ESPN to continue its pitch-side punditry despite Keown's whack


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The Independent Online

Martin Keown's head may still be ringing, but ESPN is not prepared to do away with pitch-side punditry quite yet. The former Arsenal defender, working as a summariser, was hit by a well-struck football before Monday's game between Arsenal and Leeds United at the Emirates Stadium but the TV channel insists it will continue "to bring fans as close as we can to the game".

That aim, laudable as it sounds, may prove hard to live up to. Keown's accident – the ball was apparently struck by Michael Brown, the Leeds midfielder – was not the only problem suffered by ESPN's team (which also included presenter Rebecca Lowe and Robbie Savage) on Monday. Nearby Leeds fans threw objects including hot dogs and coins at the Welsh midfielder and some fairly strong language was picked up on the trio's microphones.

Keown suggested yesterday that the ball may have been aimed at Savage, who was the focus of much of the Leeds fans' abuse. Afterwards, Savage was clearly upset. "Majority of Leeds fans were a disgrace throwing coins and hot dogs, shouting obscenities to a lady presenter! Disgrace!" he tweeted. Nonetheless, ESPN says it will aim to continue to place analysis teams by the byline, although it will now take special care to assess where best to put them. It also seems clear that, in certain situations, they will be relocated to a studio – at Elland Road, perhaps.

"Our first commitment is always to our presentation and production team, and ensuring their safety and well-being," said ESPN's director of communications, Paul Melvin. "We have no specific plans to change our editorial approach, and will look to continue to be innovative and bring fans as close as we can to the game. As always, we will work hard to examine how we do that while also ensuring the right environment for our team."

After appearing initially shocked by the blow, Keown gave the Leeds team the thumbs-up and insisted there was no damage done. When Lowe asked him: "Are you all right?", he replied "Yeah, just about – they can keep doing it." ESPN takes a different view, but it is clearly keen to continue sending its studio team down to the touchline.