Football coverage on Channel Five, or Five as they insist on being called these days – like Smithy, they know it works better to go by a single name – was cringe-inducingly bad when it first hit the air. Cheap sets, tacky graphics and John Barnes mumbling like Amy Winehouse used to make for a painful evening's viewing.
Not any more. Things have progressed nicely down Five way if Thursday's coverage of Liverpool against Lille in the Europa League was anything to go by. Barnes has been moved on and Colin Murray hosts the coverage, proving that a trained presenter does a better job of presenting than a trained footballer (Murray would not be allowed to play up front for Aston Villa, would he? Although if Emile Heskey can, maybe he's got a chance).
Pat Nevin does a fine turn as the half-time-full-time analyst, mixing tactical insight with a wee bit of gentle humour and banter (although why he borrows Channel 4 Cricket's video truck is never explained). And Dave Woods (formerly the BBC's rugby league man) and John Scales (formerly Liverpool's central defender) make a decent double act in the commentary box, both remaining largely cliché-free and aware of the ebb and flow of the action.
If Scales had shown such tactical nous during his playing days, maybe Liverpool's wait for a league title would have come to a halt during his spell at Anfield.
Of course, it wasn't seamless. Stan Collymore is Five's man in the studio alongside Murray and has mastered the art of saying little that isn't predictable. Although, in truth, it was hard to take in anything he said during the half-hour match build-up (during which time there were no fewer than an incredible five advert breaks) as it was impossible not to stare agog at his new Dennis Taylor-style specs. Fabio Capello he ain't. Thankfully, somebody from the Five crew – presumably after they had picked themselves up from the studio floor where they'd been rolling around clutching their sides – must have asked Stan to ditch the bins because by half-time they'd disappeared, leaving us to hang on his every word. (Thinking about it, maybe he should have left them on.)
The whole Five team are also unashamedly pro the British clubs competing in Europe (more supporters than reporters). It would grate if it were just favouritism but there is a whiff of desperation too, as Five know elimination for Liverpool and Fulham knocks Five from their football perch for another season as well. It's always better to bow out gracefully.
Should David Beckham's Achilles injury force him to bow out there will always be a career in acting after his role in Smithy's Sport Relief sketch on Friday. Becks and Smithy (James Corden of Gavin and Stacey fame) share flower-arranging, a bubble bath, a bed and each other's pyjamas during the skit, in which Smithy wins Coach of the Year Award on Sports Personality night. Tom Daley is splashed in the face, Andy Murray is smashed at tennis.
Smithy's rant at the gathering of sports stars and their loss of focus is priceless. Coe, Flintoff, Redgrave, Radcliffe, Giggs all play along in good spirit. To Flintoff: "Gonna stop playing now, Freddie, cos your knee's a bit poorly? Your [drinking] arm's OK, though, isn't it?" To Coe: "Look who it is. Bet you're pleased with yourself with your 2012 and your lordship. I remember when you were just a runner mugging off Steve Ovett."
If you missed it, download it from iTunes. Mugged off you won't be since the £3 heads to Sport Relief.Reuse content