If last year's Premier League ended with a bang, this season started with a whimper. With the Olympics casting a shadow over pre-season, it seems somehow fitting that, when the clock struck 3pm on Saturday, BBC 1 should be showing a rerun of the opening ceremony.
England's top flight is never going to compete with the wholesome image of London 2012, but here was its chance to remind us of the kind of entertainment that has made it such a commercial monster. And yet its return was greeted by a frosty red-button billing, with Garth Crooks, Robbie Savage and Gabby Logan (or "Gabs" as she now seems to be referred to) there to herald in the new campaign. Attempts were made to jazz up the coverage to make up for the terrestrial snub: Gabs's leopard-skin blouse, Garth's pink shirt – the perfect marriage of subject and medium – and a clock counting down to kick-off.
The last seconds of the countdown were not accompanied with any New Year's Eve relish by the trio but were instead ignored, which is just as well, as the following half-hour was considerably bereft of action. With only two goals and a Carlton Cole miskick to report, an underwhelmed Savage was left to remark: "It's all started quite quietly, there's not much happening, to be honest."
With a format so reliant on remote live action, it pays to have an entertainer in your midst. Like him or loathe him, it is impossible to deny that Crooks is that man. He is the closest thing the Beeb has to SkySports' Soccer Saturday staff of overzealous pundits. When he speaks, or rather huffs and puffs, the highs, lows and all forthcoming emotion of the football season are etched upon his face. The "pink elephant" certainly had Logan and Savage tickled when he produced an impromptu hiccough. It really was a slow half-hour.
But as Sir Paul was singing "Hey Jude" for, hopefully, the final time on BBC 1, the goals started flying in and life was instantly easier for Gabs and Co. As if by magic, at the promise of a return to its place as the fulcrum of the television schedule, the Premier League responded like a flower to sunlight. Before we knew it, there were red cards, goalkeeping howlers, the old cries of "you just have to watch that on Match of the Day!" and a horrendous penalty miss from West Bromwich Albion striker Shane Long.
Savage informed us that he had recently been on holiday with Long – God knows why – when a child had inadvertently kicked a beach ball on to the sunbathing Irishman, who reacted furiously. "So today's penalty miss is karma for that," Savage said.
And when Savage produces his first anecdotal insult, you know the season has begun in earnest.Reuse content