With the underwhelming World Cup now all but a distant memory, armchair supporters across the country are fidgeting with excitement as the new domestic season kicks off this weekend, bringing an end to their televisual footy drought. The football-less three week window which should have been used to paint the shed, mow the lawn and complete other such menial household chores, came and went quicker than it takes Sol Campbell to renege on a contract. It’s now time to embark upon another 9 months of domestic football, most of which will be splashed across the goggle-box.
As we’re equally as obsessive about the beautiful game as we are telly, we thought we’d indulge in a bit of punditry and bring you our very own analysis of the football coverage on offer this year. We’ll be casting our eye over the big four’s (SkySports, ESPN, BBC and ITV) line ups, profiling the personel, picking out our key players, pillorying underperformers and generally being disparaging about the torrent of f**kwittery that pours from the mouths of pundits. Prick up your ears as the team-talk is about to begin…
With a line up longer than a Rory Delap throw-in and a strong squad of presenting and commentary talent, SkySports will be looking to claim the title, shaking off the challenge from its nearest live coverage rival ESPN.
The front two of Keys and Gray lead a strong attack supported by Martin Tyler and Jamie Redknapp with Jeff Stelling and the increasingly erratic Chris Kamara pulling the strings in the Soccer Saturday engine room.
Second-tier coverage is fronted by George Gavin with a backroom staff of Peter Beagrie, Rob Hawthorne and a plethora of ex-lower league journeymen. New signing Ben Shepard goes straight into the starting line up on Goals on Sunday and Live Europa League.
Line Up: Super Sunday & Premier League matches, UEFA Europa League, UEFA Champions League, Football First, Live Football League, League Cup, La Liga, Soccer AM, SkySport’s Soccer Saturday, The Final Word, Sunday Supplement, England Internationals, Goals on Sunday.
In: Ben Shepard (GMTV)
Out: Robbie Savage (BBC Football League Show)
Star Man: Andy Gray. The seasoned campaigner now in his nineteenth year as Sky Sport’s leading analyst/agitator shows no signs of letting up. Expect a season of workmanlike performances from the opinionated ex-Everton forward alongside strike-partner Richard Keys. Popping up all over the park, Gray features on the channel’s Super Sunday Premier League coverage and The Last Word, armed with his interactive video analysis machine that looks a lot like a giant I-Pad with some SkySports stickers on it.
Flop: Dean Windass. The journeyman pie-killer finds speaking in fully-formed sentences impossible and articulates his half-baked analysis in such a way that he makes Chris Kamara look like David Dimbleby.
Final Position: Premier League Champions, UEFA Champions League Winners
Sky’s nearest rival when it comes to Premiership coverage, the US-owned channel will be looking to overcome the difficult ‘2nd Season Syndrome’ and consolidate their position as a steady, mid-table broadcaster.
Stepping into the breach after Setanta did a Pompey and finally lost their battle against relegation and slipping into administration, the Premiership-coverage new-boys acted quickly and brought in experienced pros like Ray Stubbs to steady the ship.
With a limited selection of live Premier League games and personnel un-proven at this level, ESPN will have to pull something special out of the bag if they are to mount anything like a serious challenge to Sky’s dominance.
Line Up: Premier League Live, selected UEFA Europa League matches, FA Cup, SPL , selected Eredivisie, Portuguese Liga, Bundesliga, MLS, Serie A and Russian Premier League matches.
In: Jon Champion (free agent), Chris Waddle (5live)
Star Man: Ray Stubbs. The ever dependable ex-BBC utility player makes the jump from providing cover, to talismanic lone striker. His experience will prove invaluable and go some way to make up for the comparatively weak squad that surrounds him.
Flop: Ian Wright. If only Wrighty was as good a pundit as he was a striker. Breathtakingly inarticulate and prone to bias bordering on the xenophobic, you can count on him to provide a never ending stream of witless, ill-informed punditry. It’s hardly surprising that Ian Wrong’s ‘unique’ style has found a home on the festival of idiocy that is Live from Studio Five.
Final Position: 3rd
Old familiar Beeb embark upon their sixteenth Premiership campaign, making it seven consecutive seasons in the top flight following their three year absence when ITV’s awful ‘The Premiership‘ show nabbed their ‘King of Terrestrial Highlights Packages’ crown.
Smug crisp-salesman Gary Lineker returns with post-pub top-four bias-fest Match of The Day, aided an abetted by dour Scot Alan Hansen, lachrymose depressive Mark Lawrenson, tactical numpty Alan Shearer and TV’s best pundit Lee Dixon.
Light-hearted Sunday night round-up show MOTD2 nestles back into BBC2’s schedule with Colin Murray as host after Adrian Chiles summer transfer to ITV.
Youth-team player Jake Humphreys graduates to the first-team, presenting the beeb’s sporadic Npower Championship coverage after a successful spell last season, and Gabby Yorath is joined by the faintly ridiculous Garth Crooks and the rest of the gang for more incomprehensible tea-time shouting on Final Score.
The channel’s line-up is completed by Football Focus and The Football League Show, presented at break-neck speed by Manish Bhasin and doing its best to disorientate viewers with weird David Lynch-style camera angles. And Steve Claridge.
Line Up: MOTD, MOTD2, The Football League Show, Football Focus, Final Score, Live Football League, FA Cup, League Cup Semi-Final & Final, League Cup Highlights,
In: Colin Murray (Channel 5), Robbie Savage (Sky Football League coverage)
Out: Adrian Chiles (ITV Sport)
Star Man: Gary Lineker. Nobody does piss-poor quips and smugness quite like our Gary. Without a full pre-season behind him, old jug-ears might not be at full capacity for the big kick-off but will no doubt come into his own as the season progresses. Will benefit from the rest provided by the international break.
Flop: Alan Shearer. He of the ever expanding forehead couldn’t be more insipid if he tried. Regularly contradicting himself, (sometimes within the same sentence) and displaying a startling lack of tactical nous for an ex-international, Shearer proves that the adage ‘great players don’t make great managers‘ also applies to pundits.
Final Position: 2nd.
Veterans Jim Rosenthal and Steve Ryder are looking jaded but the squad has been freshened up with the addition of Adrian Chiles after the BBC favorite stalled on a new deal at Television Centre.
Matt Smith continues to do his best to out-smug MOTD frontman Lineker and Clive Tyldesley will no doubt be making reference to ‘that balmy night in Barcelona‘ over and over again in his ‘commentaries’, regardless of whether the match involves Manchester Utd or not.
Perennial summariser Jim Beglin will continue to ruin Champions League matches shown on the channel and nobody has done the right thing by hermetically sealing Andy Townsend inside his nearly-forgotten ‘Tactics Truck’.
ITV Sport are left without a single decent pundit to count as their own after Robbie Earle’s dismissal following a ticketing mishap at the World Cup. Adrian Chiles has his work cut out in his role of the ‘man’ in what is definitely a one man team.
Line Up: UEFA Champions League, selected UEFA Europa League matches, FA Cup, FA Cup Highlights.
In: Adrian Chiles (BBC)
Out: Robbie Earle (Released)
Star Man: Adrian Chiles. The one shining light in ITVs utter turd of an attempt at World Cup coverage, Chiles is probably ruing the day he jumped ship from the comfort of the MOTD2 and One Show sofas. Now a big fish in a shit pond, the affable Brummie will be looking to prove that the decision to leave the BBC was the right one.
Flop: Everyone apart from Chiles.
Final Position: Relegated