Aidan Smith: Some football programmes are simply more bloke than woke

Farewell to the croissants as Sky Sports axes Sunday Supplement

Sunday, 9th August 2020, 7:30 am
Chunky knitwear was the order of the day on Sunday Supplement.
Chunky knitwear was the order of the day on Sunday Supplement.

I’ll tell you how much I used to love Sunday Supplement. Edition after edition would pile up in my telly planner because I liked to save them, to savour them, like a plate of warm croissants.

Then, when I found myself with a spare few hours, the house empty or at least quiet, I’d gorge on them the way you would a gripping boxset drama. When I think back this is faintly ridiculous: each programme related to the there-and-then. Issues would quickly be rendered out of date or overtaken by events. Really, the debates were as disposable as the newspapers represented by the journalists sat round the plate of warm croissants. But that didn’t matter, not when it was The One In The Alice Band vs The Man United Groupie.

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If you’ve never seen Sunday Supplement you won’t know what the hell I’m talking about. This was Sky Sports’ hack-pack chit-chatterama about football. That was the set-up, the plot, the deal. A football programme containing no football, and yet it worked. For two decades these guys kept this up, The Posh One, The One Who Had The Full English Before The Show, Topped Up With A Muffin In The Car, The One In Love With Arsene, The One In Love With Jose. But no more. The show’s been axed.

On the face of it, this is bizarre. Football obsesses the nation. There are games-a-go-go on TV. The churn of news, controversy, whataboutery is relentless. England’s Premier League was allowed to come out of lockdown to lift spirits (and to avoid paying back £170 million to its broadcasters).

Sunday Supplement was majorly about the Prem but Scots would watch because a) we’re not insular people and b) we’re partial to a bit sado-masochism. We enjoyed being irked by guys who boasted too much about the Prem being the best league in the world, or simpered too much about the golden generation of Becks, Lamps, JT etc, or believed too much that after all those years of hurt Ingurland really were – this time, surely – going to win the World Cup again.

The feeling of irritation was good; you then got on with the rest of the day at a brisk lick.

But I also enjoyed the intelligent discussions. Some outstanding journalists were regulars down the years; round-ball men who were also rounded men with wide perspectives and interests. And of course I liked the banter, the teasing and the wind-ups.

I got to know the nicknames, the in-jokes, the relaxed-casual dress preferences, who drank coffee and who stuck to orange juice. I came to learn when a grenade – low-impact, just a bit of fun – was about to be tossed on to the mound of croissants. It was by and large an all-male affair. Did I like that, too? I think I did. Well, let’s face it, when you’ve slunk off to another room for some furtive scrutiny of the iPad and your wife rumbles you, there are worse things to have been caught watching than Sunday Supplement.

The first host was Jimmy Hill but I didn’t have Sky back then. The glory years for me were when Brian Woolnough was in charge of proceedings and the impression given by the show was that the cameras were in Wooly’s kitchen and he’d invited three pressbox chums round for a blether. There would be broadsheet men and tabloid men. Wooly was from the latter camp but didn’t display any favouritism. Each scribe got the chance to tell a story from behind the headlines, explain why The Man United Groupie was wrong, so wrong, or offer up some morsels from his pasta-supper one-to-one exclusive with Jose on the Kings Road only a couple of nights previously.

Could they all have been that tight with the bold Mourinho? To be fair, there was one journo in particular who liked to give the impression he knew the then Chelsea manager’s pin number/inside leg measurement/earliest childhood memory. But the men munching the flaky, butter-based French variations on the morning roll were experts in their chosen field; that was the point of them. The high point of any edition was when the chat got round to Sir Alex Ferguson, still in his Old Trafford pomp, and who had been blackballed by him that particular week. Everyone had a personal Fergie anecdote of this sort; indeed they all had several. Banning orders were worn like badges of honour on the chunky knits.

Wooly was a genial host in his plum pullover and what I liked best about him, concerning the cheerleading for the England team, was his weary scepticism bordering on irritation. Let’s wait and see what happens in the penalty shootout which is bound to come. Sadly he died and Neil Ashton took over. He was good and I kept watching. The editions piled up, to the dismay of my wife, because it was her programmes which got deleted to make room for them.

She wondered what happened to the food which went uneaten. Was it piling up in the Sky car park, a croissant mountain similar to the supply surpluses created by the European Union? And then suddenly the programme stopped being a must-see. I’m not really sure why. I mean, I still liked football but maybe the incessant yabbering around it simply got too much. Peak punditry had been achieved.

Ashton left and so it seemed did some of the regulars. New faces were introduced – nothing wrong with that – but they were different: young, occasionally female, and hungry, at least in ambition terms. Earnest and trim, they passed on the croissants. Latterly there was a woman presenter – Jacqui Oatley. Long-running shows change. Change or die, so they say, but Sunday Supplement changed and it’s still been scrapped. Covid, the pile-up of games and a re-ordering of the broadcaster’s resources comprise the official explanation. But the reaction of many (ex-)fans was one of sadness: you cannot diversify the hell out of everything on TV; some programmes are simply more bloke than woke and should be allowed to stay that way.

I tracked down one of the final editions and shared in the pain. No offence, Jacqui, and I know you were required to present from home – but that was a piano in your front room. And what my wife reliably informs me was – what the hell? – “feature wallpaper” ...

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