12.20.06

Ingle On Football Italia’s Swan Song

Posted in Football, Sports TV at 9:33 am by

Serie A’s charms were once on full display on terrestrial UK television, but as satellite and cable have brought an overflow of Premiership, Football League and La Liga action into the homes of the soccer addicted, British interest in the Italian game has waned, writes the Guardian’s Sean Ingle.

On Saturday afternoon, after Internazionale’s Serie A match against Atalanta has been untangled and dissected, James Richardson will face Bravo’s TV cameras, smile, and utter one final arrivederci. Then, with a flick of an editor’s switch, 14 years of Football Italia will come to an end.

Few will witness its last rites – these days it struggles to pull in 20,000 viewers – but a great many will mourn its passing, and the absence of Richardson (above) from our screens. Anyone who resists football’s twin turkey twizzlers, cliché and monosyllable, as he does, should be commended; anyone who can make David Platt and Paul Elliott sound interesting (surely the TV presenter’s equivalent of the philosopher’s stone) deserves a knighthood. Instead Richardson – who by rights should be a well-cultivated moustache away from being the next Des Lynam – is twiddling his thumbs and wondering what might have been.

It was all so different in 1992 when three million tuned in for Channel 4′s first Serie A match, a this-way-and-that 3-3 between Sampdoria and Lazio. In those early years viewing figures were buoyant, helped by Paul Gascoigne, Des Walker, Platt and Paul Ince chasing the lira, as well as the lack of competition from domestic TV. With Sky having poached the rights to England’s top flight, Channel 4 was up against ITV’s piecemeal coverage of the old Second Division. Serie A offered San Siro glamour; ITV had Grimsby.

Channel 4 had another trick up its sleeve: Gazzetta Football Italia, a show that proved that intelligence and irrelevance were not magnetic opposites. When Richardson was not translating newspapers between slurps of his morning cappuccino on the Piazza Rotunda, or dismantling a five-storey ice-cream on the Piazza Navona – iconic images of Rome to rival Fellini – he was interviewing Roberto Baggio or Marcello Lippi, or persuading Platt to dress up as the Terminator. Once, famously, he got Attilio Lombardo to do the lambada.

“Almost every player has treated me graciously,” says Richardson. “I guess being English helped. Whenever there was a delay in getting an interview I would tell them that I had to catch a flight back to London; that always did the trick. Only Didier Deschamps and Alen Boksic asked for money; everyone else was very generous with their time.”

Now with Juventus in Serie B, Milan scratching around in the bottom half of Serie A and the calciopoli scandal still hanging queasily in the air, Bravo has decided to pull out. They are unlikely to be back: probably only the sight of David Beckham in a Milan shirt in January would make them change their minds. It all boils down to cold, hard economics: Bravo staples like Das Crazy Sex Show cost less to make and attract higher audiences. But sources close to the show continue to lament the lack of marketing and publicity. When Bravo’s website carries no mention of Saturday’s game, you cannot help thinking they are right.

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