Saturday night’s all right for anything but trashy panel games

VIEW FROM THE SOFA: Play to the Whistle, ITV

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The Independent Football

It’s over. The void yawns before us, gaping with emptiness. Along with the Premier League season, Play to the Whistle has shuffled off into the ether for an indeterminate period of time. How will we fill our Saturday nights now?

Doing something productive, hopefully. Clearing cobwebs from the coving. Hosing out the bins. Licking lint from behind the bog. Anything but watching this show which tried so hard to be a terrestrial version of A League of Their Own (an admittedly low bar to aspire to) but was more like A Question of Sport with all the participants plied with vodka and Red Bull.

It was loud, boorish and infrequently funny. Which would have been all right (the combination seems to do Eight Out of Ten Cats no harm), if the participants had clicked in any way over the seven-show season.

Frank Lampard and Bradley Walsh were the team captains and while the former comes across as a nice guy who can deliver as well as take a joke, the latter thinks that if he shouts enough people will laugh. Which, sadly, they do. Mind you, even a whistle blown by the host, Holly Willoughby, when the rules of the game were being explained at the beginning of Saturday’s programme drew a huge laugh, so the studio audience were easily pleased.

Jimmy Bullard, the former Fulham and Hull midfielder, was also a regular on the show and he, along with the comedian Seann Walsh, competed for deadpan one-liners to convey how put-upon they are. Bullard came off funniest, which says more about Walsh than it does for the ex-player.

There were some funny moments on Saturday’s finale, like when Pat Cash, a guest on Lampard’s team, was asked by comedian Romesh Ranganathan how he felt about his name being rhyming slang for spending a penny. It was what many an interviewer would no doubt have wanted to ask the former Wimbledon champion – and the Aussie didn’t look entirely happy discussing it.

Ranganathan had the best lines of the regulars, but wasn’t helped by both Walshes’ explanations of every darn punchline.

An appearance from Dermot Gallagher, the referee, as a judge in a diving competition, was also worth it. After walking on stage to the Imperial March theme from Star Wars, he said it was “the first time in my life” he had stepped out to applause. Then he revealed why he became a referee: “My eyesight was failing, I knew nothing about the laws of the game – I was perfect.”

We did learn a few things as well – that Lampard took Chelsea’s “no diving” culture to Manchester City (yeah, right) and Natalie Anderson, the Emmerdale actress, was a Bradford Bulls mascot. Or, as she put it, “involved in the entertainment side of sport”.

But the whole thing displayed all that is wrong about Saturday night television. It was lowest-common-denominator, noisy trash, which would have been fine if it was more than intermittently funny. But it wasn’t. And now it is over. We can now get on with something more important.

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