Sport on TV : Football, football: From wall to wall to digital

Something very peculiar happened to my television set on Friday night. I switched on, and there was no European football. Nothing on BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky or Eurosport. Just when citizens of the European Union had become accustomed, not to mention addicted, to wall- to-wall non-stop live cup competition, heartless administrators had snatched it away. I was so upset that I had to have a conversation.

It wasn't the quality of the matches that made last week's footyfest so much fun - although Liverpool v Celtic and Newcastle United v Barcelona were absolute crackers - it was their sheer proliferation. Often when one game started to pall you could switch to another going on at the same time. Those fortunate enough to possess more than one television set could surround themselves with action and pretend to be an old-fashioned Grandstand presenter, at grave risk of insanity and eye-strain.

The scenario was a useful taster of what life might be like with the advent of digital television, which is much closer than most people realise. Those who found their domestic arrangements under strain last week might like to contact their lawyers now.

Such an embarrassment of riches is bound to cause strain for the broadcasters as well as their viewers: there will not be enough presenters to go around, and Sky boffins are rumoured to be at work on a project to clone Richard Keys.

No such desperation at Eurosport, which anticipated the problem and did away with on-screen presenters years ago. No trouble with commentators either: Archie Macpherson seems to do the lot.

Last week's game between Atletico Madrid and Leicester City was a special occasion for Archie in that he actually got to go to the match, rather than commentating on television pictures wired to his hutch in London. This time he was on the spot, and he took Gordon Banks along for good measure. To justify the cost of the air fares, Archie supplied a little local colour. "It's a hothouse here," he reported, "and this is no Bernebeu. Indeed, if the home of Real Madrid is a five-star restaurant, this is a hamburger joint." Which should encourage Leicester City, for if the Vicente Calderon Stadium is a hamburger joint, Filbert Street is a chip van with a puncture.

It would be nice to report that proximity lent an urgency to Archie's manner, but this was not the case. He has always had a - how should we put it - discursive commentary style and it may now be too late to change. It is fair to say that Archie wouldn't keep up with the pace of the game if he was on the pitch in a go-kart.

Never mind, his accent is lovely and his descriptions can be delicious. It is probably a long time since Jesus Gil, Atletico's controversial president, has been described as "looking like a purring cat". However, a Leicester old boy such as Banks should have been able to stop Archie from pointing out "some signs of tiredness - some socks around the ankles" among the East Midlands' finest. Steve Claridge wouldn't know a garter if the Queen presented it to him.

There was more sartorial mayhem on Channel 5, where Graeme Le Saux was demonstrating that you don't need any dress sense to spend your Saturday afternoons on the King's Road. Graeme was wearing a brown v-neck jumper, an article which the fashion editor assures me could not be considered fashionable if it was being worn by Helena Christensen.

Gavin Peacock, his fellow pundit for the PAOK Salonika v Arsenal game, had a better wardrobe, as befits his name, but was deficient in the analysis department. "It's a chess game out there," he observed, breaking the first rule of punditry: know your sport.

Channel 5 have addressed the great presenter shortage by recruiting Jeremy Nicholas from the Granada cable channel. This is a considerable step up for the young man, from a programme with next to no viewers to one whose audience can be measured in their tens. He handled it well, but would benefit from a sympathetic director. Seen from the front he has a healthy head of hair, but from behind there is clear, shiny evidence that he is a Brian Moore in the making.

So to the real Brian Moore, who commentated for ITV on the Newcastle v Barcelona match and turned in his customary faultless performance. Moore has the knack of being able to inject urgency into a description by speaking in italics, rather than yelling. It's a technique that Jonathon Pearce, Channel 5's loud-mouthed mikemeister, would be well advised to study.

ITV persisted with Mogadon Man Bob Wilson as their studio host, and to add to the snooze factor teamed him with Alan Shearer, a man as unexciting off the field as he is thrilling on it. "Can you give us an insight into this man Faustino Asprilla, Alan?" Wilson asked. "He's a complex character, isn't he?" The marksman considered. "Well," he pronounced. "When he plays football, he really plays football." Hope the injury clears up soon, Alan.

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