2 Big 2 Fail

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.

Sky’s Own Goal

News that Sky Sports News is to be removed from Freeview should come as a bodyblow for, among others, fans of Jeff Stelling (in general), Dean Windass’ inability to describe what just happened on the pitch behind him, and Chris Kamara (in full).

This decision – financial, natch – leaves people, pubs and smaller clubs stuck with the inferior Final Score. Yes, Garth “Ribena Mascot Head” Crooks and his meandering sentences and forced metaphors. Remember how Kevin Keegan struggled commentating during the World Cup 1994? That’s what we are left with. Him and Gaby “I’m a sports presenter, me” Logan and Jake Humphries, the walking yet barely talking Top Gear presenter job application.

It’s enough to force viewers to the nearest stadium to watch a match. Which is exactly what I intend to do.

And now, of course, *that* Chris Kamara moment….

Truth Be Told

Sky Sports News is going to be fun for a while. As much as the latest speculation about Rodallega or Hulk interests me, the Transfer Window real-time countdown which flashes up on screen is the least intentional cruel televisual feature since that 10-year old girl had the temerity to forget the lyrics of her favourite song in front of an audience of millions. The strap-line might as well say “LOOK HOW FAR PAYDAY IS YOU IRRESPONSIBLE SPIRAL-COCKED FREAK”.

Work had certain charms today. Although like most office bound types my main priorities was e-mail sorting, desk diary fathoming, and booking holidays for the rest of the year. I just hope the forthcoming general election is not in June, as that week was rejected. Hear that Gordon, come on, be nice.

On the subject of the next election, for most of the population the phrase “kerryout” probably means nothing at all. It could well be the first of the many election-based techniques used on-line free from most electoral law or media manipulation. Don’t switch off when I explain, please, because “kerryout” is a Tory-backed Twitter campaign, with the aim of defeating ultraloyal Labour Whip Kerry McCarthy in the Bristol East constituency.

It is not a campaign without flaws. Obviously I would rather Tory PPC Adeela Shafi did not win, as LibDem Michael Popham is in second place with a far more realistic chance of winning. In addition the “kerryout” campaign isn’t without its less mature followers. However it is encouraging to see social and citizen media being used in the UK for elections and democratic campaigning; there was comparison around the election of President Obama suggesting Britain was far behind the USA in terms of internet-based electioneering.

Like so many ultra-loyal, never questioning Labour MPs – Preston’s own Mark Hendrick among them – Kerry appears to be in complete denial whenever someone mentions the increasing gap between rich and poor, the ballooning deficit, decreasing standards in primary schools, selling University students into debt slavery, and of course her own personal dubious expenses claims. From the Labour Party of McBride/Draper “smear” emails, “kerryout” is fairly harmless.

Not that I will want to spend the whole three, or four, or five months, focusing on the battle in the eastern suburbs of Bristol. I’ve got to make it to this month’s pay day unscathed before most other priorities. Once upon a time, in living memory, I was forever walking home from supermarkets with bulging bags digging into my hands; now I’m somewhat too eager to nip into Tesco for whatever snacks and pre-packaged meal deals I can wolf down in between brews. Like the lost habits of buying Private Eye and keeping a diary, I’ve long since stopped being eager to steam fish or prepare slow-cooked stewes. Here’s to belated New Year’s Resolutions with some relation to this.

And without the real-time clock ticking in the corner, thanks.