JAMES Richardson is a likeable fellow, those that remember his ground-breaking Football Italia back in the 1990s will recall how. We warmed to his blokey, knowledgable persona and his love of decent coffee.
BT Sport pulled off a coup in getting the [surprisingly] diminutive Richardson, now equipped with middle-aged beard, to host their Champions League goal show, the ultimate hipster football programme.
This is a TV show for its time: choice, instant gratification, expert comments, humour and the armchair fan’s easy evening in. Most importantly, it also underlines that the best football pundits are not former players. BT, SKY and the BBC have been struggling in recent times to come up with some interesting and thought-provoking candidates for their matches. Some – no names mentioned – are really quite appalling.
Why? Firstly, most of them don’t say anything of great relevance, the equivalent of the poor writer using a quote that merely repeats the previous sentence. “What was that goal like?” may have been the question, but we don’t really expect an answer like: “That was a good goal”.
Secondly, with the exception people like Graeme Souness and Roy Keane, they rarely criticise of highlight problems. “I don’t want to go there,” said one pundit when discussing his former club, which of course is precisely why they were picking up their sizable Sky fee in the first place. There’s a few reasons for this – they don’t want to upset their old pals and also, they may be up for a job at some future stage. Football is a game of cliché and jargon, but so many old players are walking clichés and have splinters on their backsides.
So Richardson has a coterie of talented journalist pals as part of his cast: the increasingly bohemian James Horncastle, the slick Raphael Honigstein and the charming Julian Laurens to name but three. This is the sort of group you wouldn’t mind spending an evening in the pub with, sipping fine wine or high-class beer and talking all things European football. There are others and perhaps a bit of diversity needs to be introduced to give some balance, but these characters know their stuff and they have opinions. With Richardson in charge, you’ve also got some great banter – it is enough to forgive AC Jimbo his love of trains!
Occasionally, there’s a gem among the comments as the programme whizzes around the games in progress. “Oh, there’s a goal in Madrid”, and the focus turns to Real Madrid’s training stadium. By their tone, you can usually determine who has scored it, which means you can acquire the skills of a “Horncastle Whisperer”, enabling you to identify the shifts in intonation (rather like you could with the classified results).
Sometimes, the first language of the panellist comes through. When Bayern Munich’s Corentin Tolisso scored a cracker, Laurens quipped: “sacré bleu” and “c’est magnifique”. Meanwhile, the team pointed out that all German referees seemed to be Doctors!
There will be some critics who will claim that a programme like the Goal Show is the lazy person’s way to watch football, but it is more than that. It is a presentation of the football hipster age. After all, why not watch Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Chelsea all in one night?