So, how did we all feel about Match of the Day 2, then?
Six footie seasons ago, the BBC launched its ‘laid back’ version of ancient highlights programme Match of the Day. Professional Baggie Adrian Chiles – the archetypal ‘mate down the pub’ – made the programme his own. Not as ‘gentleman’s club’ as the older MOTD long ago became, the BBC Two version soon grew into vital viewing. If “Goals on Sunday” had the devil’s share of viewing figures, MOTD2 took most of the workplace banter.
Chiles’ well publicised sidestep to ITV left vacant the most prized sofa spot in sports presenting. Almost all available presenters would eventually be linked to the post. (Except Manish, obviously. Never Manish.)
The spot would go to Colin Murray, the enthusiastic Norn Iron “Fighting Talk” chair for Radio 5 Live and former Europa League anchor for Five. The reaction was, largely, popular. Formerly a Radio 1 DJ, Murray was known and respected for a wide sporting knowledge with wit and humour. MOTD2 seemed to have chosen well. Its first episode was shaky, with animated sections and faux-archive camera effects being criticised for being ‘gimmicks’. Murray was still himself, though, and for all the skills required to front highlights programming, he was doing okay. He is not “the mate down the pub”, more “bloke you talk to in the queue at the work canteen”, and that was enough to keep the faith.
Yesterday, however, the patience given to him by many viewers finally snapped. Having forgiven him for the ‘pulling matches out of a paper bag’ stunt, those who were ready to give one last chance flicked over to “Top Gun” or the paused “300” on the other side. His crime? A contrived ‘wine tasting’ segment with David Ginola and Lee Dixon, the latter looking utterly bemused while the former wore the same weary expression from the moment Murray tried to poke fun at his pronunciation of the word ‘pitch’. (It lead to a dud joke about ‘peaches’, the kind of humour which died when ‘Allo ‘Allo was cancelled).
It’s not as though the ‘wine tasting’ of itself was enough to lose patience. Murray’s take on MOTD2 has been to introduce too much forced banter and jokes, in the same way of the poor souls left floating around the sinking “Mock The Week”. Having moulded “Fighting Talk” into a gem of a show, vital listening for anyone about to set off for the match, hopes were high for how much Murray magic would transfer to the screen. Given the nature of the show – its time slot means many viewers would rather just have the footie to watch before heading to a work night sleep – anything delaying the action seems irritating. Chiles wasn’t exactly without banter and humour, he was able to balance the want of the viewer with the constraints of the format. The BBC cannot afford much more than extended highlights, and with the licence fee being frozen for 2 years there’s not much left for any live football coming to Auntie in the foreseeable. A show like MOTD2 shouldn’t be a straight-faced newsreel, Sky Sports News without the rolling newsfeed, it should neither appear as though two different programmes are fighting for prominence. MOTD2 is not “Something for the Weekend”.
With Chiles gone, and Murray unlikely to be transferred so early in the season, the producers have a choice. They could slowly transform the programme, stage by stage, into refreshed ‘highlights with quirks’ in the hope of persuading doubters to come round to the idea. Or they undo the damage with a sudden reversal to “Chiles mode”. Whichever happens, one fact remains very central. SKY are eager to claim as much football rights as they legally can; a damaged “Match of the Day” brand reduces any opportunity for the BBC to argue the case for keeping hold of even basic highlights packages.