it might just have been a late edit. I also didn’t like the caption “Controversy at Bristol” – it should either be “Controversy IN Bristol” or “Controversy at Bristol City”.

    I was actually watching my recording back at the same time as Goals on Sunday was on Sky Sports, and when I stopped it to do something else during the Warnock phone-in, I ended up seeing Neil Warnock on the phone again on that.

    Apart from that, and the pointless e-mails, I don’t mind the show. I think Steve Claridge is fantastic on the radio, I love hearing him with John Motson (or at least, I did a few years back before I had Sky). All you really want is the goals, which we get, and the only argument is whether it’s better to have them at 12am or 10am, and I would guess there are very similar-sized audiences around at that time. Don’t forget that The Championship on ITV didn’t show all the goals for their entire first season, they just showed a handful of the significant goals in Leagues One and Two, and they were always the first thing to be dropped whenever the show was shortened for the Grand Prix or even an old repeat, as was sometimes the case.

  2. Applemask on August 19th, 2009 9:07 pm

    What was Warnock doing here?

  3. MartS on August 21st, 2009 1:33 pm

    I watched the second one via the red button. Nothing special. Broadcasting from a studio with the acoustics of a cave beats seeing Matt Smith or Andy Townsend leaning against a goalpost whilst a rubbish collection goes on behind them in a half lit stadium.

    My biggest issue is there is no Sunday repeat on BBC One or Two at a accessable time. Sure ITV Sport pretty much made The Championship with its eyes closed it was so interchangable between one week and the next, but at least you could watch it at a reasonable time (and to be fair F1 didn’t get in the way that much as Matthew stated in the review).
    Yes, the BBC have looped the entire show on the red button until midday Sunday – but that then means you have to sit through a lot of Steve Claridge saying “played well (insert team name) I thought”. Plus, you can’t e-mail or text on the repeat showing via interactive.

    Maybe if the BBC cut out all the studio nonsense on the BBCi replay and just played a rolling montage of all the games from the three lower divisions it would be a better way of serving us footie fans whose beloved 11 men find themselves way out of the Sky Sports/ESPN premiership radar..!

    By the way, the only reason Jackie Oatley is wearing that odd side of face mic, is that it’s highly directional and as she is sitting at the back of the control gallery, having the normal lapel mic would pick up a lot of the background chatter as well.
    Mind you – given some of the banal whitterings that people were sending in last week, hearing the director at work would have been 10 times more interesting than half cut Bristol City fans taking potshots at Neil Warnock via text message.

  4. Glenn Aylett on August 21st, 2009 6:42 pm

    At last the BBC has done the logical thing and bought the rights to all of the league highlights, not just the Premiership. This is the first time since the 80s that the BBC has the rights to the entire league, but unlike those days the lower three divisions aren’t tacked on to the end of MOTD like a minor irritant. A lower league show following MOTD, and without the adverts and the demands of the Coronation St omnibus, totally makes sense. Yes the interactive thing is a bit annoying, but hey two hours of football highlights for those of us without Sky and Carlisle on BBC One is what we’ve wanted for years.

  5. harry chetwynd on August 22nd, 2009 11:51 pm

    what a way to start the season unbeaten in the first few matchs its great to see matty on the scoresheet again 2 goals in two goals paul gallagher is a great player what a signing

  6. Matthew Rudd on August 23rd, 2009 7:40 pm

    Applemask, he was in Cornwall because he has a home there. He is interviewed while sitting on his tractor approximately six times a season.

  7. David Pascoe on October 11th, 2009 2:48 pm

    Still not a patch on the days when it was Gabriel Clarke at Oakwell on a Tuesday morning at 2am.

    I also love the way that whenever Manish Bhasin hands over to Jacqui Oatley or Lizzie Greenwood-Hughes, it looks like he’s having to shout through that brick wall. Someone give him a stick to bang on the wall with.