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Setanta’s Football Matters Reminds Us Football is for the Kids


North Americans don’t get much in the way of involving chit chat shows covering the Premier League. Sky’s CNN talking-head-over-ticker-tape style sports news is good for watching endless loops of Steven Gerrard looking forlorn as Liverpool’s title chances evaporate into thin air, but it’s hardly the sort of thing that makes you feel glad to be a part of the game.

But for those of us lucky enough to get Setanta, we do have Football Matters, a show hosted by former Football Italia presenter and current Guardian Football Weekly podcast host, James Richardson. It basically consists of Richardson punning his away through the weekend’s highlights alongside the not-hard-to-look-at Rebecca Lowe and a couch full of managers and ex-footballers, usually some variation on Alan Curbishley and Ray Parlour. The studio audience is also central to the action, a dubious mix of gangly supporters wearing replica shirts whose canvassed opinions range from “Tottenham need to pull themselves up in the league,” to “Ronaldo is going to help Man United do the Quintuple this year.”

The show isn’t knee-slappingly funny, although hearing the audience’s slow crescendo burst into a roar as Richardson spins off some dreadfully wonderful pun will at least put a smile on your face. Equal parts amusing and heartwarming is the sedate look the host puts on whenever a prepubescent audience member mangles his (usually) way through some half-cooked observation, usually overwhelmed by the mothering Lowe seated next to them, microphone in hand.

Yet the show’s most winning quality is its unforced irreverance. Sky tends to present football as if it were American Gladiators, all overwrought graphics and hopelessly hyperbolic similes. Setanta has at least opted for some measure of comic relief. Richardson’s banter makes the guests—some caricatured endlessly in the English broadsheets—seem banal, like soap actors discussing long-forgotten plot lines.  He’ll get Curbishley to speak candidly on his unemployment only moments before making Curb’s adam’s apple bobble through his unbuttoned collar with an off-hand quip. Even so, Richardson never gets credit for his extraordinarily journalistic instincts; his casual knowledge of the game would be impressive if he ever drew attention to it.

And yes, the audience is great too. Hearing these boys speak, you remember that football really is for kids—sometimes the deepest ruminations from a seasoned journalist can’t match the eloquence of the fifteen year-old boy, who “never thought Keane got a fair shake at Anfield.”  After a weekend of thundering excess and unrestrained egotism, its nice to have an hour and a half of children’s television to cut it all down to size.

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  1. arnold

    March 16, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    if beatin united is taking their title hopes away from them, lots of l’pool fans are in for the biggest surprise of their lives ccoz u just gave us somethin to think about…guess who’s up next pool??? Martin O’niell.. name ring a bell?

    18 this season promise. Hail Sir Alex

  2. Wayne

    March 3, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Hey Richard, Wayne from the EPL Offside here. Totally agree with that. I rarely watch Football Matters but it’s good. You get sick of Sky’s over used graphics and the mindless muttering of Jamie ‘Yeah, they played well’ Redknapp!

    James Richardson is a great pundit and has a fantastic football mind, and the puns only add to his appeal. I remember watching Football Italia on Sunday mornings years ago and I still remember being intrigued by what should be the boring image of him reading through La Gazzetta dello Sport every week.

    He’s just got the aura of a guy who knows and loves football, which is what you need from a pundit, without them saying ‘This is why I love this league, you don’t get this anywhere else!’..

    Can you guess who I might be referring to?

  3. Cathal Breathnach

    March 3, 2009 at 4:43 am

    I must say, cracking article Richard!

    Although I don’t watch the show that much (because it’s fairly poor), I think your article summed it all up really.

  4. Paul Bestall

    March 3, 2009 at 3:47 am

    Richardson is easily one of the best pundits in British football, his stint on Channel 4 covering Italian football was superb. Funny, intelligent and multilingual, why he’s not on BBC1 doing more football is beyond me.
    Rebecca Lowe is a very underrated presenter too and was stupidily let go by the BBC last year. A much better commentator and pundit than the woeful Jacqui Oatley who the BBC promoted last year and refused to deal with any criticism of the appointment by claiming people were being sexist. Quite how saying Lowe and the excellent Juliet Ferrington should have been promoted instead of Oatley is sexist is beyond me, but that’s the BBC for you.

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