Different Leagues

A League Of Their Own. Image shows left to right: Micah Richards, Jill Scott, Romesh Ranganathan, Jamie Redknapp, Mo Gilligan

Are sporting quiz shows a sport of their own?

There's an interesting moment in a recent edition of the retro football podcast Quickly Kevin, Will He Score? where co-host Josh Widdicombe asks guest Gary Lineker whether there would ever be a reboot of his old quiz show, They Think It's All Over. The former England striker pooh-poohs that idea, because other people are already doing it, he says, but with a much bigger budget.

Lineker is talking about A League Of Their Own, which has just begun its 18th season, with a typically stellar mix of comedians and sportspeople. What's always intriguing when big sports stars are involved in a show like this is how seriously they take it, particularly the retired ones. Can a quiz fill the competitive void? Is it a sort-of sport, for athletes whose knees - and toes - are now knackered?

One good definition of real sport is: can you bet on it? If they showed it live on TV, could you do an in-play like with football? Soccer is always a popular sport for in-play sports betting, as there are so many different bits of it to bet on, and games can completely change in the last few minutes. So what would be the best bets for an in-play edition of A League Of Their Own?

A League Of Their Own. Image shows left to right: Jill Scott, Katherine Ryan, Romesh Ranganathan, Micah Richards, Mo Gilligan, Jamie Redknapp, Gareth Bale

Obviously you'd wager on the final result, but also the top points-scorer - is anyone keeping tabs on which contestant gets the most points, per episode? Who is the TV MVP? But then perhaps we should introduce 'assists' into comedy now too, a stat that in recent years has migrated from US sports - and from fantasy football - into European soccer: after a goalscorer's name you'll now often see a credit for whoever set the goal up. Quite right too.

So, let's start doing that with comedy: if you watched an old Frankie Boyle bit from the early days of Mock The Week, for example, somewhere in the YouTube credits it should also say 'assist: Hugh Dennis,' or whoever - so that future generations who come across it will know who did the comedic groundwork. Right now the Premier League's best assist-maker is probably either Kevin de Bruyne or Mo Salah. Comedy's greatest, ever? Ernie Wise. No question about it.

Actually in the old They Think It's All Over days the real assist king would arguably be a behind-the-scenes writer like Kevin Day, as those sportspeople weren't coming up with carefully-crafted gags on their own. Well, most of them: Lineker prides himself on writing his own material on Match Of The Day, and the like.

With his own production company these days, it's doubtful that Gary would have the time or inclination to appear on a regular quiz show anyway, in truth. Also, you can't imagine the high-profile BBC host would want to go anywhere near a round like Feel the Sportsman now. Or share a pre-show green room with Lee Hurst, come to think of it; back in the show's heyday you couldn't have predicted how differently those two would wind up seeing the world.

Lots of reasons for Gary to give a reboot the swerve then. He thinks it's all over? It is now.

Published: Monday 30th October 2023

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