Red card for ‘Play to the Whistle’

It’s understandable that ITV would want to recreate the success of Sky’s A League Of Their Own and the BBC’s long-running A Question Of Sport.

There is clearly a huge appetite for watching sports stars step outside their professional environment and into the world of entertainment.

Athletes often come across as sullen, dull and uncommunicative, so giving them a chance to lighten up in panel show formats can clearly make for good television.

“Contestants appeared disinterested, ignoring the live audience, on their phones between rounds… the interaction between presenter Holly Willoughby and the panellists felt awkward”

In this regard, Play To The Whistle’s acquisition of Chelsea and England midfield legend Frank Lampard as a resident team captain was certainly shrewd.

His pedigree ensures that plenty of football fans will be drawn in, and he has a celebrity pull that might get viewers who aren’t into sport interested, too.

But if ITV want to make the third series of Play to the Whistle a success, then Lampard will not only not be enough, but may actually prove to be a obstacle.

If my recent experience at Elstree studios is anything to go by, then perhaps ‘Saturday night snoozefest’ would be a little more apropos a category than ‘sports-based comedy panel show’.


Unless I missed something during my two brief toilet breaks, there didn’t appear to be much to laugh at during the show.

Contestants appeared disinterested, ignoring the live audience, on their phones between rounds and failing through large parts to provoke any real laughter. The interaction between presenter Holly Willoughby and the panellists felt a little awkward.

It was clear that golfer Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston and reality TV ‘star’ Scarlett Moffatt aren’t cut out for this line of work, and audience members around me seemed expectant of a little more effort from both guests and regular captains alike.

What’s more, the ratings tend to agree with them. The show debuted back in April 2015 with an audience of 2.79m, which within two weeks had dropped to 2.03m. The second series revealed the same trend, with 2.71m viewers tuning in for opener – a figure down by 700,00 by the end of the run.

It’s hard to avoid predicting a similar level of dwindling engagement for the third series unless better-calibre guests and a more structured format are adopted for the show.


Somebody needs to tell Bradley Walsh that few people care about his new album nor will want to buy it. Why it was thought he’d be a good Play To The Whistle team captain eludes me.

He’s clearly a versatile performer, but his antics were inappropriately brash, and one particular audience member objected to him referring to her as “love” during one of the earlier rounds.

“Romesh Ranganathan was a rare highlight who did manage to amuse during the show’s more conversational segments”

Nobody’s performance underwhelmed quite like Lampard’s, though. Acting as a perfect example of why footballers ought to let their feet do the talking, his lifeless showing may go some way towards explaining the trajectory of the show’s ratings.

He didn’t expand on questions put to him by the presenter and when the cameras weren’t on, spent most of his time texting and sipping a beer.

Even comedian Seann Walsh, the show’s mock pundit, failed to inject the proceedings with any real humour.

His skits after each round, designed to show him doing anything other than watching the show or monitoring the scores, felt a little like a boy trying to impress the girl he likes at school: forced and over the top.


I did, however, like how he introduced each contestant. Mocking Sky’s punditry and line-up presentation was a nice touch that gave the show a uniquely sporty feel.

That burden fell mainly onto the shoulders of his fellow funnyman Romesh Ranganathan, a rare highlight, who did manage to amuse during the show’s more conversational segments.

I was especially surprised at Rob Beckett’s lack of contribution. I’ve been impressed with his work in the past, but I don’t recall him saying anything funny this time around.

Combine all this with a string of technical faults, which eventually set the recording 40 minutes behind schedule, and the overall impression was one of sloppiness and disorganisation.

For me, this displayed a lack of thought and attention to detail; two things Play To The Whistle is in desperate need of.

Blow the full-time whistle, ITV.