The Champion’s League Final

Wednesday, May 23, 2001 by

In the 10 years since the advent of Sky and their subsequent domination of domestic football coverage, much has changed in the football landscape. With Match of the Day going into effective, perhaps even permanent, cold storage, the onus is now on ITV to provide some form of resistance, however diluted, to the mighty Sky machine.

So, the Champions League final from Milan afforded the viewer an ideal opportunity to assess the ITV arsenal, and judge whether Des and company are in any way set to accept the ominous challenge that looms ahead on the not so distant horizon. The challenge is – it goes without saying – formidable. Sky’s coverage of domestic and international football is, currently, outstanding. If anything, there is an over saturation of football on our screens, but for hard core fans like myself, it is football heaven.

Before we even reached Milan, Des proudly trumpeted that Terry “El Tel” Venables and Ally “Golden Bollocks” McCoist would be with ITV for the forthcoming season. With a cheesy smile lurching violently ‘neath his neatly coifed moustache, Des pressed Tel and Ally for the exclusive news. Tel told the watching nation what we knew already, that the Boro chairman, Steve Gibson, had made him an offer and he was mulling it over. “But I’ll definitely be on ITV, Des!” quothed Tel. Anything that keeps the lightweight Andy Townsend off our screens has to be good news. Likewise anything that keeps McCoist out of his native land, and foists him upon our deadliest neighbours. Do you really think us Scots would let you away with Operation Good Guys?

So, with the self-congratulatory preliminaries over, Des, smooth as an iguana on roller skates, handed us over to Clive and Ron, two agnostics in that wonderful cathedral of football, the San Siro Stadium. They are, arguably, the weakest commentating duo on British television, terrestrial or satellite (save for anyone on BBC Scotland or Scottish, naturally). What Clive lacks in in-depth knowledge and stature, he makes up for in stupidity and inbred xenophobia. And, boy does he have buckets of it to spare. Ron is Ron, and, as such, is allowed to talk utter garbage throughout the match – it’s an old charter or something. Listening to Clive and Ron is like listening to Cheech and Chong without the aid of mind altering chemicals – maybe they were good 20 years ago, but, by god, you really need herbal stimulation to get you through.

Clives’ opening statement of “wal!” as the camera panned around the stadium was to set the tone for the forthcoming barrage of Cliveism’s. Then, in a rare moment of lucidity, Clive and Ron reminisced about the greatest football game ever – the 1961 European Final between another German and Spanish team. This was a genuine surprise. However, just as you expected Ron to wax lyrical over the great Real Madrid teams and invite comparisons between then and now, Clive quickly cut him off. Then again, Ron would just have drooled, “that Puskas, he was a lovely feller. He literally only had the one foot – but what a foot” or somesuch like.

The opening 10 minutes of the game were, metaphorically, explosive. Two penalties, one of which was missed, suggested that the rich vein of wonderful drama that football has provided us with this season was about to continue. Within these initial 10 minutes Clive took the opportunity to mention “that balmy night in Barcelona” (7 min 50 secs), Sir Alex Ferguson (4 min 11 secs) and his prediction that this wouldn’t be Bayern Munich’s night (7 min 6 secs). Sometimes, it appears that the football is a mere backdrop for Clive and he is there to impart his wisdom upon us. The weirdest comment of the night was, possibly, Clive gleefully telling the viewers “that we’d be delighted to know it’s been dull and cloudy in Milan all day”. Thereafter, the game developed into the deadly dull match it had threatened to be. Thankfully, our commentators would chip in occasionally and question the “motives” of the players and infer that foreigners dived and cheated. And all other manner of racial stereotyping.

Thankfully, the director took to panning around and gave us some wonderful visual images. My own personal favourites are the shots of the firemen strolling around behind the goals, fully battle clad, wandering aimlessly. What do they expect to find? A chemical spill due to camera batteries leaking? A family of four trapped in a house fire? Truly bizarre. Typically continentally, we were treated throughout the night to several close ups of attractive women, invariably blonde. Old TOTP cameramen don’t die, they just slope off abroad, apparently. Sadly, the director’s distractions become more interesting than the game itself. Even though the Germans equalised (sadly, no comment about towels on sun loungers was forthcoming from our intrepid duo) the game, as a spectacle and as a dramatic piece of televisual entertainment began to slowly die on its arse. During a passage of ennui-ridden play, Clive loudly proclaimed that the young Owen Hargreaves – mentioning the sole Englishman on view for the umpteenth time – was not in the least bit fazed by the occasion. “In fact,” Clive mused, “this young man would be fazed by absolutely nothing. He’s ready for any occasion but not for England.” Forgive me for being a little confused.

Despite references to Leeds, Arsenal and Man Utd, in the midst of a frankly dull game there was only one mention, by way of contrast, to perhaps the most exciting European final in living memory, which took place but a week previously. That reference seemed to be to simply point out that although it was an exciting game, one could hardly expect more from a team (Alaves) 13 points behind Valencia. This would suggest that Clive had gone to the trouble of availing himself of this statistic prior to the game, presumably with the express intention of belittling the achievements of rival club Liverpool, or rival broadcaster BBC, depending on your point of view.

The match ended on a high though with a relatively interesting period of extra-time. With no goals being scored, it was the dreaded penalties. Now, love ‘em or loathe ‘em, penalties are sheer drama and tonight’s were no exception. Venables’ explanation of how he felt after losing the European Cup when manager of Barcelona was both moving and interesting – Tel spoke with a passionate eloquence when describing the emptiness he felt watching the greatest prize in club football slip through his grasp. You could almost sense that he knew, had he won, that immortality in Catalonia beckoned. Yet, there was no trace of bitterness. It was a wonderful insight.

The penalties themselves proved to be wonderful drama. One save in particular from Oliver Kahn, the Bayern keeper, was an act of outrageous genius and, for me, will go down as arguably the greatest save ever from a penalty. Canizares, the Valencia keeper, tried to out-psyche the Bayern kickers with acts of Grobbelaresque bravado. The ebb and flow was compelling to watch and poor Pelligrino, the Valencian defender, was the culpable fall-guy whose rather weak kick was saved a tad too athletically by Kahn. The game ended as dramatically as it had started – pity about the middle, though. Clive and Ron tried to convey the joy and the agony but, truth be told, failed miserably to do so.

Still, that’s the beauty of this double act. Martin and Andy they ain’t. Supported by a soporific Des and two rejects from a Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson script, there is clearly considerable room for improvement. There’s no way Sky will be losing any sleep over the forthcoming ITV digital channel, much less the combined attack force of Des, Ally, Tel, Gabby et al. If ITV think that by offering up this motley crew that they are appearing to the lowest common denominator, the legendary “working man” then they are sadly mistaken. Sky have upped the ante, and with their already cutting edge (in football coverage terms) over the opposition – Fanzone, Playercam etc. – means that, realistically, both ITV and the Beeb are even struggling to keep the current gap as it stands. Into the bargain, without exception, all my peers watch Sky. It is the channel of choice. And, given the dreadful manner in which the Champions League final was covered, I think many people will be watching ITV’s coverage of the Premier League on Saturday evenings with more than a little apprehension. If this was a taste of the future, then I’m afraid I won’t be dining from the ITV footballing buffet. I’ll be grazing from the cracking smorgasbord offered up by Sky.


Comments are closed.