Football

Programme of the week: Quest’s lovely EFL highlights

This week Johnny enjoys a highlights show that recently transferred from terrestrial TV to one of the lesser fingered frets on the guitar neck of broadcasting. That’ll be EFL on Quest, then.

What’s It All About?
This is where you go for highlights of leagues that are not Premier. In recent years they had been on that hard-to-refer-to-without-confusing-people channel, 5, and had been well-enjoyed. For the first two seasons they paired up George Riley with Kelly Cates and then Lynsey Hipgrave. It was rather good. In the third season Colin Murray was brought in to fly it solo and he made the leap to Quest for the 2018-2019 season when they bought the rights on a four-year contract. If, like many, you were only vaguely aware of Quest as one of those many, many channels you flicked past when, slightly worse for wear, you went in search of trashy late night entertainment, it is actually owned by the Discovery Channel. Launched in 2009, it is free-to-air.

It has some form for showing football. In 2014 it broadcast the Schalke 04 Cup – a pre-season tournament featuring Newcastle and West Ham. Later that season they showed the Dubai Challenge Cup. One suspects the viewing figures were…unimpressive.

Having won the contract to broadcast highlights from the EFL, they began on August 4, but there were some teething problems at the start with pictures breaking up and dodgy sound; these have been ironed out, obviously.

It goes out at 9pm on a Saturday night and runs for 90 minutes.

The Week’s Programme
Presenter
: Colin Murray
Guest: Ian Holloway

I think that the majority of the show is broadcast live, with pre-recorded interviews dropped in when needed. And off we go. Good, short opening credits, done in a distinctive orange and black banding, which is something different. Theme tune is strummy without a memorable melody, but that’s the modern way. They don’t get Johnny Dankworth in to blow his horn anymore. More’s the pity, not least because he’s dead.

The set is primarily a striking combination of red, blue and black with an iridescent white teardrop-shaped desk between Colin and Ian. It has a red centre circle and glowing red single leg, giving it the appearance of some sort of dilithium crystal generator from Star Trek.

Getting the tone right for a programme like this is essential as we’re talking about rootsy football, often played out in unfashionable, out-of-the-way places, often to small crowds, sometimes to larger ones. This is the bedrock of English football and needs understanding and respecting as that, not just as a sporting spectacle but as part of social and civic life.

This, perhaps above all else, is what Colin does so well on the show. It’s all very even-paced and while much more time is given to the Championship, every league is paid respect. He has any everyman style which is crisp, lean and enthusiastic, but never toadying to the ex-pro, player or manager.

Our man says hello and is now a young-looking 41, broad of shoulder and enviably low of body fat. He promises “70 teams, 92 goals over 90 minutes and always at 9pm…and with a liberal splash of Ian Holloway”, which sounds ever so slightly saucy.

And we’re straight into the action with Ipswich v Preston, featuring a hilarious goalkeeping red card and an outfield player going in goal, which is a bit of a collector’s item these days. Ipswich boss and professional mumbler, Paul Lambert pops up and says something that’s quite hard to understand, so much so that at one point it sounds like he’ll start doing a bit of jazz scat singing vowel sounds.

Ian Holloway has a backdrop of blue skies and high summer clouds, making it look like he’s sitting in a field, possibly drinking cider and musing on the nature of existence.

Next steak on the grill is Rotherham v Swansea, commentated on by someone called James Phelan.

Just a word here for the short highlights commentators: I don’t know, but I imagine most are doing it off tube. They’re always introduced but usually their names mean little to us. It’s a funny job. You know you’ll only be on a for a few minutes at most, and that you won’t be household name, but all the same, you’re getting paid for a football gig.

After the game, a 2-1 win for the Millers, Colin does an interview with Rotherham gaffer Paul Warne. I get distracted by Paul’s ear plug slowly popping out of his lug hole. Colin’s interview style is relaxed and usually with a quip or two. It’s an interview style which has made his ‘At Home With’ programmes for 5 live so engaging. Highly recommend those if you’ve not heard them.

We then skim through the goals and near-misses from other games with Dave Beckett doing the reporting on Nottingham Forest v Sheffield United, and Nick Halling doing Derby v Birmingham. Matt Williams covers Norwich’s 4-0 hammering of Sheffield Wednesday. Then it’s back to the studio for more chat about these games. Firstly about the Canaries’ ‘fifth gear performance’ and Owls’ struggles. As they make comments on the games during clips, peach and black banners come up at the bottom of the screen, such as ‘Ram Raid’ when talking about Derby. That seems a bit unnecessarily tabloid and adds nothing to the aesthetics of the experience. Also the colour just jars against the green of the pitches. But it’s a small detail.

After an ad break we’re back for more goals. Chris Ford does Hull v West Brom and the familiar voice of Georgie Bingham arrives to tell us about Blackburn v QPR. The boys return to dissect these two matches, focusing on a penalty given against QPR. Colin thinks it was right, Ollie disagrees, even though it’s clearly a penalty. “That’s the glory of football though”, the Irishman adds about their disagreement. And that’s right, (which is why we don’t need VAR).

Occasionally, Ollie looks a little sleepy and dries up, but like a pro, Colin steps in and fills the dead air.

They don’t name who does the Brentford v Millwall highlights, nor whoever was doing the Reading v Bristol City game, but Nigel Adderley is on hand to do somewhat extended clips of the Stoke v Boro match. Yes, I realise I’ve got obsessed with who the reporters are.

