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TV WATCH Review of the month on screen

For clubs such as Newcastle and Crystal Palace who somehow ended up mid-table last season despite being wretched for most of it, Channel 4 screened a fine documentary warning of Premier League hubris just before the new season started. Artist In Residence embedded painters at Birmingham’s Bullring shopping centre, a sexual health clinic… and at West Brom.

It was never explained why Albion thought it would be a good idea to allow TV cameras and football-hating portrait painter TaiShan Schierenberg behind the scenes. West Brom finishing tenth the previous season presumably made the board think some artistic glamour would alleviate another humdrum mid-table campaign. We all know what happened instead. Yet what could have been an easy gawp at the Baggies’ failings was instead a moving show which humanised relegation and even Tony Pulis. Initially, the programme played too much on the contrast between aesthete Schierenberg and cold Pulis (when the painter failed to keep up on a pre-season bike ride in Austrian mountains, the West Brom manager gleefully exclaimed “Blinkin’ artists!”).

Yet Pulis soon opened up to the likeably goofy Schierenberg about his fear of failure, before getting sacked a couple of weeks later. Of the three players sitting for portraits, midfielder Sam Field treated Schierenberg with the suspicion he would a supply teacher, but Ben Foster was eloquent about how constant injuries had put him off being a footballer altogether. It was left instead to an Albion supporter sitting for a painting, Rich, to persuade Schierenberg of football’s merits. He was excellent about football’s spirit of belonging, as the documentary skilfully avoided the usual superfan tropes.



So caught up in fandom was Schierenberg that he forgot his usual mugging to camera when West Brom got an injury-time winner against Spurs to just maybe avoid relegation. His joyful “Fuuuuck!” at Jake Livermore’s goal was as perfect an encapsulation of unlikely hope as you’ll ever see. The programme climaxed with an exhibition at Walsall New Art Gallery. Schierenberg has previously painted Stephen Hawking and Seamus Heaney, but he won’t have a more impressive response than witnessing Pulis crack with emotion. “I look into that and I see myself,” sighed an awestruck ex-gaffer. What the self Tony Pulis sees is surely worth a multi-season dramatisation on Amazon Prime – a broadcaster which made its football debut with the much-discussed All Or Nothing on Manchester City.

City’s season was obviously the opposite of West Brom’s, but the two shows shared an ability to use their access sensibly. Having eight 50-minute episodes to play with, All Or Nothing occasionally overdid the portentous slo-mo montages. But, like the World Cup had with England, it made Premier League footballers relatable. There weren’t any “Do I not like that” or “Bertie Big Bollocks” moments, with the comedy highlight instead chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak admitting he had no idea City won the title the day after and being caught out on his ignorance by owner Sheikh Mansour. A thoughtful series, All Or Nothing made Sky look stupidly complacent for not attempting anything similar in the 26 years they’ve monopolised TV football without a single memorable documentary to show for it.

Some questioned City’s wisdom in allowing Amazon Prime such access, but the biggest revelation was the attention to detail Pep Guardiola pays in hiring battalions of backroom staff who each do one thing very well. Some questions remain: why were Leroy Sané and Fernandinho the only regulars not to speak? Why was Bernardo Silva captioned “Bernando” throughout? And will Guardiola’s bafflingly intricate use of the tactics board finally stop fans thinking we could probably do the manager’s job just as well?

Also new to football broadcasting is the previously anonymous channel Quest. Taking over Football League highlights from Channel 5, it’s now Quest which puts host Colin Murray through his weekend purgatory. Murray is a Liverpool fan with no affinity towards football outside the top flight. An otherwise capable presenter, why does Murray bother with the thing he’s worst at for 90 minutes live every Saturday night? In every respect, EFL On Quest is identical to its Channel 5 predecessor. So if you’re a fan of a League One or Two team, it’s back to watching later on fast forward until your team’s goals are shown. Only this time, Quest was one of the channels owned by UKTV affected in Virgin Media’s dispute with the company, so the first episode was widely unavailable. Well done, Football League bosses. Going off terrestrial TV altogether showed typical foresight.

John Earls

Modern times Football’s bid for world domination August 23

6 WSC, August 24, August 6

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