“Tigana! Tigana! Platini! Goal!”

Monday, July 7, 2008 by

I’m never sure why any preview of the BBC and ITV’s coverage of a major football tournament involves pitting the two against each other, as we’ll have to watch both to see all the matches. Indeed, in Euro 2008, for the first time in a generation, no match will be screened on both channels, with ITV1 electing not to screen the final live.

It makes sense – they’re always thrashed by the Beeb when they go head to head, so why bother? And at the current ITV, the key word is “exclusivity” – that’s why their current football rights are heavily weighted towards live action rather than highlights, because it demands that people come to the commercial channel. Far better for ITV to concentrate on their exclusive games earlier in the tournament.

In fact it’s going to be a very low-key tournament on ITV full stop, with all the matches being presented from London, late night highlights on ITV4 alone and no associated programming other than the UEFA-produced preview shows. That said, this might make it a bit more palatable, after they seemed to try and turn Euro 2000 into a triangular tournament between England, France and Holland, and Euro 2004 into England vs France and thirty other matches in support. And what about the 2006 World Cup, with its ludicrously extended series about 1966, which was of course hugely relevant before Ecuador vs Costa Rica?

Let’s hope they make the effort, though, and don’t just present the tournament as if it’s a big-standard Champions League group game, as has often been the case. It’s good to see Matt Smith get some live matches as I think he’s a good host, but it’s less good to see Andy Townsend billed as a pundit on every game. The Tactics Truck may be long gone, but the man remains utterly insufferable, clearly desperate to be promoted to the anchor’s chair. All the other pundits will probably be hopeless as they’re all current players (Gary Neville, Deitmar Hamman) or managers (Harry Redknapp, David Moyes) who won’t slag anyone off because they’re all their team-mates or players.

In the commentary box, meanwhile, ITV are continuing to bafflingly promote the pompous Peter Drury and the perennially befuddled David Pleat above the far superior Jon Champion and, especially, Jim Beglin. Which is a shame.

The Beeb are making much more of an effort (we’ll ignore them shoving Switzerland vs Turkey to BBC2 for the final ofThe Apprentice). As in previous tournaments they’re presenting everything from a swish studio overlooking all the sights of the capital, in this case Vienna, and I really like their title sequence.

The great news is that, despite not featuring in the press release, the great Martin O’Neill will be one of the pundits, and that’s great because he mixes incisive analysis with demented asides. Who can forget his appearance alongside Leonardo in the last World Cup, where the Brazilian’s achievements were heralded, before Martin announced, “He’s not the sort of boy you’d want to go to a disco with”. Also there is the equally bonkers Gordon Strachan, and let’s hope they get paired up on one of the live matches – although half time would possibly have to be extended to about an hour. They’ll doubtless work best with the great Adrian Chiles, who’ll once more get the opportunity to wax a little wry on the highlights shows.

As far as their commentators, everyone seems to have decided it’s the end of the road for John Motson. He’s still clinging on, but it would probably be best for all concerned if this was his last tournament. Jonathan Pearce remains an acquired taste, but the Beeb do employ the two best commentators on telly at the moment – Steve Wilson and Guy Mowbray both bring plenty of wit and energy to the job while remaining authoritative and easy to listen to.

While both channels are unlikely to enjoy huge audiences for their coverage (and being Welsh, welcome to my world), big tournaments like these remain one of the things telly does best, and I can’t wait to start filling in my wallchart.


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