So, farewell then, Match of the Day 2 – at least, farewell in its current guise as the best football programme on television. The long-predicted transfer/defection of former business journalist and current and forever West Bromwich Albion fan Adrian Chiles to ITV/GMTV means a change to the BBC’s winning mix of football action, comment and humour, based around SKY’s “Super Sunday” games and encounters involving Europa Leaguers. Chiles has the potential to make ITV’s World Cup football coverage almost watchable, if he can match Steve Rider’s winning combination of enthusiasm and expertise – no mean task, I’m sure you’ll agree.
The same might have been said of Desmond Lynam just over a decade ago, when he gave up the regular urge to plant one on Jimmy Hill’s chin in the BBC studios to front “The Premiership”, one of British broadcasting’s finest hours and the launchpad for Andy Townsend’s media career. Of course, “The Premiership” wasn’t even ITV’s finest hour (after all, it was the launchpad for Andy Townsend’s media career). And Lynam, last seen in cartoon form advertising Setanta’s UK’s riotously successful sports coverage, was already a veteran broadcaster arguably past his peak.
Chiles, however, is different. He is a genuine football fan at the top of his presenting game, his style tailor-made for the serious, but not-too-serious, style of “MOTD 2.” Indeed, for those like myself who haven’t seen him on the “Daily Politics” (or the “One Show” for that matter), it is difficult to envisage him as a former business journalist. He is, however, but one component of MOTD 2, and the show will survive his departure in the hands of the right presenter (i.e. NOT Manish Bhasin). It has made a sofa star of Lee Dixon, still contemporary enough to offer an insight into the modern game – even if it’s an insight into how Arsenal lose games in which they were leading two-nil.
After one or two false starts, stand-up comedian Kevin Day’s segment has proved an entertaining and informative aside, far superior to MOTD’s worthy but dull weekly look at Premier League clubs’ community work. “2 Good, 2 Bad” may be a dreaded “sideways” look at the weekend’s camera shots, but they are consistently funny and a credit to the researchers who must take pains to compile the segment every week. Best of all, though, MOTD 2 has introduced some newer potential pundits from the ranks of the modern game. Admittedly, there have been a few, please God, false dawns, such as Alan Pardew and the occasional “Andy Townsend” moment (Robbie bleedin’ Savage). The choices have mostly been imaginative, from Gordon Strachan, via the ubiquitous Neil Warnock, to Croatian boss Slaven Bilic. And the star pick, Fulham’s Danny Murphy, an articulate, quick-witted, genuine expert.
Murphy provided a golden TV moment last season when Chiles asked him about an outrageous piece of skill (I forget which one) and whether Murphy would be prepared to try that himself. Murphy’s response was that he might do in one of Fulham’s easier games, “like home to West Brom.” The camera caught Chiles’ reaction. And momentarily, he looked very fierce – the sort of look which could shut Townsend up from the next studio. Here’s hoping Chiles can rediscover it. Chiles isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. For example, the otherwise wonderful comedian Stewart Lee includes among his many obsessions a deep-lying dislike for him, which suggests Lee had a traumatic experience with a Black Country accent in his formative years.
But the BBC’s loss is simply ITV’s gain, almost whatever the cost. And if Chiles can make ITV’s football coverage remotely bearable, he’ll be worth every penny of his reported £4m deal. The obvious replacement for him, to these ears at least, is the even-more ubiquitous-than-Neil-Warnock Northern Irishman Colin Murray, especially as Chiles has already proved that thick regional accents are no bar to success. Daily Mail diarist Charles Sale files Murray in the same column as Stewart Lee files Chiles. And, as job recommendations go, that’s right up there. Hopefully, though, the transfer of presenter will be a seamless one for MOTD 2. This article is as much an appreciation of the programme as of its future ex-presenter. Long may they both continue.