With Norwich throwing in seven goals at home and Sven managing five on his League Two debut, they can’t say that had a paucity of stories to choose from. The BBC launched their Football League coverage in a bold and brash style, with a live match and a highlights package that will now become part of the landscape of Saturday evenings. How, though, did “The Football League Show” look? The BBC have stood accused of being a little smug in their football broadcasting over the last few years, depending too much on its reputation whilst failing to deliver in comparison with Sky Sports. Was this, then, a return to form for the national broadcasters? Well, the honest answer is “yes and no”.
On the one hand, the BBC still carries just enough gravitas to make whatever you’re watching on it feel like an “event”. The Football League have been canny in recognising this and, in shifting their highlights package from ITV, it’s important to remember that the offering on the other side for the last few years, “The Championship”, has been a distinctly low profile affair, often shifted around the Sunday morning schedule to make way for other, more important matters such as Formula One racing and repeats of “Britain’s Got Talent”. “The Football League Show” has a guaranteed slot on Saturday nights (after “Match of The Day”) and, should you miss it or be unable to stay up late enough to watch it, it’s available on the Red Button or on I-Player. Often in the past if you overslept and missed “The Championship”, that was your lot for the week, unless you could hunt it out on ITV4 during the week.
The other significant advantage that the BBC has over ITV for coverage of this sort is a depth of resources. Twenty years ago, the opposite may have been true – ITV at the time was a network of regional broadcasters – but nowadays it is one single, centralised company. The BBC, with superior digital television coverage and more reporters in the field has a distinct advantage in terms of what it can lend to the Football League. The live match between West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United was presented by Gary Lineker and also featured Alan Shearer and Mark Lawrenson, and later on “The Football League Show” saw the harmless Manish Bhasin joined by Steve Claridge and a comparatively restrained Ian Holloway, compared to Matt Smith at pitch-side with a single camera, a microphone and the slight look of someone that was trying to encroach on the field of play.
None of this is to say that the first night went perfectly for “The Football League Show”. The host and guests echoed their way through proceedings in a studio the size of a warehouse. There was also a technical glitch when the show briefly cut to a shot of a woman sitting on the toilet in the film “Blue Crush” (which was showing on ITV1 at the time) but this, one hopes, will be a one-off. More troubling was a half-cocked attempt at “interactivity”, which consisted of Lizzie Greenwood-Hughes reading out text messages and emails from viewers in a “Speek Your Branes” style. “We’ve got a West Brom fan here, Mark, who predicts that West Brom will win the championship and Newcastle will go straight back up as well, and he adds, ‘I do hope that the Toon get it sorted, though, because it’s such a shame”. Well, thanks for that.
Over the last few years, the BBC has given the impression of being somewhat rudderless in its sports production. They have lost many of their distinctive voices – in football, the likes of John Motson and Barry Davies – and haven’t found equally authorative voices to replace them. The fact that they have lost so many sports broadcasting rights has, of course, also been a factor in the corporation’s sporting decline, but winning the Football League has given them the opportunity to flex their muscles again. If they can sort out the technical glitches and focus on the football rather than needless nods towards being the “voice of the people”, then we have cause for optimism that The Football League on the BBC might just turn out to be s success both for the broadcaster and the League itself. Now, let’s see if they can maintain this enthusiasm when the Premier League starts again next week.