Football Focus left without a home in BBC’s relentless pursuit of TikTok-watching youngsters

It is a venerable institution that turns 50 next year, but who is Football Focus now being made for? Its former host, Dan Walker, offered the view on Twitter that the show is “struggling” and its current presenter, Alex Scott, not unreasonably, reacted.

The noon Saturday magazine-style programme has lost a third of its audience. On Saturday’s show, Scott had an interview with Arsenal’s captain and told viewers “I love Martin Odegaard’s new song but I’m not joining in, I’m not going to sing it.” Guest Fara Williams joked: “I reckon if you sing it, our views for this show might go up.”

Hopefully it won’t come to that, but clearly there is a growing sense that something has to be done, because viewing figures are now not much over half a million.

Football Focus has occupied its late morning start-of-the-weekend slot since 1974, when it debuted as an element of Grandstand. The longevity is an astonishing and admirable achievement in its own right, given how much tastes have changed and how many more entertainment options there are now compared to 1974. For a lot of kids growing up in the Eighties and Nineties, Football Focus with Bob Wilson became part of our diet along with frozen French-bread “pizzas” and readily accessible glue, because it got a lead-in from children’s TV. It might not be an exaggeration to say that it formed part of a bridge from childish things into the (sometimes) more grown-up world of sport. The problem now is that it’s not quite clear if it is a show for children, or if it is for adults.

Scott’s other guest this weekend alongside Williams was Stephen Warnock, and it made for a peculiar trio. Warnock is perfectly acceptable as a pundit but, clad in his sensible Man At C&A grey zip-up, intoning politely about gentle talking points, he doesn’t immediately scream excitement to the younger generation.

Scott is an excellent pundit and is developing as a host, but those are two different roles and she is still as yet at her most natural when reacting and engaging with stories and colleagues rather than reading links off the autocue. The Football Focus presenter gig was a role filled by Gary Lineker earlier in his career and perhaps the plan is that it would be the next stage in Scott’s development. But we live in impatient, unkinder times than those when the jug-eared Queen Mum of Football was taking his first baby TV steps.

Williams seems most comfortable bantering, which is fine, but overall the format falls between two stools. Watching three former footballers sit around chewing the fat inoffensively is not exactly going to lure the youngsters away from TikTok, while older football fans find the personalities and tone of debate lightweight. The most critical might say the offering verges on the inane.

The best bit of Saturday’s show was an extended interview by Lineker with Ange Postecoglou, a thoughtful conversation between two grown-ups that stood as an engaging piece of TV in its own right, and indeed was offered on iPlayer as a separate programme. I commend it to you without hesitation. In contrast, Scott’s chummy chat with the boyish Odegaard was quite sweet but wouldn’t have been out of place on Blue Peter.

The features from around the footballing nation – Luton’s quirky ground, an eccentric Floridian who now owns Gillingham – are watchable and, you know, harmless. The bit with Scott and Williams yukking it up about Scott being a player you can now control in the latest edition of football video game EA FC (previously the Fifa Xbox and PlayStation series) was lost on this viewer at least.

That viewing figures have gone down since Scott took over from Walker could be seen as cause, or coincidence. But the current format, which has too little energy for the kids and too little substance for the grown-ups, might be best to retire as it raises its bat for the half century.

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