Football: A whole new sales pitch: Giles Smith tunes in to a super Saturday, a supine Sunday and the Premier League's Monday premiere

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The Independent Online
'IT'S a whole new era,' shouted Sky Sports' anchorman, Richard Keys. 'Monday night football has arrived.' Down on the Maine Road pitch, a troupe of dancers unfurled a banner bearing the channel's catchphrase - 'It's a whole new ball game'. And it's a whole new hard sell, too.

The BBC has so far responded coolly to this early pressure from Sky Sports. Sky has bought rights to all the live Premier League games this season, but on Saturday night, the Match of the Day team casually walked back, after four years off our screens, with no new signings. They played Desmond Lynam up front and put John Motson and Barry Davies in midfield. Few will have lamented the decision to leave Jimmy Hill on the bench. We saw edited highlights from two fixtures. It was like the programme's glory days, except, with the day's Premier League round-up available, you were guaranteed more goals.

But while Match of the Day struck a deal with the past, Sky's Super Sunday was bent on rearranging time. 'Weekends will never be the same again,' said Keys at the top of a programme which padded out one live match until it provided five hours of television. What seemed like three of those were spent name-checking the sponsors - Ford and Foster's. This was Britain's favourite sport, repackaged as America's favourite television programme.

The cameras passed slowly across the Nottingham skyline, as Keys set the scene: 'Sporting tradition here stretching all the way back to Robin Hood.' It will be interesting to see what lyrical heights Keys can attain later in the season, when the cameras have to pan across Tottenham. In the meantime, there was, said Keys, 'plenty happening. Let's go out and have a look at the pitch'. In the empty stadium, David Livingstone, our roving reporter, gave the turf a hesitant pat, as if it was a dog of uncertain temperament. 'Fantastic surface,' he said. 'A credit to everyone here.'

Livingstone would later redeem himself with some reporting on what the managers were shouting during the game. Cleansed to suit family viewing, this principally boiled down to 'Come on, lads', but it was a nice idea - something the build-up ran crucially short of. We'd taken 'a leisurely look' at Saturday's goals and incidents; we'd been behind the scenes with the City Ground's safety officer; we'd learnt Nottingham Forest's nickname and ground capacity.

We'd even had some shots of the referee, topless in the dressing-room. We seemed, in fact, to be merely seconds away from an in-depth report on bootlace thicknesses. But then, at last the game arrived. By fiddling with your decoder, you could eliminate the commentators and leave intact the crowd noise. That's a thoughtful touch, though it's hard to imagine what Martin Tyler and Andy Gray up in the commentary box must feel about it.

Last night the Sky crew had at least sorted out their tactics in the tunnel. On Sunday, the camera located there was positioned at shorts-level. As the players brushed past it on their way out, it put a whole new slant on the phrase 'Liverpool team members'. But that incident said much about the desperation in Sky Sport's coverage: it gets in close on the details, but perhaps closer than you really need, or want.

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