Noises off and piercing tones

Stan Hey tunes in to a whole new bawl game on the infant Channel 5

Stan Hey
Saturday 31 May 1997 23:02

The nation scrambled to retune its videos and re-align its aerials last night as Channel 5 embarked on its first major event, live coverage of England's World Cup qualifying game in Poland. Viewers confused by the channel's reputation for cheap programming might have expected a Subbuteo game between anoraks, but this was the real thing, albeit flanked by aeons of waffle.

Coverage began three hours before kick-off hosted by Channel 4's racing anchor Brough Scott from what looked like the cafeteria of a branch of Ikea. Scott unveiled a budget-busting array of presenters, reporters, experts and commentators which brought to mind the old days of overmanning in television.

Match commentator Jonathan Pearce went straight for that open-goal of cliches by fearing that "England's hopes could be Pole-axed". Pearce's vocal style, for those unfamiliar with his work on Capital Gold, is akin to a man who has just found a scorpion in his Y-fronts, irrespective of the dullness of the match. Pearce threw in a Boycott-style pitch inspection, borrowing co-commentator Phil Thompson's pen to expose a hole in the unruly turf. Well, Katowice is a coalmining area.

Back in the studio Jeremy Nicholas interviewed English club mascots in fluffy uniforms while another breathless muppet, Radio 5's Dominik Diamond, previewed the game on a computer. England won 2-1 with two goals by Shearer - close enough.

Meanwhile Scott, his table boasting glasses that looked like the bottles nurses ask you to fill, tried to remain unflappable despite ambient noise in the studio, possibly the sound of a barrel being scraped as new ways were found to fill time. The least appropriate was a showing of the 1973 England-Poland game, where a 1-1 draw ended England's hopes of World Cup qualification. In the context it was a bit like showing Die Hard 2 as an in-flight movie.

Then it was down to Jon n' Thommo. Smoke and fog filled the screen much as it does most nights on Channel 5 but it cleared in time for us to see Alan Shearer's early goal and for Pearce to break his decibel record as he turned "Shearer" into a 47-letter word.

Soon afterwards Gazza continued his tour of the world by stretcher. "Dead leg, dead calf, dead thigh," Thommo diagnosed, his Scouse banter sometimes requiring sub-titles. Shearer's penalty-miss denied Pearce another orgasm, but the noise back in the cafeteria was swelling, a case of shouting all over the bar. As the tension in the second half mounted, Pearce sounded as though his buttocks were clenching, but probably not as much as those of the Suits at Channel 5, who had staked more than Glenn Hoddle on England getting a result.

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