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Dublin: 4°C Tuesday 13 April 2021

TV Wrap - Ghostly Bundesliga appears on BT Sport while NBC make a hames of golf's return

Donald Trump appeared during coverage of Rory McIlroy’s charity skins game with Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Mathew Wolff.

THIRSTILY EMBRACING AN alien, diminished but nonetheless live football experience after a two-month hiatus because of a deadly and once-in-a-century pandemic?

The Germans probably have a word for that.

Thus the Bundesliga returned to BT Sport on Saturday afternoon, with a twinkle-eyed James Richardson presenting from a cavernous studio accidentally constructed for social distancing.

Richardson and journalist Raphael Honigstein sat at either end of a large table like frosty lovers in a gothic cartoon mansion, as the gigantic head of Owen Hargreaves loomed over them like some despotic, authoritarian ruler with a knackered knee.


Hargreaves was piped in from his front room, with Richardson and Honigstein among the socially distant few in the studio. Honigstein, Jimbo assured us, had done his own make-up.

Welcome, then, to the new abnormal, although not all of the old verities have been blown from this bleached and plain new landscape. Within minutes of kick-off between Dortmund and Schalke, Twitter feeds everywhere were cascading with complaints about Steve McManaman’s co-commentary. It was a kind of folk music, stirring some ancient but remembered form of thought and speech to remind us why football is a collective experience like no other. 

Richard Jolly’s “‘Dortmund are in decent form’ says Steve McManaman, ignoring the reality that no one is in any form as they haven’t played for two months’” was the pick of the deluge. 

Notionally alongside him – although many miles away in reality – Paul Dempsey did an admirable job on commentary, given his task wasn’t too far removed from being asked to describe a silent disco from his front room.

Jimbo brought some trademark puns to the half-time break, joking that the revierderby was now the reverb-derby, adding that blundering Schalke goalkeeper Schubert didn’t look too composed.

Without the crowd noise, the coverage did occasionally become a symphony of forgotten, satisfying sounds, from the abrupt strain on the net when goals are scored to the buh-buh-buh of fizzed passes.

The Germans gave us the word ersatz and that’s what Saturday was: the ads carrying the Bundesliga slogan “Football as it’s meant to be” jarred as this is football as it now must be.

This desiccated edition of the game is undoubtedly worse – and it remains to be seen whether the game will remain as popular on television without its noisy spectacle – but with nostalgia now drained beyond the point of exhaustion, it’s better than nothing.

Much less successful was the return of live golf, as NBC took a good idea – PGA Tour golf without PGA Tour golf fans – and made a hames of it.

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Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff got together at a social distance to play skins for charity, raising money for nurses and the CDC while carrying their own bags and, in a rare flourish of golfing radicalism, wearing shorts.

All were mic’d up, but while conversations between golfers and their caddy are usually interesting, golfer-to-golfer chats are much less so. “I think you forgot I’ve won two FedEx Cups for $25 million”, bantered McIlroy at one point.

If you didn’t like this chat then there was some good news, as the commentators kept talking over it while the live feed to Sky Sports dropped more than once amid the reduced broadcast crew.

It was all very relaxed and casual, until things went from Tin Cup to tinpot around the ninth hole when Donald Trump phoned up. 

Host Mike Tirico obliquely mentioned McIlroy’s comments earlier this week – that he enjoyed his infamous round of golf with Trump in 2017 but that didn’t mean he agreed with “anything that he says” – to which Trump surprisingly blathered generally, deciding not to take a direct shot at McIlroy.

“A lot of them are very political, actually. A lot of them like my politics very much and some don’t, I guess.”

Trump then vomited his usual mix of lies, superlatives, and large numbers before making way. Host Tirico once played golf with Trump, and bore witness to his legendary cheating, recorded in Rick Reilly’s fabulous “Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump.”

Per Reilly’s book, Tirico hit what he thought was “the shot of his life” into a par 5, only to find his ball in a bunker 50 feet from the hole. “Lousy break”, said Trump.

After the round, Trump’s caddy told Tirico he had actually hit to within 10 feet, but Trump had raced ahead and tossed the ball into the bunker.

Tirico made a meek, subtle reference to Trump’s cheating as they parted ways on air, saying “I got to see firsthand: you’re a good putter, knock it to kick-in distance often.”

This, then, was the first weekend of live TV sport of the Covid-19 era, with more to follow across the weeks ahead. 

So what did we learn? 

Erm…while sport can sometimes be used to explain the world, best of luck in finding Mike Tirico interviewing Donald Trump from his basement about golf and the country’s pandemic response useful in trying to understand anything. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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