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A ten-point training regime to ease transition from player to pundit

The Thursday column

Bristol City’s late heartbreak at the Etihad probably was in the script
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Occasionally I have been able to ask sportsmen who have gone into TV how they find the transition and what guidance and coaching they receive in their new role. It is always surprising how few say they get any feedback or advice whatsoever.

Footballers are coached intensively from a young age yet when they turn up in a TV studio it seems more often than not they are left to get on with it, which is weird because in many cases some of them clearly require ongoing teaching to make them better operators.

To help lift standards in a key area of sport broadcasting, namely football co-commentary, here are ten dos and don’ts that will make life far more pleasant for the viewing public if adhered to.

1 Don’t refer to scripts
Sport is unscripted. It exists to surprise and delight us. Nobody knows what is going to happen, however much we might convince ourselves we do.

It is therefore irksome to hear people inform us “this wasn’t in the script” when, say, Port Vale take the lead at Leicester.

If you are going to mention scripts at least do it in an original way and, after Manchester United have ground out a 2-0 victory over Southampton, declare: “That was in the script.”

2 Do be flexible with your man-of-the-match choice
It is not illegal to award the man-of-the-match accolade to a player who was on the losing team.

There are numerous games every season in which the outstanding individual walked off the field with his team having failed to gain a point and it is right and proper that they should be in the running for the bottle of champagne or whatever else the TV companies dish out these days.

3 Don’t criticise keepers for being beaten at their near post
When will people finally realise it is not always bad goalkeeping to allow the ball into the net between you and the near post?

A goalie has to position himself so that it is equally difficult to score past him to his left and right sides.

But if he wants to avoid being slagged off he should just plant himself on his near post and allow the opposition all the space in the world to put the ball into the far side of the goal.

This illogical criticism reached a new nadir last week when it was suggested Hugo Lloris should not have been beaten at his near post by Pedro Obiang’s howitzer. 

4 Don’t assume that the score won’t change

I’m all for realistic assessments of the state of a game and totally opposed to absurd efforts to make a fait accompli sound like it is still in the balance, but I also get cheesed off when commentary teams decide a game is over when there is more than 30 seconds to go and fewer than two goals between the sides.

There might, for instance, be two minutes remaining and the losing side, upon winning a corner, will be described as having their last throw of the dice. This is nonsense.

People who talk like this should watch a random two-minute segment of a match, which would remind them just how much can happen in that time.

5 Do tell us how a substitution affects a team’s formation
This sounds obvious but it is amazing how often the co-commentator will fail to inform viewers or listeners how a team have amended their positional strategy after a change in personnel.

If it is a centre-back for a centre-back we obviously don’t need to know, but if a tricky winger is thrown on to replace a left-back we are crying out for details of the new formation.

6 Don’t say that’s one for the cameras
This really does raise my blood pressure. Player heads the ball towards the top corner, keeper leaps across his goal and clutches it. Ex-pro chuckles: “That’s one for the cameras.”

No it’s not. It’s simply the most effective way to save the ball from going in. What is the cat meant to do? Scamper sideways to palm it away, thus risking tripping up? Stop saying it.

7 Don’t say a player has used all his experience
This is a particular favourite of Don Goodman, who is otherwise excellent. Seldom will the former Wolves warrior get through a game without telling us a player has “used all his experience there” and he is not the only culprit.

Things that activate this phrase typically include shepherding the ball out for a goal kick, chesting it back to the keeper or holding it up and getting fouled from behind.

These things are actually carried out by players of all ages but it is only when someone aged 33 or more does it that he is deemed to have dug deep into his memory bank to execute a fairly basic task.

It would have been interesting to hear the co-commentator say Steven Gerrard used none of his experience when he slipped and cost Liverpool the chance to win the title in 2014.

8 Do comment on a refereeing decision before seeing a replay
Gary Neville is a great broadcaster and one of the many reasons for that is when he is co-commentating he will attempt to say whether or not he thinks the ref has got it right before he is afforded the luxury of seeing the incident slowed right down and from numerous angles.

And if he doesn’t take a view he will make a point of reminding the audience just how difficult it is to get all these marginal calls right.

Sadly, many others shamelessly wait until they have seen it from every possible aspect and then lambast the poor arbiter. It’s utterly pathetic.

9 Don’t praise point-blank saves
It is beyond dispute that human reflexes are simply not reactive enough to enable keepers to move their limbs to respond to the trajectory in which the ball is travelling when it has been struck from close range.

All he can do is try to create the most effective block possible. If it hits him, all well and good. If not, it goes in.

Yet when keepers stop the ball from point-blank range co-commentators will praise them as if they have intentionally moved their arms within a thousandth of a second. It isn’t physically possible.

10 Don’t say a striker had to hit the target
Saving the most frequent source of annoyance until last, could co-commentators please bear in mind the following: there are two ways a shot can be unsuccessful. It can either miss the goal or be saved by the keeper.

Both are equally possible when a player has a clear sight of goal. The skill lies in placing the shot so it does neither, yet when players attempt to do that but end up blasting it high and/or wide it is almost mandatory for us to be told he had to hit the target there.

Obviously when they do hit the target but the keeper saves it they are then told they had to do better. It’s monumentally tiresome.

FA shouldn't throw book at juvenile offender

It goes without saying that the more society acts to stamp out bigotry in all its forms the better, and it should not go unacknowledged that football plays a full part in that with a variety of fine initiatives.

Britain is now a far less homophobic country than it was, and we cannot be many moons away from the day when the last halfwit stops caring about other people’s sexuality.

There is still work to do until we reach that point, but it is important that the war on discrimination chooses its targets carefully, which is what does not appear to be happening in the case of Mason Holgate. 

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The Everton defender, according to the Times, is facing the threat of an FA misconduct charge after an investigation was opened into homophobic tweets that he was alleged to have sent in 2012 and 2013.

Holgate apparently used terms such as 'fag' and 'battyboy', but it is not until the final paragraph of the Times story that it is revealed he was 15 and 16 at the time the tweets were posted.

I am all for acting purposefully and decisively to rid the world of the insulting marginalisation of people on the grounds of race or sexuality, but I also think pursuing a man who has worked hard to make a success of himself and punishing him for ignorant, juvenile messages he sent when he was just that – a juvenile – serves very little purpose.

Perhaps Everton and his agent could ensure a suitable statement affirming that Holgate condemns homophobia draws a swift line under this episode.

No grounds for Southwell terrain change

Well done to Arc for seeking views on which surface people would prefer at Southwell, albeit I was unaware there had been any particular clamour to ditch the Fibresand that has provided the platform for synthetic racing there since 1989.

My vote, for what it’s worth, is for the current terrain to remain in place. It seems safe, provides some variety from the other all-weather surfaces, and as an enthusiastic punter of winning distances it offers a unique challenge.

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Player heads the ball towards the top corner, keeper leaps across his goal and clutches it. Ex-pro chuckles: “That’s one for the cameras”
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