ESPN to continue its touchline analysis despite Keown's whack

Broadcaster keen to bring fans 'as close to game as possible' – even if pundits end up being hit by balls

Click to follow
The Independent Football

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 night's game between Arsenal and Leeds at the Emirates 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 be taking 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 week in and week out."

After appearing initially shocked by the blow, Keown – who was regarded in his day as one of the toughest footballers in England – 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.

A real turn-off: Other questionable TV innovations

Pitch-side punditry has been shown to have its drawbacks, but it is far from the worst sporting idea that the TV bods have had:

The tactics truck

When ITV took over Premier League highlights, it had all manner of ideas – of which the worst was probably the Tactics Truck, led by Andy Townsend. It was as excruciating and unenlightening a segment as has ever appeared on a British sports show.

The rise of panel shows

They Think It's All Over, the first of its ilk, was just about acceptable. A League Of Their Own, by contrast, featuring regular "gags" from Andrew Flintoff could lead the most positive of optimists to join the "Britain is going to the dogs" gang. Grim.

You're On Sky Sports

The most obvious of fillers, the most obnoxious of fillers. We all know Sky Sports has hour upon hour of airtime to fill, but the broadcaster could surely come up with something better than this. Less informative than a Ladybird book and has also relaunched the careers of former footballers such as Jason Cundy. And again, the only question is why?