Tuesday, April 25, 2006

RIP Grandstand

Jeff reacts as Gretna go two down

It was announced today that the BBC are to phase out Grandstand - their flagship Saturday sports programme - as viewing figures continue to decline. In a way, I'm sad about this, as I have fond memories of sitting in front of the telly with a plate of sandwiches and crisps watching Football Focus. It was an unofficial tradition in our house, along with my Dad cheerfully chucking a packet of crisps at us as we sat there waiting for him to finish making our rolls. "I thought you liked corned beef" and "Why has he got three and I've only got two?" were also common occurances. The later-starting Sunday Grandstand meant we had to eat whilst watching Country File, which was never quite the same. Eating ham sandwiches and footage of pig farms just don't sit as well together.

But, I'm probably part of the problem too - as I keep referring to the sheer magic of Sky Soccer Saturday (described by today's Guardian as a 'cult hit'), the old-style Grandstand looks lumbering by comparison. In response, they recently launched their own 'men watching men watching football' service - but the combination of lurid red and yellow graphics and Garth Crooks mean it can't compare with Jeff Stelling and the boys. I read an excellent article about SSS recently, where Simon Hattenstone rightly pointed out that the ever-enthusiastic Jeff manages to give equal import to lower-league games as he does to the fancy Premiership contests - and this is why the service works so well.

To the uninitiated, Grandstand is/was a multi-sport wedge of television from roughly midday to the early evening, every Saturday (and Sundays in summer). Started in 1958 in the glorious black and white era of technicians in brown coats, it continued to rise in popularity as one of the few places where you could watch a variety of sports in one day, without moving from your sofa. These days of course, there are a million sports channels beaming every sport at you at any time, so sitting through three hours of Showjumping to get to the golf isn't going to cut it anymore.

However, Grandstand introduced many household names to the UK - Des Lynam, David Coleman, Peter O'Sullevan, Harry Carpenter, Murray Walker to name a few. The fact that all of these men are just as (and maybe more) famous for their presenting style than the sports they covered gives an idea as to why the franchise is in trouble. These days, presenters/reporters/analysts seem to come from identical moulds - none have the charm and wit of a Lynam, the voice of an O'Sullevan, or the ability to cock things up like Walker. These days, there's only one sports presenter I can think of who could go clipboard to clipboard with the greats - and that's Jeff Stelling from Sky Soccer Saturday. That's why I don't watch Grandstand anymore, and I think that's why the BBC are sadly phasing it out...