As I've said here several times before, I quite often find watching football on the telly boring. Usually this has little to do with the teams involved or the quality of the game itself. Rather it has everything to do with the fact that I have the attention span of an adolescent gnat. On the day of a big game, I will devour all of the pre-match previews in the newspaper, I'll watch the build up and the predictions and then happily watch the first few minutes with great concentration, but before too long, my mind will start to wander; I'll start idly flicking through a newspaper, I'll browse the internet, I'll get up and make a cup of tea, I'll wonder what I'm having for my dinner.... in short, I'll do almost anything but get lost in the narrative of the game unfolding in front of me. Sometimes the game is good enough to snap me out of this pattern and will simply demand my attention, but more often than not, I find myself dipping in and out of games.
The radio is completely different though. I love listening to football commentary on the radio. We have radios scattered throughout the house, from the kitchen to the bedroom to the bathroom, but every single one of them is tuned into Five Live. This is principally because I prefer talk radio to the inanities of Radio One when I get up in the morning, but I can't yet face Radio Four for what I see as its pompous tone and (more importantly) its lack of serious sports coverage. Five Live is much brighter and has a lighter touch and more sport than you can shake a stick at. Although I'll sometimes tune into Zane Lowe when I'm cooking my tea in the evening, more often than not I'll be tuned into a slightly scratchy medium wave signal and listening to Alan Green and Mike Ingham covering a game. My short attention span matters less when listening to a game on the radio: the commentators are working in a very different medium to their counterparts on television. Where the best TV commentators know when to let the pictures speak for themselves, radio commentary has to paint the picture for their listeners. In television, less is more. In radio, the reverse is true. When football is on the telly, I feel as though I have to be actually watching to pick up on the ebb and flow of a game. Not so on radio. My mind can wander all it likes whilst I'm listening to a game on the radio, but I can somehow still absorb the details of the game from the commentary as it plays out in the background. I can more easily enjoy a game passively on the radio.
There's a cultural difference too: football coverage on Sky seems to be contractually obliged to tell us how every game is the best game until the next game and to constantly harp on about what's coming up in "The Best League In The World" (tm). This is not a philosophy that Five Live subscribes to, and Alan Green in particular is especially quick to point out that he is finding any particular game turgid. Perhaps Green does it to a fault, but I quite like the honesty and find it far more convincing that Sky's brainwashing. Martin Tyler and Andy Gray are perfectly acceptable commentators (far more so than the sadly fading John Motson, anyway), but Ingham, Green, Jonathan Pierce and John Murray are frequently excellent as the main commentators, often ably backed up by an array of usually interesting and informative co-commentators. Who knew that Stan Collymore and Steve Claridge could provide such insightful and informed analysis? Certainly more informative and interesting than the likes of Alan Shearer and Ian Wright, anyway. They also cover lower league football well, with Mark Clemmitt apparently have an even more encyclopaedic knowledge of the football league than Jeff Stelling.
The other good thing about football on the radio? You get all of the games in one place and they're all free. No need for that subscription to Setanta here.... although if you want to hear Alex Ferguson or Sam Allardyce interviewed, you'll have to go elsewhere as they won't talk to the BBC (courtesy of Alan Green's big mouth and their own easily bruised egos and staggering abilities to bear a grudge)
The BBC have been getting a lot of criticism recently about how they spend our money. There's no question that they don't always get things right or that they do lots of things wrong....but in my opinion Five Live is one thing that they get more or less spot on. I
It's certainly not perfect --- I could do without Lovejoy and Spoony on 606 for starters, but perhaps that's another story.