Gabby’s ready to tackle her big challenge

IT IS one of the few remaining male bastions on British television.

A decade ago, Helen Rollason made history when she became the first woman to present Grandstand, the BBC’s flagship sports show, and now her success looks set to be continued with Gabby Logan touted as the new face of The Premiership, ITV’s popular football highlights programme.

The 28-year-old wife of Scottish rugby player Kenny Logan has been tipped to front the show when Des Lynam, the veteran sports presenter, leaves at the end of the season. She is already a co-host on The Premiership with Lynam, Ally McCoist and Terry Venables.

Logan’s possible promotion in what has been a traditionally male dominated area was yesterday praised by the Women in Film and Television organisation as a "brilliant coup" for women in the industry throughout Britain.

Brenda Reid, a television producer and former chairwoman of the London-based group, said: "It is fantastic news, if that is the case, because that is another example of a woman’s face and name being seen in what has traditionally been a male-dominated area.

"If she is to take over from Des Lynam then that is a real coup. We have got more and more women becoming successful in the television industry, including two female controllers at the BBC. But there still aren’t enough in the middle ranks or working their way through.

"It is quite a hard industry for women, particularly once you have an older face. The prettier and younger you are the easier it is. But we are gradually seeing more women now in the male bastions such as sport, which is brilliant."

It was reported yesterday that Lynam, 59 - who made it clear he was angry and disappointed with ITV’s decision to move his show from its peak 7pm slot to after 10pm on Saturdays - plans to leave The Premiership in May and that the television station plans to ask Logan to fill his spot.

A television source said: "Des is still seething over The Premiership’s move to a later slot. He is definitely quitting the show at the end of the season and Gabby is the hot favourite to take the job. She is young, enthusiastic and she knows football inside out.

"Gabby has not been officially approached, but it will only be a matter of time. Like everyone else, she knows Des is unhappy with the new time of The Premiership. There will be no question of whether she wants the job - it is the biggest in TV football."

Logan, who is the daughter of former Leeds footballer Terry Yorath, already conducts interviews and presents reports for The Premiership and also co-hosts On the Ball. Last year she won the prestigious Sports Presenter of the Year title.

It is believed that if Logan does become the new host of The Premiership then some of the die-hard football fans among the show’s 4.4 million viewers - who would prefer men to be talking about the sport - might be disappointed.

However, she knows how difficult it might be to follow in Lynam’s footsteps and has previously said: "Most viewers let you know straight away what they think - and usually it’s along the lines of ‘You’re really good for a woman’, and you know it has taken a lot for them to say that.

"I learned about football the way children learn to speak. For me it seems completely natural to be involved in football because I have been all my life."

The Premiership was moved to its later slot, after just eight weeks, due to poor ratings. It was replaced by Cilla Black’s Blind Date, which regularly attracts around eight million viewers. It was rumoured that Black had given an ultimatum, saying she would quit if her show was not returned to its normal slot.

She later denied this but admitted she had called Charles Allen, the Granada TV chairman, and asked him to put pressure on ITV. She said: "It was a bold thing to try (showing The Premiership at 7pm), but football isn’t light entertainment. That’s nothing against Des, but that’s the way it is."

Lynam moved to ITV from the BBC in a 5 million deal in 1999. He is contracted to ITV until 2003 and is expected to continue presenting ITV’s Champions League, and will be involved in the World Cup coverage next year.

He described it as "a victory for the sport" when ITV bought the rights to top-level soccer for 183million and announced the start of The Premiership at 7pm on Saturdays

Television sources have said that Logan has been groomed to take over from Lynam. Brian Barwick, ITV’s head of sport, has been active in increasing her on-screen profile since the station poached her from Sky TV.

Lynam’s agent has denied that the presenter is planning to quit. And an ITV spokesman said: "Des is very happy at ITV. He’s a team man and has no plans to do anything but stay with The Premiership."