The International break from Premiership football has allowed us sedentary armchair fans a veritable "Smorgasbord" of presentation and punditry.An Undiluted,unadulterrated, main-line shot of "Football Speak".
No, that's not meant to be a shout out for THIS estimable web vehicle, although if it is, I make no apologies.
It's more that as an almost accidental adjunct to our weekly Sky/BBC/ESPN administered ration, the Broadcasting Gods have served us with, what in dining terms , might be described as an "amuse bouche". That is, the Chefs, be they the BBC,Sky,ITV, ESPN, Talksport,5Liveor the broadcasting outlet bringing it to your living room, have chosen not only the presenters, the commentators even,but those often referred to as the "colour-men". That's the "Big Ron" Atkinson role to you and I. Or the Brian Clough to ITV's Brian Moore from the long lost past.
Oh,oh, but that it were so.
Let me kick off with ITV- since that was my last reference- and Adrian Chiles. The erstwhile BBC One Show's man child has, since his multi million pound transfer to the dark side of presenting ITV's entire football output, managed to both transform himself from a likeable, believable link you're about to enjoy into a "Television Personality", and one, no less who makes you scrabble for the remote. Witness his use by the Network on a series of self-diminishing Daily Shows with his parter-in-scheduled crime, Mrs Frank Lampard, and you can almost feel sorry for them both. Almost. Don't forget the enormous transfer fee and the fact they're getting paid rather well for this.
Good luck to both, but forgive me for NOT feeling sorry.
Incidentally, since I've mentioned the progenitor of "early doors" and "giving it the full gun" prior to his revealing description of Marcel Desailly as a .............well, if you don't know, I'll let you Google it, I'll put it this way; Ron was a true Broadcasting Godfather to Richard Keays and Andy Gray.
ITV's other main presenters range from the competent Matt Smith to the expensive (poached from the Beeb) Steve Rider via the sublime Jim Rosenthal to the effective Craig Doyle or Gary Imlach. Their current lead commentator is Clive Tyldesley supplemented by their other staff commentator, Peter Drury. Their oft-used co-commentator is Jim Beglin. I do not like, or dislike, Jim Beglin. I've heard his career at Liverpool and elsewhere described as "ordinary". I wouldn't disagree, either then or now. Kevin Gallacher,Iain Dowie and David Pleat are also used. Enough said.
On the sofas (for there are always sofas) and around the geometric table (currently) you are likely to find Andy Townsend and Gareth Southgate, a middling ex-pro of dubious International descent and an FA Employee. Do not, please, rock the boat. On Champion's League nights we might be lucky enough to have Ruud Gullit or someone different offer an interesting opinion but don't bet on it.
Down at the Beeb, times are tough.
Not only is Auntie's grasp on Broadcast Football getting more tenuous by the season, this is reflected in their team sheet. The Flagship MOTD is fronted by the ubiquitous Gary Lineker, who, thanks to Walker's Crisps and Golf seems to be able to replicate himself, not always for the better. And Gary doesn't do controversy. Ever. His sofa mates are Alan Shearer ( a man who described painting a fence in his Autobiography), Alan Hansen(whose defence of all things Liverpool and growl about "wouldna' happened in ma' day" ) are slipping into parody, and Mark Lawrenson(another ex-Liverpudlian much vilified) and you can see that things are not likely to get heated in their analysis(??) of current games.
Which leads us to MOTD2.
The Corporation's younger brother has, over the last couple of seasons, at least offered something slightly different from it's bigger sibling's braggadocio and love of the status quo. Football things, that is, NOT the band. Whatever your opinion of Colin Murray with his punky schtick and Radio1, music cred background you have to admit this. He's just NOT Gary Lineker. And for me, that's a good thing.
It also touches my spot with it's use of OB via Kevin Day's trips and slips into the hinterlands, and it's use of the Beeb's best pundit, Lee Dixon. Opinionated, knowledgeable and TV/Tech friendly, here is a pundit who gives value for money. Whether it be in analysing moves and games-at which he's rather good- to giving dressing room insights-which fascinate- to the simple "speak clearly and inform" mantra of which Lord Reith would be proud, here's a football analyst who knows what it's about to be a punter and performer. Given his outside interests, which include Food, Wine and Cycling it's perhaps not surpising that his analysis is sharper.
It would be remiss of me to ignore the beeb's commentary team, especially so now that Motty is into yet another season. John Motson is of course an institution. Having started many years past, he still does individual matches and occasional features. Nowadays, the BBC's main commentators are Guy Mowbray, Jonathan Pearce (previously on 5), Steve Wilson, Simon Brotherton, and Steve Bower. Motty still performs frequent live radio commentary for BBC Radio 5 Live. It would be unfair also to ignore Dan Walker,who presents Football Focus weekly and is prepared to engage with fans on Twitter and other social media.....(checkout his frequently funny weekly themed sportslists) - eg scienceXI, song titlesXI etc...btw, how good is "Murder on Zidane's Floor".)? Similarly, Manish Bhasin, who,weekly, has to put up with Steve Claridge's presence and foolishness on the Football League Show.
Nevertheless, over at Sky and ESPN, thanks to the almighty dollar(some would say) or the advancement of sports broadcasting(others), things move on. Perhaps the best examples of Satellite solidity have happened in the last few years.
ESPN made their breakthrough when Setanta went to the wall. Having said that, their recruitment of Ray Stubbs made sense. Having worked for the Beeb in many different roles Stubbs said "The opportunity of joining one of the world's leading sports broadcasters on day one of the new ESPN channel in the UK was just too good to turn down." And so it was. In my viewing recently I've seen them use Steve McManaman, Kevin Keegan,Tim Sherwood and others and I always feel as if I've just stumbled on a niche broadcaster by accident.
But maybe it's just me. Perhaps they're a lot better than I give them credit for. Perhaps "I will love it if we beat them! Love it!" deserves more depth than I give it.
So that gets us to Sky. I was, like countless thousand others, at first a sceptic. Here was this johnny-come-lately broadcaster asking ME for money to see it's Sports output. I like many others, soon learned. If you want to see the best, someone's got to pay. Even if it's me.
So here I am, another subscriber, looking forward to another "Super Sunday" and not really minding that my team- that's Swansea City by the way- won't be the lead match, or even the supplementary, but at least we'll be on later. Guaranteed, because on Match First on a Saturday Night I get to choose.
So their pundits, must be the best, yeah? Well no.
The presentation is currently shared by David Jones and Ed Chamberlain, both in situ as a result of the Richard Keays and Andy Gray afterburn. Having presented Sky's grounbreaking football coverage since 1992, both were transferred to Talksport after an in-house disagreement. Some would say that's no bad thing. I'm amongst them. Having established a blokey-jokey rapport with their multitude viewers, both were guilty of at least an error of judgement. And that's being kind. We should not forget that both were and are of the "Big Ron" generation. Perhaps it really was time for a change.
The regular studio pundit remains the anodyne Jamie Redknapp, a man so controversial that Thomas Cook picked him to front it's exotic holidays. Fly me to the moon. Martin Tyler leads the commentary team, not half badly, and Rob Hawthorne and Alan Parry are the other main match commentators.
Of course Sky also has the inimatable Jeff Stelling. Leading a rotating panel of 4 differing pundits weekly, here's a broadcaster who's managed to make 4 men, a desk, and some news both interesting and compelling. Sky Sports Saturday afternoon has made the BBC draught in Gabby Logan, Garth Crooks and others to attempt to compete via the red button with it's Final Score.
All in all I suppose we get the pundits we are presented with.
But just occasionally, we get the pundits we deserve.
Like when Graham Souness spears Tevez.
When Guillem Balague explains why Pep isn't phased by Mourinho.
When Gary Neville, of all people, offers an explanation why England's spine is weak.
And where a Hartlepool fan gets to call on his James Brown doll and proffers what we all feel when our team
"I feel good".