Television review: Football Focus
Wednesdays, 7.30pm (Indian time), ESPN Star
Presented by John Dykes
Nothing to do with Lawro or Dicko, Football Focus is the moniker adopted by ESPN for their weekly magazine show, a broadcast that is aired throughout the Asian continent. Based in Singapore, the programme chiefly provides a showcase for the channel’s exhaustive coverage of the Premier League (which they call the “EPL”), so mentions for the Championship can be at a premium. However, this week, the panel did discuss one key issue affecting our league, so I thought an appraisal of how the game is presented in Asia would be informative.
The interlocutors are an intriguing bunch. First there is presenter John Dykes, a man whose delivery screams the words SKY! despite his employment by a fierce rival. On November 18, he was joined by Shebby Singh, a former Malaysian international and one of the foremost stars in the country’s fairly undistinguished footballing history; north Midlander Paul Masefield, a journeyman with Stockport, Doncaster and Preston in the nineties; and Jamie Reeves, an FA Vase winner with Billericay Town and Stansted a generation before that. Although this might bring to memory Terry-Thomas’s catch phrase of “an absolute shower!”, it should be stated that on a previous visit to Asia, I had witnessed the considerably more decorated figure of Steve McMahon take part in the discussions.
The World Cup qualifiers (step forward Rory Fallon) formed the lion’s share of the debate — ESPN seem to have spent so much money obtaining Premier League rights that they don’t have the wherewithal to show much else – and a major drawback of the show was the severe lack of actual footage (in this it resembles radio based vehicles like the BBC’s Five Live Football League). Nonetheless, it was stimulating to hear a wide ranging discussion of the game from a non-partisan point of view (of course I would be in favour of that), with a heated debate on the format for the Qualifiers providing a highlight. Singh called for weaker regions such as Oceania, South and South East Asia to be grouped together, separately from the powerful East and West Asian nations.
The Championship came in towards the end of the show with the appalling, and thankfully junked proposals of Phil Gartside given undeserved house room. Singh and Reeves shamefully called for the Auld Firm to be included — a reaction to a Philippines based correspondent’s email agreeing with the Two Unfortunates line. Masefield to his credit, Brummie accent getting stronger by the second, pronounced himself firmly opposed to the idea, barely stopping short of swearing out loud. All in all, this is a diverting assessment of the week in Football and worth catching if you happen to be in the region.