Well, I confidently suggested that the seemingly ubiquitous Colin Murray was the ideal fit for the BBC’s ‘Match of the Day 2’ and its more relaxed view of the weekend’s football, and that Adrian Chiles would be “Adrian Who?” before long. Was I right? At the end of this Sunday’s first show, I wasn’t sure. Then I looked back at the notes I made and realised that the few bad things about the slightly tinkered-with format were just that – about the format, not about Murray himself.
Every change to last year’s programme arrangement jarred with me, particularly the obsession with the past and what I fear will be an annual feature – the excuse to show an old picture of Mark Lawrenson with a moustache. I can already hear Murray’s Co. Antrim drawl telling us, by October, that “we can’t find a reason to show a picture of Lawro with a tache this week… but, hey, who needs an excuse when it’s this funny?” You need an excuse, Colin, because it isn’t funny.
The apparent ditching of the closing “2Good 2Bad” sequence is also a mistake. Some of the quirkier on-field moments were incorporated into the match round-ups; Joe Hart kicking Kolo Toure up the arse like he was Bishop Brennan of Father Ted fame and Rory Delap’s mishurled long throw. But I especially enjoyed the off-field contributions to this feature, and this week I’d certainly wanted to have seen again the Arsenal fan behind Pepe Reina after the Gunners’ equaliser who looked as if he could push Ian Wright into second place in an Ian Wright lookalike contest.
The programme suggested that the music budget only stretched to internal BBC acquisitions, hence the Grange Hill theme’s dominance of the opening stages. And whilst the “things we’d sort of like to see again” slot is a good idea, having a Top 10 in the very first programme has possibly used up a quarter of an entire season’s material. But about Murray himself, I felt vindicated. If his slightly whimsical, jokey style is not your cup of tea, then “MOTD2” probably wasn’t/isn’t your cup of tea, either.
Murray knows the game, of that there was no real doubt. But he was also able to facilitate studio discussion every bit as well as Adrian Thingy. And he almost immediately passed the ultimate interviewer’s test, the ability to ask the questions the viewers were asking themselves. Pundits Lawrenson and Dixon believed Joe Cole’s dismissal was justified, the referee “had no choice” etc. And Murray hadn’t agreed at the time – although he sheepishly admitted that Cole’s long-jump lunge “looks worse every time I see it.”
But Dixon chose a funny way of justifying his view that the red card was right. “Mark Hughes used to do that to me all the time, leave his foot in there.” Along with the others who felt Cole’s dismissal to be between harsh and downright wrong, Murray was quick to ask “Was he ever sent off for that?” The answer was, of course, “no.” Lawrenson immediately interjected with “it was a different game, then.” But although it might have been a different game when Lawrenson was playing in those zany moustaches, Dixon was only talking of last decade, for which the “different game” excuse holds less water.
Dixon is among the best pundits on current telly. And it is rare for him to lapse into the lazy punditry mode which does for Lawrenson and the intelligent-if-he-can-be-bothered Alan Hansen. Murray doesn’t look ready to let him do so, and the two work well together partly because of this. The accents apart, Murray is very similar to his predecessor, which coming from this keyboard is a compliment. And “MOTD2” still looks a better bet all-round than it’s big Saturday night/Sunday morning sibling. So, ditch the facial hair obsession and the Grange Hill music (which is still swirling around in my head as I type this, 20 hours later) and the programme is a winner again. Adrian Who? indeed.