Phil Shaw: Even Ned Sherrin beats Five Live

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The Independent Football

Kicking a chap when he's down is unedifying at the best of times, and putting the boot into the BBC, and Radio Five Live in particular, may seem like adding insult to injury right now.

Let me start by saying I complain because I care. Since the station's inception 10 years ago, I have sat through thousands of hours. Football commentaries and phone-ins, sports panels and cricket scoreboards - you name it, I am forever tuning in 693 or 909.

Much of its output I enjoy personally and find useful professionally. The balance between the measured authority of Mike Ingham, the football correspondent, and the opinionated passion of Alan Green ensures that matches are never boring, even when uneventful.

Then there's the blend of humour and professionalism by Pat Murphy on cricket and Dave Woods on rugby league. The honeyed tones of Ron Jones and descriptive powers of John Murray and Ian Brown. Shrewd analysis by Jimmy Armfield. Though a few commentators and pundits stray into Alan Partridge territory, Five Live's coverage of live sport is in the hands of a generally excellent squad.

That doesn't stop the station from having flaws which, because one listens so frequently, become all the more maddening. Its news values often resemble those of a PR consultancy signed up to the Premiership, especially Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.

I hold no brief for the Nationwide League, and it is a weakness of which many other media organisations, arguably including this newspaper, may be accused. But the obsession with a handful of clubs surely contravenes the BBC's remit to be "fair and balanced".

Big games are trailed as if the station itself were staging them - an anomaly that has reached its nadir in the almost possessive way the corporation advertises its FA Cup coverage with a droning voice straight out of the Radio One jingle unit.

And I cannot be alone in finding the procession of callers to Six-O-Six increasingly tedious in their rants about referees and managers. Alan Green's presentational skills are preferable to those of David "Red Hot Soccer Chat" Mellor or the Europhobic Richard Littlejohn, yet serious consideration needs to be given to the agenda.

If Liverpool lose, it is a safe bet that before the 6.30 news, one caller will have come on, spluttering that "It's time for Houllier to go". He'll be followed by another arguing that "Gérard's the man, but he hasn't had his full squad fit". Ten minutes later, a Carlisle fan will ring to say that "If they think they've got problems they should try life at our level".

And if I hear another caller moan that their team were a disgrace and then admit they were not at the match, I'll scream. No, I'll switch to the dreaded Ned Sherrin on the otherwise wonderful Radio Four.

What else? Five Live was dubbed Radio Bloke when it started and if it now has some fine female reporters and presenters, it still hasn't shaken off its cloying mateyness. Simon Mayo hands over to "Crofty" (David Croft) for the sports bulletin; "Chappers" (Mark Chapman, another Six-O-Six host, with a talent for chumminess) teases Susan Bookbinder about Manchester City before she reads the news (does everyone on Five Live have to have a team?).

Finally, a pet hate. In its quest for slickness, the station's stocks of the letter "t" appear to be exhausted. Listen in the afternoon this weekend to the two Marks, Saggers and Pougatch, and you will hear talk of Noddingham Forris and Pardick Thissle, Pord Vale, Hardlypool and the Siddy of Manchesders Daydium.

In the way that pop DJs used to strain towards a transatlantic twang, it has more to do with affectation than accent. Roll on the badding collapses of summer.

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