We end the Championship coverage with Friday night’s game at Villa Park against Bolton and that’s the first hour of the programme over with. There’s a look at the all-important table and that is that.

It’s a simple enough format and you can’t possibly leave without being fully up to speed on the second tier. It is as comprehensive as possible whilst working to obvious time constraints.

After the break they repeat the same format for League One, covering half of the games in one bite. The reporters are no longer mentioned, possibly because they’re the same team that did the Championship. Then back to the studio to talk about Jack Ross’s Sunderland, how well they’re doing and what a great attitude they’ve got, including Aiden McGeady who seems to have found his level.

After that we see the remainder of the game’s goals. Ollie makes a terrible joke about managers losing their jobs at this time of year. “When Christmas comes it’s more than just Santa that gets the sack,” he says. Except Santa doesn’t GET the sack does he? He takes sacks and delivers the presents they contain. Which isn’t the same thing but any reference to Santa’s sack will always wake my double entendre snake and that’s always to be welcomed.

Following the final ad break, there’s less than 13 minutes left to skim through the League Two games, have a quick comment from Ollie, look at the table and make a reference to LL Cool J, before the end credits roll. Only there are no end credits. This is common sight these days and it’s not one I approve of. Those who work on the show should be credited for doing so. I know that no viewer has a clue who they are but we didn’t know who Ken Morse – rostrum camera’ – was and yet we always looked out for his name after pretty much every and any programme from the ’60s to the ’90s. It just seems wrong to not have a list of camera people and directors, and it seems disrespectful of their graft and craft.

For all of us who love the lower leagues, the job is a good ‘un. You might argue that there could be more content and features, as was the case when on 5 with the dual presenters. But there’s so much football to cover in the given time, it does make doing much else tricky. And I suspect there;s not the budget to extend it by another half-hour to break up the highlights more.

So it’s all pretty stripped down but the main thing is the football and we emerge with plenty of that imprinted on our eyeballs.

What The People Say

‘Not a regular but did catch it one week when Ian Holloway disappeared early doors with a dodgy stomach. Colin Murray provided updates such as “Ian Holloway hasn’t left the bathroom for 7 minutes. Our thoughts are with him”. Handled so professionally to an issue we’ve all faced at least once in life.’

‘I really enjoy this show. Fairly no-frills in approach but focused on showing lots of game time and an excellent interview with Rotherham boss Paul Warne last week.’

‘Show is limited due to time but it makes an attempt to cover most clubs. Always like Murray but really showed quality when Holloway disappeared after dodgy kebab.’

‘Murray just gets football and what it means to be a fan. His ‘banter’ with the guests, as every football programme is contractually obliged to do, is over quick enough to not be an irritant. Gets far more out of the guests than the predecessor on C5 did.’

‘For a programme that is, due to format, necessarily bang, bang fast goal, save, goal, goal, look at the table, move on, it doesn’t feel rushed. And that’s a great achievement.’

‘I don’t watch the programme but hold Colin in high regard…..especially what he did in helping to raise the profile of the reformed Chester FC.’

‘I like the programme but not the red studio background.’

‘It’s ace. Just wish I knew about it before we were 6 weeks into the season…’

‘More straightforward than the C5 programme. Murray keeps the chat to a minimum and doesn’t condescend to the viewer. Judging by Holloway’s illness though, Quest need to sort our their catering hygiene.’

Is There Any Future In It?
They’ve got the contract for four seasons so we must presume they’re going to see those four years out. The Discovery Channel clearly has some financial clout and I would speculate is hoping to drive punters to their channel by putting football on there. But is that how it really works nowadays?

Surely we are all voracious consumers of media and have any number of products and programmes at our fingertips. We don’t just hang around on a channel because the football has finished, do we? We’re all so much more proactive than that, unless comatose through toxin ingestion. It’s not like the old days when you had to actually get off the sofa to turn over the channel and thus, too lazy or drunk to do so, you’d just watch the next thing on. That doesn’t happen anymore, especially with football consumers who will arrive at wherever is showing the kicky kicky, and will then nip off as soon as its ended, often to find more football elsewhere. We are gadflies. So if the aim is to increase viewers of Quest then I wonder if it will. It will have made people more aware of Quest but then there are loads of channels we never, ever watch that I know about. Indeed, I cancelled my Sky contract recently because, football aside, I simply never watched any programmes on Sky. Nothing. In fact, I think as choice has expanded, I’ve watched less and less TV because having to look through it all is too much like hard work.

From what I can tell, viewing figures for the EFL show vary between the 200,000-300,000 mark through the duration of the show. If that’s typical, I’d have thought that was a respectable number, not too far shy of what Sky might expect to get for a run-of-the-mill EFL live game. There may also be a lot of additional viewers through their On-Demand service as 9pm Saturday is often the time when people are out on the town trying to assuage with liquor, such is the anger and desperation that working hard all week for not enough, to make other faceless people rich, inevitably evokes.

There will always be a demand for EFL coverage that is free-to-view. It won’t always be a huge demand but it will always be there. Indeed, one might argue that the lower leagues may become more attractive to more people as the Premier League increasingly becomes an alienating financial fandango. Quests coverage looks set to provide that demand with a basic but satisfying Saturday night takeaway.

John Nicholson


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