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Like many English sports fans, the majority of the calories I burn are used up by shouting at the TV and occasionally going to the shops for more beer and crisps. Sports books tend to be about the sport itself or biographies of those who expended great effort to reach the top of their chosen sport. But in Martin Kelner's ''Sit Down and Cheer: A History of Sport on TV'', there is finally a book for the less energetic among us.
Kelner's history is certainly comprehensive, mentioning everything from the first radio broadcasts of rugby and football in the 1920s to the BBC's plans for multiple channels to cover the 2012 London Olympics. There is much about how sports coverage helped the fledgling ITV channel and, later, Channel 4 provide services in the early days and how their coverage of certain sports helped the channels grow. Conversely, there is much about how the advent of satellite television changed the futures of certain sports in the increased revenue that they paid for coverage.
I found plenty of memories within these pages, as someone who grew up in a time when sports coverage was fairly well established and I had the choice of BBC's ''Grandstand'' and ITV's ''World of Sport'' on a Saturday afternoon. I am old enough to recall the beginning of Channel 4 and Sky Sports, but was never involved enough to realise the full impact these channels had on the sports world. Many of the commentators mentioned are familiar enough to me that I can hear their voices in my head as I read their names, but I never realised how much was going on behind the scenes between them all.
Many of these commentators and hosts, Des Lynam in particular, became popular because of their relaxed and informative, yet entertaining style. Kelner has clearly picked up much from watching them, as his writing style is very similar. He has all the details at his fingertips and is able to present them in a way that stops the reader turning off or wondering what is on the other side of the page before this one is done. Given the size of the undertaking, this is very much the edited highlights, else it would become unwieldy, but it fits together so well that I felt I was getting if not the whole picture, as much as I needed. In TV terms, this is a ''Match of the Day'' book, containing the important elements and discussion of them, without getting bogged down in the unimportant parts.
Perhaps where the book falls down slightly is where Kelner talks a little more about himself. He has been involved in some sports broadcasting on both TV and radio, but he's not been as much to the fore as most of the people mentioned here. When he talks about the minor role he played, things seem to drift away from the history a little and he gives these parts more weight and time than they seem to deserve. He does mention in his afterword that this is a memoir as well as a history, but as this isn't made clear on the cover or early on, I found myself disappointed by these sections.
The majority of the book is very engaging. The politics as well as the sport are very well covered and there are memories as well as new information for the average couch sports fan. I found I was able to overlook the autobiographical parts which, whilst slightly intrusive, were only a small part of the book and had a generally enjoyable reading experience. Although, as the credits roll at the end of the book, I can't help but wonder how an audio book version read by some of the commentators listed here might sound. Whilst an engaging read for me, if more for the memories than some of the content, prices from £5.91 plus postage from the Amazon Marketplace mean this is one better borrowed than purchased, at least until the paperback version becomes available and prices drop.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk