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I spent a Saturday listening to BBC 5 Live – and you should too

I spent a Saturday listening to BBC 5 Live – and you should too
Mark Chapman is a consummate professional - PA/Mike Egerton

When BBC Radio Five Live made the decision last summer to discontinue the full classified football results, many sports lovers had one of two polarised views.

Some saw it as a wanton act of cultural vandalism, an annihilation of something profoundly British that we were once proud to clutch to our collective bosom: the bobby on the beat, red phone boxes, a quietly seething stoicism, Woolworths.

Others reasoned that you can get the results so easily via mobile phone, tablet, toaster or subliminal messages from the Chinese government via 5G and vaccine implant that it was a needless relic. The more prosaic truth is that the erasure allows BBC Radio Five Live to cram a bit more sports news in before a live early evening kick-off.

We may no longer have James Alexander Gordon or Charlotte Green but, having spent 12 hours listening to it on Saturday, I would say that Five Live’s strengths and virtues remain undimmed: unfussy excellence, warmth, depth and breadth.

From the Saturday Breakfast you have the main sport and news stories, including Eleanor Oldroyd on the intriguing, and potentially hilarious, conflict of interest in an upcoming fixture where Scotland’s women footballers know that some of them will probably get to play for Team GB at the Olympics – but only if a heavy defeat bolsters the goal difference of the Auld Enemy and allows England to claim entrance to Paris 2024 on behalf of Great Britain.

Throughout the morning you have a blend of chat, actual journalism and reporting, and light entertainment with news, Patrick Kielty’s show and Fighting Talk, which featured none other than Telegraph Sport’s Jim White. The main business of the channel on a weekend, of course, is live sport and it remains expertly helmed by one of the very best around, Mark Chapman.

Five Live’s afternoon sport serves as corrective to Sky’s relentless hype: not every football match is a thrill-a-minute, pulsating drama, despite what the West London peddlers of iron pyrite might have you believe. Indeed, a great many football contests are something like Nottingham Forest vs Everton on Saturday evening, whose second half was teed up by Alistair Bruce-Ball with “well, you could afford to miss a few seconds of this” and Paul Robinson, a thoughtful and well-prepared analyst, as “a good bad ‘un”, as in a poor quality game that holds the attention.

There is a great democracy to the coverage as well, the way it will be from Arsenal one minute and Maidstone the next. There is gentle humour but there are sharp questions too. For instance, after a variety of rugby union types, including Chris Ashton and Kyle Sinckler, opined that Owen Farrell has been subjected to a sustained campaign of abuse, Chapman simply queried the nature of said flack and whether it had been as personal as all that. Nobody really seemed to have chapter and verse.

There is a good blend of broadcast journalists and ex-players; many of the latter clearly put in so much work and have so much expertise that they are all-rounders now. Pat Nevin would be the obvious example; from the younger generation, I enjoy the work of James McFadden and Glenn Murray. Murray was good on Andre Onana, who appears friendless at United. “He yelled at Harry Maguire when he was one of the weak ones and that comes back to haunt you. It is easier to put your arm around a player you’ve known for a while.” Interesting insight into the dressing-room mindset.

I spent a Saturday listening to BBC 5 Live – and you should too

I like that the consumer is spoken to as an adult and, again, that is not always the case with televised sport. In the interests of balance, it should be said that more than a couple of minutes spent in the company of Robbie Savage, Chris Sutton and the battery of loons and malcontents who debate with them on 606 remains the audio equivalent of bashing yourself around the head with a prizewinning root vegetable of fearsome girth and density.

But that aside, you have your news, you have your opinions, and you have a time machine back into a thousand car journeys coming home from games or racing, or the radio in the kitchen with the cold winter at bay outside: memory, familiarity, a tolerable level of stimulation, comfort.

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