Robin Scott-Elliot: Plenty of country and western, but no taking your partners by the hand

View From The Sofa: Manchester United v Liverpool, Sky / Country at the BBC, BBC 2

It's difficult not to sing along to "Rhinestone Cowboy". You are probably doing it now, and will continue to do so at quite possibly embarrassing moments throughout the day. Sorry. It was also difficult to turn off Country at the BBC, no matter how deeply wrong it felt to watch a programme about country-and-western singers stitched together from appearances on Terry Wogan and Val Doonican shows back when chat was all everyone was talking about.

They knew how to do a set then. There were none of the harsh colours of the Match of the Day set-up; instead there were crackling fires and lake views from the Doonican chalet. It should have been France versus Ireland at rugby; instead it was Glen Campbell and Billie Jo Spears. With the game being called off only minutes before kick-off, the BBC did not have long to come up with an alternative. A runner was hurried to the library and the first thing the duty librarian could find was a VHS Alan Shearer had returned on the way to the MOTD studio that afternoon – he was still wearing one of his line-dancing shirts come the programme.

Or maybe the programmers reasoned that: 1) there was an episode of Gavin and Stacey where they have a barn dance; 2) they are Welsh; 3) the Welsh like rugby; 4) ipso facto get the country and western on to please rugby fans.

It at least offered a passage back to when life seemed simpler for the sports fan. The 1970s and 1980s, when sport stayed in its proper place at the back of newspapers. It was football's golden era of happy simplicity (if you ignore racism on the terraces, the fact many terraces were death traps or urine-driven water features, the hooliganism, tight shorts, Kevin Keegan's hair, Keegan's TV ads, poor pitches, the back pass and Tony Gubba).

We are spoilt with domestic top-flight football in England today, which has never been so entertaining, so consistently dramatic. Yet the world in which it operates has never seemed so objectionable. The Suarez/Evra affair is how Gary Lineker described Saturday's main feature, making it sound like a 19th-century diplomatic incident, and it may end up in gunboats on the Manchester Ship Canal (live on Sky Sports News).

Match of the Day's analysis began with an examination of handshakegate (the one that won't shut). Sky had pored over it earlier and had Geoff Shreeves sparring with Kenny Dalglish, the world's oldest teenager. There was no criticism in the Match of the Day studio of Dalglish, just of Suarez, who is overwhelming favourite for Pantomime Villain of the Year.

Sky dealt with it better. Sky has the luxury of more time, allowing Gary Neville to make a passionate defence of player passion – an area he has form in – in reference to Patrice Evra's celebration. Jamie Redknapp, someone who has spent the last two weeks in the real world, disagreed. MOTD kept it back to the second game after Jamie's dad's team. It was a bold decision and it allowed football to go first, which after all is what this was once supposed to be about.

Comments