TV WATCH Review of the month on screen
What is this urge in December to humanise people? We are exposed to weather presenters in Christmas jumpers, two hours of “cheekily unscripted moments” from The Chase, while John Lewis saves mankind with the gift of its only TV advertisement. On Football Focus, the whole thing went too far. Throughout the month, jokey references were made to the reality TV side careers of Alex Scott (Strictly Come Dancing), Ian Wright (I’m A Celebrity…) and Kevin Kilbane (Dancing On Ice), as if we yearned for greater familiarity with pundits. It is true that we learned a lot about Ian Wright, the man, in the jungle – namely, he gets irritable with comedians when hungry – but this mania for feeding us personality has nothing, ultimately, to do with football. Within one Football Focus, on December 14, Rachel Stringer babysat James Maddison and James Justin with a quiz, after which she asked, in authentic kindergarten style: “Did you enjoy that?” One of the Jameses was heard to stammer “Yes, it was fun”, metaphorically reaching under the chair for his lunchbox and fruit juice. Ten minutes later, Eilidh Barbour watched admiringly while Aberdeen’s Shay Logan and Sam Cosgrove showed her how they can play table tennis. On December 28’s edition, Jamie Vardy sat down with Caroline De Moraes who, following what appears to be the current brief, softened up her subject with a couple of questions on training and form before moving onto his family and the nightfeeding regime for a new baby. The human stuff, you see, is what we want now. One of the football-related questions De Moraes asked – “That 2015-16 season, how amazing was it?” – helpfully contained for Vardy both the answer and the required tone in which to deliver it.
This was never going to be Frost-Nixon, but it might be nice to talk to players at their level of vocabulary, rather than that of the youngest section of the target audience.
A little further into the programme, Manchester United’s Scott McTominay and Axel Tuanzebe played the Honesty Cards game, reading each other the type of questions – “Who is the untidiest?”, “Who snores the loudest?” – that, in the 1980s, Smash Hits used to put to bemused Goth bands. But what is there to discover about a 23-year-old footballer other than that he admires Lionel Messi and Beyoncé and has mocked a team-mate’s haircut in periods of downtime. This was indeed the meat of the McTominay-Tuanzebe dialogue,
oddly intercut with brief edits of the pair laughing at something not included in the film. As insights and entertainment go, this is thin stuff. Regrettably, Football Focus these days is 90 per cent young players shyly playing games and ten per cent Dion Dublin laughing.
Host Dan Walker, meanwhile, continues to suffer from a terrible condition which means that, while unable to tolerate humans, he constantly seeks them out in mobs. Covering the second round of the FA Cup on a Friday evening (BBC2, November 29), he followed a string of Maldon & Tiptree fans past the camera and entered the packed clubhouse with all the ease of a man threading through a courtyard of geese with two young spaniels. The following morning, for Football Focus, he drifted through a knot of Kingstonian fans, tossing the words “Good morning everyone – there they are, enjoying themselves” over his shoulder with a disdain that could be picked up on the breeze in Richmond-upon-Thames. On entering this clubhouse, more fans, given the nod by the film crew, began simulating a spontaneous chant, Walker telling them “Keep going, keep going” in exactly the tone of voice he would normally ask someone to shut up. The man’s unease in these situations arises from the fact that he has nothing in particular to offer football people – no earthy banter, no historic football presence – other than the camera crew in his wake. Walker turning up on matchday without the cameras would get the same response as Rod Hull attending a children’s party without Emu.
BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2019 (BBC1, December 15) was a reliably tedious affair in which the onlooker was pelted with abstract nouns such as joy, courage and pride, while occasionally getting a glimpse of Princess Anne, included by the producer as an ocular break from the positivity and smiling. Through the two hours, like a running stitch, came the word “inspiration”. Importantly, just before the word lost its meaning forever, Pep Guardiola used it about Raheem Sterling for calling out the subtler racism of the media and a section of football fans antagonistic to a wealthy and successful young black man.
The lengthy parade of masters of their craft displayed on Sports Personality of the Year only confirmed that competence is essentially dull. It is failure that really gets our attention, as when Kyle Walker got bogged down in the future conditional tense while suggesting that Raheem Sterling could become the best player in the world: “There’s not a nicer man that I wouldn’t want that to happen to.” Two grammarians from the University of Aberdeen have been recalled from holiday to operate on this sentence.
NUMBERS GAME The figures behind the facts
The figures behind the facts
Brighton are the first top-flight team knocked out of the FA Cup by Sheffield Wednesday since Sheffield United in the semi-final 27 years ago. The decades in which Aaron Wilbraham has scored in senior football after he got Rochdale’s FA Cup equaliser against Newcastle.
The number of FA Cup third round matches, excluding replays, that utilised VAR, while 19
games went ahead without the technology.