Friday, 20 June 2014

Thank goodness England are (almost) out of the World Cup – but I wish ITV and the BBC would liven up their pundits

Actually, the Uruguay (or “Youaregay” as Homer Simpson pronounces it) match wasn’t as painful as I’d feared. I’d predicted a 2-0 win for the populationally-challenged South American republic (one million fewer potential goal-scorers than Norway), and was pleasantly surprised that England – in the form of the pudgy, spud-faced Shrek lookalike we all love to hate – actually managed to score at all.

As we all know, England are an incredibly pedestrian side with a third-rate defence, a poor midield and a so-so attack. Rooney is a good - albeit ludicrously overpaid - Premier League footballer, but, as he has proved repeatedly, that’s really all he is. It’s just a pity he flattered to deceive as an 18-year old international and that we’ve invested so much unjustified faith in him over the years – but, then, who else was there to pin our hopes on (apart from Emile Heskey, of course)? As for that other consistent underperformer, Stevie G, well it’s all over, isn’t it? The captain’s performances against Italy and Uruguay were pitiful.

As for the rest of them, let’s draw a veil. The worst thing the previous England manager Don Fabio did (apart from refusing to learn the language) was to claim that England players were actually technically extremely competent and that the only thing holding them back were nerves, whereas it seems more likely that it’s their glaringly obvious deficiencies in technique that makes them so bed-wettingly fearful on the pitch. When you’re consistently unable to pass the ball accurately, or to control it on those rare occasions when it arrives at their feet, or to sense where the danger’s likely to come from when those clever foreign johnnies attack, or you’re clueless as to how to control the game from midfield in a Pirlo-esque fashion – well, you’re bound to end up with an unappealing mixture of lethargy, confusion, panic and fear. And – absent a few decent patches along the way - it’s pretty much been like that ever since the great Sir Alf Ramsey substituted Bobby Charlton when England were leading 2-0 against Germany in Mexico in 1970, an act of supreme folly which resulted in Franz Beckenbauer’s well-drilled storm-troopers going bonkers and scoring three goals to put England out.

The fact that this has been a superb World Cup so far in terms of attractive, attacking football in general and stupendous goals from the best strikers in the world in particular means England’s contribution won’t be missed. I suspect most of us are just relieved that we won’t any longer have to suffer the gut-churning disappointment of watching England out of their depth (they can score ten goals against Costa Rica, and it won’t matter). We got quite enough of that watching the Ashes series last winter, and there’s only so much pain and humiliation a chap can take.

The only truly disappointing thing about this great competition is the TV pundits. They’re dull. Thierry Henry and Clarence Seedorf are cool, laid-back dudes, well-mannered, well-dressed and able to flash a winningly shy grin when required. You can imagine them relaxing in the Après-Ski bar in their sports-casual gear, drinking cocktails and charming the ladeez, with some Sérgio Mendes and Brazil 66 tootling away in the background. But when it comes to punditry, they are so terminally boring, it’s a relief when Alan Shearer or Rio Ferdinand start to speak. As for former Celtic manager, Neil Lennon – if you’re hoping for a career on TV,  forget it! Over on ITV, I can just about take Lee Dixon and Glenn Hoddle, but  Patrick Viera and Fabio Cannavaro have almost managed to reduce me to tears of boredom.

The sheer tedium of the pre, mid and post-match chat has made me come over all nostalgic for the halcyon days of the 1970s when ITV brought us the likes of psychopathic Ulsterman Derek Dougan and foot-in-mouth specialist Malcolm “Big Mal” Allison tearing verbal lumps out of each other. I still remember Pat Crerand finally losing it when Jack Charlton referred to the Brazilian maestro Rivelino as “Rivelooney” for about the 50th time. “His name’s Rivelino – why can’t you say it properly!” I have no idea whether their match analysis was any better back then, but the stuff in between the actual football was often a lot more entertaining than the cautious 0-0 draw on offer. And the fact that the studio guests often sounded as if they were on the verge of barking, “Right. You! Outside! Now!” at least suggested they cared. Most of the current lot - especially the foreigners - are so achingly civilised they give the impression they couldn’t care less.


