Zany effects make for wild viewing

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 April, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 April, 1999, 12:00am

Watching six-hours solid of Cup semi-final action can leave you bleary-eyed so you'd be excused for feeling dizzy and seeing stars.

CABLE Sports contributed to the sense of disorientation with a series of technical problems over the duration of Sunday's action.

Manchester United v Arsenal and Spurs v Newcastle each had plenty to recommend them in terms of gripping action, great tension and controversial refereeing decisions.

Yet the tension was exacerbated for all of us watching the game in Hong Kong as the transmission kept breaking down at key moments.

This kept the viewer on tenterhooks as we awaited these unscheduled returns to the studio experts. Each break in the live feed was accompanied by a message, which went something like 'General Enquiries - Tower Broadcast Centre' with an overseas telephone number attached. Effectively it sounded like 'please put a dollar in the metre, cough up or we pull the plug'.

CABLE TV spokespeople were quick to deflect the blame, however, insisting that the fault in every instance lay with programme providers CSI who, say CABLE, have apologised profusely.

Four times on Sunday - including once during the first match - CABLE staff telephoned CSI to query the latter's assurance that the games would not go to extra-time if the scores were level at 90 minutes. Four times CSI repeated the assurance - hence the disruption to the satellite signal when the United-Arsenal game went to extra-time.

Fortunately the loss of pictures was not too lengthy although the most untimely example came during the Spurs-Newcastle game as it occurred with the game in the third minute of a four-minute period of added time. Of course the result was a foregone conclusion as far as who would win but if you had an interest in the final scoreline it was feasible that it could have ended as 2-1 or 3-0.

Apart from the loss of pictures there were some strange goings on in the audio department, too, as the English-language commentary disappeared for lengthy spells of both games. In it's place was a remote-sounding drumbeat such as you hear at Latin American games and a murmuring crowd noise that was totally unrealistic. 'Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb' as fans are prone to say in the heat and excitement of FA Cup semi-finals.

There was visual surrealism in the United-Arsenal game, too, as play stopped and the screen broke up into Picasso-esque cubes. The images then ran in reverse through a liquid haze. Weird, man.

A knock-on effect of the over-running United-Arsenal game was the late joining of Everton v Coventry but that was just one of those unavoidable hazards of live TV. The first 15 minutes or so were overlapped so we joined play shortly before the first of Kevin Campbell's two goals.

CSI are so contrite that they have offered CABLE videotapes of both games, complete without interruptions and with the full English-language soundtrack.

It's back to European Champions' League action on ESPN next Wednesday with the resolution of both dramatically poised semi-finals guaranteed.

The live match will be the one from Turin where Manchester United will try to keep their remarkable treble bid on track away to Juventus. The Bayern v Kiev game follows.

There's also regional club competition of an Asian flavour as the final four of the Cup-Winners' Cup are shown in their entirety from Tokyo. Strangely, however, both semi-finals - Iraq's Al Talaba v Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad and Japan's Kashima Antlers v South Korea's Chunnam Dragons- are live but the third-place game and final are not, being shown on same-day delay instead. Still, it should be relatively easy to avoid knowing the result before the broadcasts begin.