Football anchormen, what a mixed bag they are these days. Being a pundit is one thing, but holding everything together is something completely different. They can't all be Elton Welsby after all. Ahem. IBWM's newest contributor David Hartrick is clear on who he wants as a guide.
Sky television – the company that bought us such gems as ‘When Good Pets Go Bad’ & ‘More Stupid Behaviour Caught On Tape’ – now welcomes Ben Shephard onto our screens as one of their regular live football anchormen.
Now it should be clear right from the off, I have nothing against Mr Shephard. His very presence in the studio has increased my wife’s interest in football tenfold, and when he and Jamie Redknapp work together I’m fully expecting to be asked to leave the room. It’s just his appointment and handling of the role seems indicative of a new approach to football coverage. No longer do television companies look for knowledge or an ability to bring something to a relevant debate, it appears to now rest on the presenter having a broader appeal.
Take the mystifying appointment of Adrian Chiles by ITV. Chiles’s work on Match of the Day 2 was good – the whole point of the format was a relaxed look at the weekend’s football on the most laidback day of the week. MOTD2 isn’t about in-depth analysis or biting comment on the state of the game, it’s a fans perspective more often than not and personally I enjoy it. To then make him anchor for ITV’s football output on the strength of the facts that he did okay on a light-hearted highlights show and supports West Brom, is just madness.
I should make the caveat that fronting ITV’s football coverage is like taking the job as Ashley Cole’s PR manager, a thankless and sometimes pointless task, but in reality watching Chiles sit back and listen to Gareth Southgate talk him through the game is essentially what we’re doing at home - except ITV aren’t paying us a reported £1.5million per year, they’re busy begging us to watch the X-Factor.
Steve Rider, the man he replaced at ITV, had the experienced hand to prompt and guide rather than just react. Watching Chiles after England’s dismal World Cup showings was like watching Tim Lovejoy try and deliver a balanced assessment of a Chelsea defeat, it was all raw emotional and disbelief. The problem with Steve Rider from ITV’s point of view was that his appeal wasn’t wide enough when compared to Chiles’s fame as Christine Bleakley’s television husband. His appointment regardless of any genuine qualification for the role, immediately gave their football coverage a higher profile.
The BBC believes they escape any such criticism as they have perfected the right mix of charm and knowledge in crisp enthusiast Gary Lineker. Watching Lineker undeniably proves the merit of having an anchor who can actually add to the programme. One of my favourite moments of the recent World Cup coverage was his dismissal of Jurgen Klinsmann’s calls for a winter break in England. Lineker’s admission that he’d had one with Barcelona before Euro’88 and was ‘still rubbish’, is exactly the sort of off the cuff insight ITV lack. Lineker has quickly established himself as a safe pair of hands and even copes with Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson’s idiocy with the knowing smile it deserves.
The BBC don’t escape blameless though by their decision to have their secondary level live football coverage predominantly anchored by the likes of Jake Humphrey and Colin Murray. Like Chiles, MOTD2’s format suits Murray - I will tolerate a feature on footballers whose names sound like dogs because the programme never lays claim to being anything more than enjoyable and light. As he proved on Channel Five consistently, that same style doesn’t necessarily fit with coverage of live games. The perfect host for this type of show has quietly carved out an impressive niche on ESPN, but regrettably for Ray Stubbs you sometimes wonder just how many people are actually watching their coverage.
Jake Humphrey seems to have landed the odd Championship game on the strength of his handling of the Formula One. A former Children’s television presenter, you can’t help but feel his comment comes from a place of research rather than any genuine insight. There is nothing unlikeable about Humphrey, it’s just that for a football fan who wants a little more than the odd nod in agreement and questions read from a script, he offers nothing.
The daddy of them all by sheer virtue of the fact he’s the only football anchor working every week on live football, remains Sky’s Richard Keys. To enjoy Teenwolf’s presenting you need to understand the following –
- For Richard Keys 1966 never happened. Football began in 1992 with the Premier League and before that there was just big sporting black hole where football should have been.
- If Andy Gray said that black was white, Keys would believe it and offer a little chuckle by way of confirmation.
- It is humanly possible to be that smug.
Another ex-breakfast television presenter who’s made the leap to football, Keys comes from the school of thought that your employer is everything. Keys loves Sky like Christiano Ronaldo loves moisturiser. As far as he’s concerned the Premier League was very much an invention of their making and little else matters. To give a prime example, after the commentary team had made a point of telling us that Ryan Giggs had now scored in each of his 21 seasons in Man Utd’s first team, Keys take on the matter was ‘19 years of the Premier League and Ryan Giggs has scored in them all’ – the other two season simply didn’t count.
Even on Champions League duty he has perfected the art of relating everything to the Premier League. It’s not that Keys can’t offer anything to the analysis of the game, it’s just that he doesn’t want to because he’s too busy telling you what’s coming up live on Sky this week. He’s the ultimate company man and after 19 years of Premier League coverage, your brain learns to block him out.
So what do I want from my football anchor?
I want my anchorman to be able to offer more to the discussion than just scripted questions. I don’t care if my wife wants to sleep with them, I just want them to be more than a way to get in and out of the advertising breaks effectively.
In short I want James Richardson.
Currently holding court on the excellent ‘Football Weekly’ podcast, Richardson has been consistently wasted on cycling and darts coverage. In my mind he’s in real danger of being left behind, forever sitting in an Italian square with an ice cream and an expresso, aside a pile of foreign newspapers that he’s going to translate just for me. Richardson owned Football Italia and Saturday morning’s Gazetta and could easily do the same with some of the BBC, ITV, or Sky coverage. The fact that he can’t even get a seat on their bench speaks volumes for their current approach to football coverage.
If you'd like to read more from David, please visit his fantastic blog, I know who Cyrille Makanaky was.