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SIDELINES

TV WATCH THIS MONTH’S SCREEN REVIEW

So. Farewell then Dan Walker. After years in the presenter’s chair, the Football Focus host announced that he would be stepping down in the summer. Along with Jake Humphrey, Walker pioneered the fashion for extremely tall male sports presenters with unusually small heads. This gave them the advantage of looking permanently surprised, cutting out a lot of hard work when Michael Owen or Paul Ince are your guest pundits.

Walker’s replacement is Alex Scott, and the former England international made her debut on the first show of the new season alongside Dion Dublin and Micah Richards (BBC , August ). A deliberately provocative political decision from the Marxist BBC? Fingers crossed. The cold open saw the three walking through a backstage area engaging in some scripted banter about Dion’s new shirt and Micah’s new haircut. There was a lot of laughter. In fact, hilarity was the dominant theme throughout – not unexpected given that relentless jollity is Richards’ USP. “What are they laughing at, Dad?” said my son, quite reasonably. The answer was everything and nothing, and it was hard not to turn off the TV and protect him from this strangely upbeat alternative football universe.

For the vast majority of us, supporting a team is a series of crushing disappointments punctuated by moments of fleeting happiness. If you’re an -yearold Walsall fan it’s significantly less exciting than that. But the first item on the show was a perfect reminder that dreams can come true. It was also a beautifully judged way to mark both the return of football and fans to grounds. Brentford’s Friday night game against Arsenal was the focus – seen through the eyes of eightyear-old Bees fan Woody O’Rourke. The piece culminated with Brentford manager Thomas Frank spontaneously running over to celebrate their victory with Woody in a genuinely moving ending.

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The rest of the show was less successful. There was a soporific interview with Trent Alexander-Arnold, while a live chat with Rafa Benítez offered an open goal to talk about the huge discontent with his appointment among Everton fans,

but instead descended into a chummy discussion about formations and whether he wanted any more players. It made you yearn for the forensic questioning of Mark Lawrenson, which is presumably not the reaction the BBC was hoping for.

Not wanting to upset anyone has always been Football Focus’ Achilles heel. No such problems for Roy Keane who appeared on the panel at – deep breath – Gary Neville’s The Overlap Live Fan Debate (YouTube, August ), a two-part spin-off from Neville’s new podcast. Asked ahead of the event whether he is looking forward to meeting the invited fan audience he replies: “Truthfully? No, not really.” Keane is now one of the great comedy characters of our age and part of the fun is how much he clearly enjoys playing himself. Let loose in a room full of punters, his eyes twinkle in the same way that Black Holes twinkle just before they devour a star. Like a bouncer on the door of a market town wine bar, part of the fascination with Keane is seeing what will unexpectedly make him snap (on this occasion it was a combination of Love Island and Aaron Wan-Bissaka failing to track back).

Neville, Jamie Carragher and Keane’s success as pundits is based on being honest, eloquent and unafraid of the political. When discussing racism in football Neville asserts that “We’ve got a dangerous government”, an opinion that would cause utter panic in the production gallery at the BBC. Not that there aren’t contradictions in their arguments. Salford owner Neville decries the European Super League but thinks any owner should be allowed to buy a player for

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