Football / World Cup USA '94: Britons call the shots on view from America: Close-up style wins the day as directors prepare for football's big kick-off on the small screen. Guy Hodgson reports

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The Independent Online
ALAN BALL probably cringed himself when the former England World Cup winner saw his Seventies persona emerge from the archives recently to say: 'I could watch football 24 hours a day on television and I'm sure that would go for the majority of people in the country.' The World Cup begins tomorrow and, no, there will not be boots and balls on our screens 24 hours a day. It just might seem that way to those who are not interested.

Safe to say if you tune in looking for late films over the next few weeks you are likely to be disappointed most nights. The BBC alone has assigned 20 commentators and presenters to talk their way through the coverage which will extend to 21 hours in the first week. ITV, who will broadcast the first two matches of the Republic of Ireland's campaign, have designated 20 hours.

This, of course, is for a World Cup which is unique in being the only tournament since the war with no British teams taking part. Not that British influence will be entirely absent as the coverage from the New World will have a distinct flavour of the old country about it. Two of the six European directors who have been assigned to call the cameras at all 52 matches come from the BBC and ITV, while the 'British way' has prevailed as regards the way the football will be seen on the screen.

Anyone who has watched Channel 4's coverage of Serie A will have noticed there is a different philosophy about screening football. In Italy, Germany and Spain there is a more detatched view, a preference towards showing a wide angle and the full pitch. This allows the viewer to get the full tactical picture that is also the privilege of the person in the stand, but does not give access to the number of close- ups we see in this country.

In the FA Cup final, for example, an Italian director would probably have been showing pictures with a wide camera enough to see hat-trick seeking Eric Cantona behind Brian McClair for Manchester United's fourth goal against Chelsea (did Paul Ince forgo a goal and pass because of mistaken identity?). Against that he would have not have been in tight enough to catch the looks of horror on the Chelsea defenders when Eddie Newton upended Denis Irwin for the first penalty.

You pay your money and take your choice and the Americans have chosen the British-Dutch way of showing football. ABC and ESPN have the rights to the 15th World Cup and they studied the styles in Europe before opting for the closer, more intimate, style

'We've got players of skill, personality and style,' Vic Wakeling, the head of sport at BSkyB, said, 'and the closer you get to the action the more apparent that becomes. You need to see the strain in the faces, the sweat on the brows.

'I believe some of the most exciting football you see is from the touchline as a boy. You are close to the players, you get an idea of the pace and the ferocity of the tackles which in turn puts the skill being shown into its true perspective. I hope to recreate that on television without sacrificing what is happening elsewhere on the pitch.'

Wakeling contends that a good director has an instinctive knowledge when to cut. 'They learn to know when a player is going to pass or shoot, or even when he is going off on a dribble. It's very rare when he misses something by going in tight at the wrong moment.'

Martin Webster is the BBC director who will be based in New York throughout the tournament and is scheduled to be directing one of the semi-finals on 13 July. 'We have a definitive style in this country that isn't that different no matter which channel we watch. One company might do things slightly differently, but in the main it's the commentator's voice that tells you whether you are watching the BBC, ITV or Sky.

'Everyone has their own idiosyncrasies but in general the format is the same for each director. You keep one camera on a wide angle and ask another two to go in tight. One thing I would never do is cut between cameras once the ball is in the penalty area. That would be asking for trouble.'

An estimated 600 million people in 125 countries watched the draw for the World Cup finals live on television last December and it is a reasonable assumption that if that many people will watch balls being pulled out of hats then far more will watch larger versions being propelled round a pitch. If Webster does get into trouble he can be assured a large part of the planet will notice.

He says he will be too busy once a match starts to get nervous. Like the referee, the best director is the one who is so able his work goes unnoticed and the dream of anyone in his position is that the viewer becomes so absorbed he forgets he is watching the box and feels he is actually there.

'There is nothing that can better going to the stadium to watch live football,' Wakeling said, 'but we like to think we provide the next best thing.'

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