Same old team shake off nostalgia show

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LAST Saturday Match of the Day (BBC1) swept back and then, just to let us know it really means business, it appeared again on Wednesday night. The new Premiership season has come around so quickly they must have barely had time to hoover the studio. Indeed, Des, Gary and Alan may well have looked at their watches at the end of last season and decided they were better off kipping over on a camp-bed. Whatever, they're back and it's as if they've never been away.

I'm not forgetting, incidentally, that there was a Match of the Day a whole fortnight ago, covering the Charity Shield. This, strictly speaking, was the first of the season. But everyone knows that pre-season try-outs are no reliable barometer for anything that's likely to happen over the ensuing year. Chelsea's Robert Fleck once scored in a pre-season friendly, which gives you some measure of the degree to which everything before 3.00pm on the first Saturday exists in a Tom and Jerry realm.

So if, for the Charity Shield, Match of the Day had appeared on our screens presented by Dale Winton, with expert post-match analysis from somebody's hamster, nothing could safely be inferred about the form of the programme in the long struggle through the winter months to come. (These comments are intended in no way to refer to Tony Gubba and Trevor Brooking, who ably hosted that pre-season edition.)

As it turns out, the programme returns unchanged. There's been no unrest in the stands nor, as far as we know, in the dressing-room, and no one has been screaming at the chairman to get his cheque-book out. Accordingly, Match of the Day goes into 1995-96 with no new laughably over-priced strikers and precisely zero beautiful but nearly pensionable continentals. Also, no one's had one of those embarrassing bleached hair-jobs. It's still Hansen at the back, Lineker up front and Des in the calming libero role which bore fruit during his spells at Wimbledon and Gothenburg.

Des pointed out that Hansen and Lineker were "worth around pounds 20m a pair at today's prices" but he added - reassuringly from the licence-payer's point of view - that they would "continue to provide analysis for a free copy of the Radio Times". Just a thought: if Gary Lineker does Match of the Day for a copy of the Radio Times, then presumably you can get him to do the after-dinner speech at your works Christmas party for little more than last month's Marie Claire. Have a word with his agent.

Looking frisky early on, Hansen suggested on Saturday that Chelsea's Dutch genius, Ruud Gullit, might do well, when under pressure, to "play the percentages" - in other words, hoof the ball into the stands on a safety-first basis. This remark drew a laugh of disbelief from Lineker. But then it is the function of Hansen to supply bones for picking. On Wednesday, he was on especially corruscating form, dismissing an entire Manchester United side with one, crisp sentence: "You can't win anything with kids." One fears what the effect of these words might be on the morale of the kids themselves. Luckily the programme goes out at an hour when most young players will be tucked up in a night-club.

One mild objection: we're still not shot of those daft noises attached to the opening music - bogus cheers and thuds - all of which suggest a slightly desperate half-hour in the sound effects department. The noise which accompanies the shot of the ball hitting the back of the net, for instance, is clearly someone whipping back a shower-curtain. This is one of the all-time great TV themes, which is being drowned out here. (Though musicologists may care to notice how, when the tune stops and starts again halfway through, the drummer misses the beat completely.)

On Wednesday, Match of the Day ran directly into Match of the Seventies. Here was an opportunity to lament the passing of time and the collapse of all one once held dear - except it didn't work out like that. For one thing, you realised how much Match of the Day has improved. Now that cameras are everywhere, it can genuinely cover the day - all the goals, all the incidents. Drawing on the days when Match of the Day was two games and bust, Match of the Seventies, though great fun, doesn't have the capacity to tell the story of the season.

This week, for instance, was 1974-75. Derby won the league but if Dennis Waterman hadn't told us near the end, we'd never have known, apart from a couple of goals and some documentary footage of the club's dinner-dance. True, one of those goals was accompanied by Barry Davies's voice-wrecking explosion of excitement - "Interesting . . . very interesting . . . Oh! Look at his face, just look at his face!" - words which, for people of a certain age, are embedded in the mind as firmly as the chorus of any song. But this was above all a clash in which the present came off best. Terrace aggro, horrible Admiral strips, no Dutch geniuses on the books of Chelsea . . . How could one not prefer now?

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