The Magic of the FA Cup? – Not on ITV!

If given enough time and purpose I could write a long and poisonous diatribe against the evils of Sky television. With it’s egregious presentation, farcical hyperbole and pre-Premier League amnesia it’s virtually short hand for all that is ill in the modern game. Why if I were a semi decent mid-table Premier League youngster I’d be big headed and self important too if I watched enough pumped up featurettes of myself running and gurning in slow motion to the music from Gladiator.

I could also write a damning and dismissive critique of good old Auntie Beeb, with its lazy, entitled approach to our national sport, uninsightfull and ill researched analysis (cough Alan Shearer cough) and the sneaking suspicion we’re paying for them all to regularly frequent tanning salons and hold lavish Eyes Wide Shut style parties

However I wouldn’t and won’t, because the crimes of these two pale into insignificance next to the behemoth of televisual football balls ups – ITV.

In a stricter, less forgiving world – and the one I’ll run when I’m eventually recognised as the rightful lord and master of the Universe – ITV would’ve been banished from presenting the FA Cup after they cut to an advertising break just before Everton’s dramatic Extra-Time winner against Liverpool in 2009. But alas, due to the namby pamby liberal nature of modern British society (Nick Clegg? Pah!) they were reprieved, and allowed to trundle on and do it again during England’s World Cup opening game against the USA, depriving ITV HD viewers the joy of watching a full third of England’s tournament net bulging.

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In my – just and righteous – new World they would’ve been stripped of their terrestrial status and made to go and play in the corner with Bravo and Granada Men and Motors, with their 3rd channel status given to BBCThree or More4, but again they were let off. Shamefully.

Even when they pulled off the coup of all coups and stole Match of the Day from under Auntie’s nose, they somehow managed to mess it up, playing only 28 minutes of football highlights in their first 70 minute show under the bizarre assumption that what viewers who tuned into a football highlights show actually wanted to see was Andy Townsend talking, something they took to surreal levels of absurdity with “Townsend’s Tactics Truck”, in which our erstwhile hero corrected tactical errors in hindsight to the actual, live Premiership players who’d made them, whilst in the back of a truck.

Even their generally competent coverage of the Champions League – their flagship footballing broadcast – was often marred by their insistence on awful punditry, which reached such dire levels Townsend and Robbie Earle were forced to stand outside on the pitch with a little wooden table and not allowed back in again until they made sense.

And now, due in part to their own lust for power and in part the BBC’s lackadaisical arrogance, they’ve gained control of the FA Cup, something we all felt the consequences of last weekend.

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Despite early worries, both Arsenal vs. Leeds and Manchester United vs. Liverpool managed to broadcast without cutting to a commercial break at any time during play, and despite a couple more cracks creeping into their already established flaws of tacky presentation and poor punditry, they mostly passed off without a hitch and to a casual observer, vaguely well.

New but minor annoyances included the “slightly smudged into the screen” effect used on the in-screen scoreboard, presumably in an attempt to make it look cool and futuristic, but which only succeeded in making me feel drunk and unsure of my focus levels, and the brazen new levels of bias co-commentary employed by former Liverpool clogger Jim Beglin, who seemed completely unwilling to admit Manchester United were even playing in their 3rd round tie, let alone deserving of any credit for it. The little whimper he let out when Gerrard was dismissed was ample make up for that though and I suppose the commercial channels have no requirement to be impartial.

No, the real crimes were left for the late night highlights show, and that’s when it all became hopelessly clear – yet again – that ITV should not be allowed access to our treasured sporting events.

Prefixed by a sort of Grange Hill on acid title sequence, highlight coverage of their non-live games was shocking, seemingly filmed on a partial zoom ten rows down from where the BBC and Sky are allowed to film from. Whilst their rivals can manage to make a League One ground seem relatively imposing and 21st century with their flattering angles and whoosing effects, “The FA Cup Highlights Show” managed to make Sunderland’s Premier League stadium look like it was being filmed 10 years ago for an end of season VHS compilation of an uninteresting midweek Johnstone’s Paint Trophy clash. The quality was infinitely inferior, and even seemed shaky at times, like it was being filmed on a camera phone – presumably because they’d run out of money after splashing it all on the smudge effect scoreboard for their live games. Consistency seemed to be another problem, with some replays just ignored and others pored over and one goal even missed altogether (Sheffield Wednesday) because the Cameraman was looking in the wrong direction.

And of course, more Andy Townsend.

I remember being angry when Sky bought the rights to Champions League and England games a few years back, believing they should be solely the preserve of terrestrial television, but I forgive them their indulgences and their single handed ruination of modern culture, because they do it well. And I forgive the BBC their snobbery  and controversial infant-swapping storylines because they are classy when they get it right. ITV even ruined F1 when they had it, and that’s just people going round in a circle for 4 hours. They need to be stopped before they get their hands on Wimbledon, or Crufts, or worse, the Premiership again. Won’t somebody please think of the children!

You can follow Oscar on Twitter here; http://twitter.com/oscarpyejeary, where you can lend him the money to re-make 80s Sci-Fi serial Quantum Leap in his garden. It’ll be good, trust me.

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