Sport on TV: Middlesbrough becomes byword for BBC ordeal

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The Independent Online

In its FA Cup coverage this season, the BBC has been like one of those near-comatose drunks you can be sitting near in the pub. After rambling incoherently, taking in topics as diverse as the fate of the universe, Millwall's back four and the break-up of his second marriage in 1973, he'll hit upon a word and repeat it ad nauseam until closing time. In the BBC's case, that word has been, "Middlesbrough... Middlesbrough... Middlesbrough..."

Those responsible for picking the live ties must have a few regrets. This year's story has been Havant and Waterlooville. After knocking out York City, Notts County and Swansea, they twice went ahead against Liverpool in front of the Kop. This was what the FA Cup is all about, and the BBC missed it all.

Fourth round: enter Middlesbrough. Perhaps we're being harsh on the Beeb: a visit to Mansfield did contain upset potential. It's just that Gareth Southgate's collection of over-paid journeymen is just so damn uninspiring. And it's true that as the competition progresses the number of choices for live games shrinks, and the fifth round wasn't a thrilling draw. But what were they expecting from another Boro tie?

I must have watched at least some of that epic encounter against Sheffield United, but put it like this: if I was a suspect in a murder inquiry and I needed an alibi for that particular hour and a half, I'd be toast.

"I was watching the football."

"Oh yeah? What happened?"

"Er..." Case closed.

Wednesday's replay served as a fitting epitaph to the BBC's last Cup campaign before ITV and Setanta take over. It was football from the Stone Age. If the Premier League is supposed to be the best league, why couldn't Middlesbrough keep the ball on the ground?

It became a grimly fascinating exercise in how bad football can be. As yet another Boro pass dribbled out of play, Mark Lawrenson sighed, "I didn't think it could get any worse."

A few minutes later, he groaned, "Tell me, is this still the first half of extra time? It feels like it's lasted an hour already."

The only genuine excitement came at the extra-time interval, when the Sheffield United manager, Kevin Blackwell, managed to cram in three F-words into the 10 seconds of his team talk captured by the roaming cameraman.

"It's after the watershed, isn't it?" Lawrenson chuckled, clearly glad of the diversion.

And then the goal – Paddy Kenny's nightmare. The commentator, Steve Wilson, was aghast. "What a way to lose; what a terrible way to lose." He meant the Blades, but he could have been talking about the BBC. At least the footballers had a decent run; the broadcasters have had a nightmare of their own.

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