Robin Scott-Elliot: After nuzzling Fergie, Newbon has really gone to the dogs

View From The Sofa: Greyhound Racing/Football, Sky Sports
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The Independent Online

Remember last week? It was all about nostalgia with Sky Sports turning 20, an event they marked with the understatement accorded to a royal wedding, with Richard Keys and Andy Gray awarded the Prince Philip memorial role in being kept out of sight, or more importantly hearing. And who should pop up in the middle of it all but Gary Newbon, the doyen of touchline reporters. It's like having Jennie Bond back.

Remember Gary Newbon? The intrepid Newbon used to corner Alex Ferguson at half-time in Champions League games and demand to know on behalf of ITV viewers exactly why United were playing so darn well. Quite how he came to present greyhound racing on Sky Sports 34 HD I'm not sure, and for how long he has had this plum gig I'm not sure either, not being a regular dog follower (doggee?) or interested enough to Google it.

I know he is the face of You're on Sky Sports, but that is a programme no-one should ever be reduced to watching, or at least admitting to watching. The lack of goals, and the unmissable Ray Wilkins in the commentary box, at St James' Park on Tuesday night led to a second-half channel hop and there was Newbon, filling the screen and talking, with arresting authority if characteristic lack of animation, about his bitches.

"They're all bitches," said Newbon trackside at Hall Green (which offers, according to their website, one of Birmingham's most exciting and different nights out). This was (un)fortunately not another Keysandgraygate – Newbon is a sage old pro. He was talking to a man about a dog. But between the two of them there was a slightly schoolboyish air of being able to use a naughty word without getting into trouble, although perhaps that was just me.

"She's a fantastic bitch," said a man from the Racing Post. "All bitches," said Newbon again just to underline the point of the race as he handed over to the commentary team.

This being Sky, this was not a one man and, ahem, his dog operation. Five different faces, all with names like Smudger, appeared in front of camera. Again, being Sky, they all knew their stuff, or sounded like they did. Wilkins knows his stuff, although that is also something of a presumption as his punditry is a little lacking when it comes to actually offering an insight. But he makes up for it in other ways.

Thankfully he was back in business for the north London derby; I have to admit to a developing obsession with Wilkins, who is beginning to look like the crustacean after which he was harshly nicknamed during his playing career, albeit a very courteous crab.

The appeal of Wilkins is not what he says, rather how he says it. He comes across as always admirably polite and nice (which is not meant as a Yes Ministeresque damning compliment – not entirely). Politeness and niceness pervade his commentary. He likes to use first names wherever possible – apart from Szczesny, but he can be excused that on pronunciation grounds as the Pole's surname is marginally easier to grasp than Wojciech.

He is a bland master of the studied obvious but clothes it with an earnestness that has you nodding wisely in agreement before realising he's got you. "That was some team those Invincibles," he suggested. He also uses words like "atmospherically" which, added to his other skillsets, makes him the ideal man to comment on the wedding, another first-name event that must be accepted without question.