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Football Italia No More


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For the life of me, I cannot understand why James Richardson is not presenting a mainstream football show. But according to the Guardian his show on Bravo has now finally been dropped. There is a nice piece by Sean Ingle on this below:


Arrivederci, James, and thanks for the memories


As Bravo prepares to pull the plug on Football Italia, let's celebrate 14 years of James Richardson's unique coverage of Serie A.

December 20, 2006 12:30 AM


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 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."


But while the 1990s was a golden age for Italian football, with the seven sisters - Juventus, Milan, Inter, Lazio, Roma, Parma and Fiorentina - all having resources to challenge for the scudetto, it did not last. "Many of these teams were built on borrowed money and had fanciful expectations about future incomes," says Richardson. "And when the TV bubble burst, the whole thing collapsed."


And so did British viewing figures. Since Channel 4 gave up in 2002- having shabbily halted transmission of Roma's last-day scudetto win with 10 minutes of the game still remaining - the rights have gone from British Eurosport to Bravo, like a footballer tumbling down the divisions at the end of his career.


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.


As it happens, the decision comes just as the foundations have been laid for a more competitive Serie A. "Calciopoli seems to confirm all the bad things about Italian football," says Richardson. "But it was an influence-peddling scandal, not a match-fixing one and - for a change - Italy didn't sweep it under the carpet. In the long term it will help level the playing field, as will the next TV rights deal in 2007. Before, Juve, Milan and Inter divvied up most of the pot but this one will be collective agreement."


And what of Richardson? "I will certainly be watching Setanta, rooting for Roma," he admits, "as well as presenting Guardian Unlimited's Football Weekly podcast. But it would be sad not to work on Italian football again." For 14 years Richardson and Italian football have been locked together in a joyous tarantella. One day, it must be hoped, they will dance again.



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