No serious casualties as Premier League broadcasters begin battle

The battle of the broadcasters at the start of this season’s Premier League began in earnest on Saturday and it was a case of: ‘it’s not just what we show that matters, it’s what we wear to show it’.

Thirty years ago, I remember sitting in a meeting with the Match of the Day hierarchy debating, as the programme had temporarily moved to Sunday, whether Jimmy Hill and Bob Wilson could go from suits to sweaters. It took all afternoon, lots of furrowed brows and a few sharp exchanges before the upshot was ‘sweaters for Sunday highlights, suits for live’.

BT Sport opened their proceedings with Primal Scream and their on-screen team in smart-casual mode. Jake Humphrey doesn’t seem to do suits, as years on the BBC Formula One circuit proved. Studio guests wore open-necked shirts: Tony Pulis dark blue, Steve McManaman (below) light blue and Owen Hargreaves in a plain white strip.

Up on Merseyside, chief reporter Ray Stubbs seemed to be wearing jeans, probably for first time at Anfield since taking a ferry across from his Wirral home to see Ian St John and Roger Hunt in the late 1960s.

BT Sport’s coverage was assured. Shooting Stoke’s last-minute penalty from the high camera behind the opposite goal completed a sequence of good direction, including a graphic of where Jon Walters was likely to strike his penalty. It went where they suggested it would.

Their ‘screen-in-screen’ service was innovative but must be used sparingly and is surely of little value to viewers on the move. Their bottom left on-screen graphics didn’t upset this viewer but straying away from the immediate subject matter to trail upcoming editions of Clare Balding’s midweek chat show seemed a little unnecessary.

Michael Owen as the co-commentator will divide opinion. My view is he needs to say less, but say it with more vocal authority. At times, his double-act with Ian Darke was more conversation than commentary but he did say some insightful things. He just needs more opportunities to learn this new craft.

A fellow England striker turned TV star, Gary Lineker, spent his early days on radio learning to develop his delivery. Owen, a bright lad, would do well to do some of the same.

BT included the thoughts of former Premier League referee Mark Halsey. He tidied up a commentary mistake regarding the booking of Stoke’s Steven Nzonzi and then lifted the lid on shirt-pulling in the penalty area. ‘Turn a blind eye to that sort of thing – you don’t go looking for trouble.’ Halsey never found anything to criticise Martin Atkinson about and was no doubt disappointed when the referee wasn’t chosen as the man of the match.

Sky Sports’ new Saturday Night Football had presenter David Jones and pundit Jamie Redknapp, in a smart blue suit, blue tie and waistcoat, in a London studio with an invited audience of fans to share the experience.

The match, David Moyes’ first league game in charge of Manchester United at Swansea, had plenty of angles to go after.

Some people don’t realise how good Redknapp is as a pundit and he held his own in the after-match analysis of Van Persie’s brilliance, Welbeck’s opportunism and Rooney’s incisive cameo.

The programme seemed a little coy, using its studio audience more as cutaway shots, like Top Gear, than integral to its editorial content but I am sure this will develop.

Match of the Day returned with Lineker, open-necked shirt, still very much up front but with significant changes at the back. Hansen and Lawrenson were missing; the former held back for MOTD2 and the latter no longer an automatic selection.

New boy Danny Murphy kept up the quota of ex-Liverpool players and Alan Shearer seemed to respond positively to being the senior man. And it was nice to hear ‘Motty’ still in good voice, describing Rickie Lambert’s last-minute penalty for Southampton at West Brom in confident style.

All in all, a fascinating opening Saturday capped perhaps by David Moyes’ playful chastising of long-time Sky interviewer, Geoff Shreeves, for a phone going off during his post-match interview.

‘It’s not mine’ said Shreeves. It couldn’t have been BT, could it?!


‘Are You Watching the Match Tonight? The Remarkable History of Football on Television’ by Brian Barwick is published by Andre Deutsch and available online and at all good bookshops.

Read more:–Brian-Barwick.html#ixzz2chXXf3kq
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