  1. Around our manor it's Andy Trouserpress that gets the palm, with mind-numbing comments like 'for me, Clive, he has to do better', and the really annoying habit of describing a move you have just seen with your own eyes. After Phil Neville's brain-dead performance, I began to wonder who actually picks these illiterate ex-footballers for a job which surely has a minimum requirement - that of being able to utter a simple sentence in their own language, a sentence with nouns and verbs and adjectives (and whatever happened to adverbs?) and, if possible, no lost 't's.

    1. Oddly, I find tennis commentators mangling the language harder to take - possibly because most of them have had a decent education. Mark Petchey talking about players "serving massive" has me foaming at the mouth - and what exactly is a "madge on Senda Cord"? And what is the point of telling us someone has played a "great shot" when only a blind person or someone who has never seen tennis being played wouldn't know that they'd just witnessed a great shot? Mind you, it's a relief that Boris Becker is on coaching duty with Djokovic, so we don't have to listen to him stating the bleeding obvious over and over again for hours on end without once telling us anything we don't already know. I imagine he and Andy Townsend study each other's technique.

    2. The only redeeming feature about the World Cup so far is the absence of Mick McCarthy from the commentary teams. He makes Phil Neville sound like John Gielgud. Also, nobody invited Paul Gascoyne this time round - a couple of tournaments ago he started off as a studio pundit, but rapidly descended from talking cock to being completely incoherent so they sent him into the streets to do vox pops where he descended on groups of plainly alarmed, non- English speaking Japanese. Ditto, the lovable, vibrant Ian Wright. He started off in the studio as a pundit in Brazil, but was quickly banished to the Copa Cabana to do vox pops when for the umpteenth time in his TV career the producers realized he hadn't the vaguest idea of what he was talking about [why do they keep giving him these assignments?]. Anyway, he was recalled to London to deal with a serious assault on his family and I thought, well, that's that and I can switch on ITV again. No such luck. The blaring loud-mouth is back and at full throttle.

      In this World Cup the English Football commentators are getting more attention than the players? Strange. Anyway, every cloud etc and England's premature but far from ignominious exit from the WC means that Woy and Wayne [soon to be confirmed as captain] will have much time to prepare for the next international match - vs Norway at Wembley on 3rd September. Promises to be a good 'un!

  2. An added bonus is that we'll be spared the interviews in which everyone will give 100% and the pre-recorded videos in which our lads try to look moody and determined as they describe what playing for England means to them. "No! Phil, Phil. Listen love, you're not meant to be smiling. Pretend your dog's just died and let's try it again."

    I always thought that Hoddle was rather badly treated when, in effect, Tony Blair had him sacked as England manager for his entertaining views on reincarnation. He was the last one who gave any indication that he knew what he was doing and his expertise comes through as a pundit. Other than his enduring confusion over the usage of "them" and "those", he still strikes me as suitable to lead the lads to glory, by which I mean anything more than a 0-0 draw with the Faroe Islands.

    1. I agree about Hoddle - although his views might be a problem given how many severly disabled players seem to regularly turn out for England.

      I think you'll find that all the players promise to give at least 110%. One of these days one of them might even display some refreshing honesty and pledge to give 65%, because they're enormously rich and would really much rather be anywhere but representing their country in some sweaty Third World hell-hole.

  3. Once every 2 to 4 years I seek out this nonsense to watch England (it started when I was in Germany for the 96 Euro cup)...every 2 to 4 years I find myself wanting to strangle somebody. That was nonsense on Thursday.

    It's those &%$##%%$ draws that are tolerated in this sport. England tied it up and thought they'd won the match.

    Whatever...I just found out that I can get Super League from my tv provider. Maybe a little late for this year but, I will not be sucked into this nonsense again two years from now.

    EDIT: HA! The number I have to type in order to prove I'm not a robot is a street number with a University of Texas logo stenciled next to it. ****** you Longhorns...I'm refreshing the page.

  4. Look,we have to watch England play football - we live here. But why anyone would voluntarily put themselves through this exquisite torture is beyond me - unless you're rooting for the other side, in which case it must be fun.

    In football and cricket, a draw IS a result unless you're in a knock-out competition. Got that?

    Remember the Alamo!

    1. "a draw IS a result"

      Only for people named Lawrence.