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On Side
Not before time, frankly. For all its faults (morning, Mr Mellor!), Radio 5 continues to be something of an oasis. Sports coverage with teeth, commentary that conveys a sense of drama rather than artificially-enhanced excitement, a feeling of genuine intimacy amid the corporate screechings.

So television's failure to draw on the rich resources of R5 can only be explained by market researchers having determined that what the viewing public really wants is Jonathon Pearce bellowing gracelessly about "Rrrrrready, stttttteady, Tttttteddy!!!" and Gary Lineker grinning inanely through Grandstand from inside a giant football. Either that, or the voices we hear on the wireless belong to faces that are the stuff of children's nightmares - which, of course, never stood in Jimmy Hill's way.

Anyway, On Side is a commendable first step along the road that leads to Mark Bloody Lawrenson (a frequent R5 guest, ironically) finding a P45 on his doormat one fine morning. Presented by R5's excellent John Inverdale, it offers forty-five minutes of informed and intelligent sporty spoutings. Nothing earth-shattering but, equally, nothing braindead and banal either - and that's a rare achievement.

Aside from occasional lapses into cliché ('embarrassing' clips of stars in naff clothing; Johan Cryuff being asked to juggle a ball like a flippin' circus act), it's stimulating stuff. Where it falls down, however, is in its ambition. The first show attempted to cram interviews with (deep breath) Frankie Dettori, Chris Eubank, Jacques Villeneuve, Damon Hill, Evander Holyfield and Johan Cruyff into three quarters of an hour. Oh, and the highlights of Leicester v West Ham for good measure.

Until someone sorts that out - a newspaper full of headlines is just as dreary as one with no headlines at all - On Side will remain a missed opportunity. Inverdale's strength is that he asks questions that force his subjects to reveal a little of themselves - something that is very, very uncommon in sports journalism. Yet any momentum that is built up evaporates after seven minutes as we move jerkily onto the next guest. Shame - while I'm fairly certain that Dettori and Villeneuve have few hidden depths, I'm just as sure that the likes of Cruyff and Eubank are complex characters that demand closer interrogation. And you could've filled the entire programme with discussions on Michael Schumacher's fall from grace without boring anyone.

Still, it's a start. If On Side represents a counter-attack against some of the more moronic sports coverage on television, then it's to be warmly welcomed, regardless of teething troubles.

Ian Grant