Football: Nice commentary, shame about the presentation

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The Independent Online
Most television companies attempt to re-create the experience of being there - at the ground that is. Channel Five, being broadcasting's newcomer, tried something a little different for their football debut on Saturday. Perhaps recognising that, in this satellite age, more people watch England in the pub than either at the stadium or in their own armchair, they re-created the atmosphere of the bar.

Thus we had the curious experience of trying to follow the jaded studio format - presenter and two expert pundits - to the background of a hubbub of beery chatter from an invited audience elsewhere in the barn-like arena.

It did not work, like most of the English end of the operation it was a shambles. The redeeming feature of Channel Five's coverage of Poland v England was the bit that happened in Chorzow, the football and the commentary.

The pictures were not great. Poland away is not a venue broadcasters would choose to introduce themselves to a nationwide audience brought up on the technical excellence of BBC and ITV and increasingly accustomed to the multi-camera wizardry of Sky. Sometimes the picture selection was awful, notably for Gareth Southgate's important goal-line clearance late in the first half. Replays were rare and delayed.

But Channel Five could do little about that, where they had selected well was in the commentary team of Jonathan Pearce and Phil Thompson.

Thompson sounds like a bar-room bore himself when doing punditry on Sky but, apart from a David Batty fixation, he was very good as an expert summariser, picking up those elements viewers may have missed.

Pearce, who warmed up for C5 with Chelsea's friendly in Hong Kong last month, is known in London as the high-decibel radio motormouth of Capital Gold. One feared for the television's audio machinery when he was introduced, but he toned down his commentary without losing its enthusiasm and ebullience.

Unashamedly biased, he missed little and the goals were acclaimed in typical style, though there was no chance to reprise his famous "Tony Adams - Eeaww, Eeaww, Eeawways comes good.''

His rich use of language and imagery was highlighted by his description of Andrzej Wozniak dropping a cross as letting it "slip from his fingers like the soap in the shower''.

But back to the studio, Brough. Brough? Brough? That is what the links were like. Brough Scott, Channel 4's racing anchor, Joe Royle and Les Ferdinand struggled through unexpected video clips, truncated interviews and the bar-room babble. It was awful. Andy Gray's explanation on Sky of the way the game is shaping remains streets ahead of all other half- time fillers.

Sky was responsible for the night's cheekiest move. The revolving advertising boards regularly rolled to reveal "Le Tournoi - Live on Sky.''

Sky learned the value of football coverage early on. For all their presentation faults, C5's expensive involvement will also achieve the objective of attracting viewers - now they just have to persuade them to watch their normal programming.