Aside from roundly mocking Sky’s Andy Gray for his inability to describe any event in the past tense (“there is a tribe in the Amazon called the PirahÃ£ who live entirely in the present. They have no interest in the past, and there are no words in their language to describe it…I am wondering if Andy Gray is one of them”), the Guardian’s Martin Kellner surveyed ESPN’s first attempts at UK coverage of the Premier League and based on his measured critique, I am going to assume neither Golic nor Greenberg were guests in the commentary box.
Its pictures came from Sky cameras, and in the presentation, there was scarcely a whiff of innovation. This is extremely annoying for people like me, used to getting three snappy paragraphs out of an Andy Townsend Tactics’ Truck or some similar gimmick. Steven Berkoff (above) was about all there was to laugh at on ESPN, filmed on a stage somewhere, declaiming about the importance of football, in the style of Henry V on the eve of Agincourt, but without entirely losing sight of the Hovis advert. “This is who we are. This is what we are,” thundered the great actor. “This is bollocks,” was the unworthy response, I am afraid, from my sofa.
In its early days ESPN subsisted on obscure action from the outer suburbs of sport, allowing wags to create imaginary schedules featuring sports like Amish Rake Fighting and Australian Dick Wrestling, so now when the channel sees plausible sport, economically priced, it tends to make a play for it, and not worry too much about the programmes around it.
As it happened, ESPN lucked out in its first match with Everton standing back with the rest of us to admire Arsenal’s pretty football and six goals. Aside from the action, the show did not look very handsome, although one was distracted from the garish red and black set, and mirrored desk, by pundit Peter Reid’s patchy grey mutton-chop sideburns, which make him look either like a Dickens character or someone pitching to be the new face of Special Brew.
Reid also kept referring to Everton’s Fellaini as Fellini, possibly as a tribute to Bobby Robson rather than the late great Italian film director. And the channel’s list of forthcoming attractions, which included UFC, MLB, DTM, and AFL, lead you to wonder whether ESPN has a particular affinity with sports defined by initials.