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Off the pitch

Colin Hancock | 11:15 UK time, Monday, 12 June 2006

First, an admission. I'm obsessed by football.

wato.jpgMy earliest memories are of FA Cup finals. I first fell in love with the wonderful Dutch team of the 1970s and felt desolate when they lost to the West Germans in 74 (to think it was our own Jack Taylor gifting the second penalty), and I've spent far too much time and money following Manchester United and England around the world.

I've seen England lose on penalties in Turin, at Wembley and in St Etienne... and three of the happiest nights of my life were spent back in Turin and then Barcelona as United twice fought back from the impossible to triumph in Europe, and four years ago in Sapporo as Beckham scored to defeat Argentina.

And yet I haven't broadcast a second of World Cup coverage thus far in the main body of either The World at One or The World This Weekend. Nor will I unless something remarkable happens in the next month of glorious football.

It's not that I don't want to - it's just that it doesn't really, well, work. For a start we've only got 24 minutes, once you take out the headlines and bulletin - and that pushes the bar for stories pretty high.

Then our programmes are, we like to think anyway, about that rules out all the fascinating, but clearly straight sport, discussions about teams, tactics and performances. Of course there are great stories - for example there's clearly been the mother of all rows between the FA and Sir Alex...and we did indeed ask for interviews with all the main parties to this yesterday - but in general, because we don't cover sport that often, we don't know each other very well and frankly it's not in their interests to discuss the difficult stuff.

On top of all that, unlike political parties, such bodies aren't usually looking to push a particular policy, they don't have a raft of practised interviewees and they don’t feel any sort of democratic imperative to explain themselves in public.

That still leaves, of course, a huge amount of general material we could broadcast: the experiences of fans as they travel around Germany, the thriving black-market, the security preparations, the impact of participation in the countries of some of the first-time finalists....there's certainly enough there to fill every minute of every Radio 4 news programme for four weeks. But while some of this can be very illuminating, very little would pass the hard-news test.

However, the main reason is that I don't think our audience needs or wants another programme featuring World Cup coverage. We specialise in national and international politics, public policy, social debates - and generally, that's what our listeners tell us they want.

For us football fans and those interested in the surrounding stuff (until you've travelled around a major championship it's hard to get a feel for such things as the policing tactics, the origins of any violence, the genuine international friendships that develop and the ludicrous ticket allocation and huge black market it creates) there's just so much out there.

Fantastic websites and blogs will get you closer to the fans' experience than we can. Networks such as Five Live have the airtime and expertise to range across virtually any subject you'd care to listen to...and of course every match is live on 5Live and terrestrial television. I wouldn't swap a World Cup month for anything: I'm only sorry you won't be hearing any of it on The World At One. Unless England win of course.


  • 1.
  • At 03:11 PM on 12 Jun 2006,
  • Pat wrote:

No danger of hearing it then Colin!

  • 2.
  • At 10:40 AM on 14 Jun 2006,
  • Chris Martin wrote:

I think that as a one off it would be alright to talk about the world cup as it only comes arround every four years as long as it doesn't go on for too long.

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